We were pretty worn out the previous night from an extended day rushing around Khotan, rushing to make our flight on time and the 3+ hour drive from Urumqi to Turpan. We didn’t really get to do much other than grab a bite and crash.
We stayed at the Turpan Hotel in the Princess Building. The place was highly recommended online for its charm and combination of style, comfort and affordability. The interior was quite reminiscent of the Seman Hotel in Kashgar:
The hotel itself was quite big and had regular shows, presentations etc.. during high season as one can see on their layout map. However, around mid-november, just about everything was shut down except the hotel part. No food, no shows, no sauna ….
Turpan in daylight was quite a charming city, borderline quirky with the extent of “silk road style” decotation all over the place down to the streets themselves: Yes, that is just a common street
The day was exceptionally beautiful as we had not only daylight bathing us in warm rays of sunshine, but also the moon was quite visible around 10:00 a.m. Come to think of it, I had been noticing the moon during daytime since our stop in Yarkand.
We browsed around the streets for a bit seeking a place with food for some of the hungry stomachs and found one that looked remarkably non-xinjiangnese. Traditional beijing style cold dishes, baozi, tea and even porridge. Needless to say that I stuck to my coffee…
First stop of the day: The Kerez Center and Museum!
Having to deal with rough geographic location and harsh climate seems push mankind forward and enhance survival skills. That’s how the Kerez irrigation canals came about! They harness the water from the mountains and carry it all the way down to the valey through a complex system of underground/above ground canals.
The building was well designed with time pieces and reproductions accompanied by explanations in Uighur, Chinese and English.. they were quite thorough.
Turpan is grape central in China! I mean the city is filled with grapevines everywhere: hotels, streets, houses, farms and I skip some. Grapevines everywhere! While it must look outstanding and pretty in-season, it was all pretty much dried up while we were there:
We then proceeded to the Ancient city of Jiaohe which was a short drive away. It was an ancient stronghold in the region that somehow got destroyed/burned and subsequently deserted.
Most parts were still standing and you clearly see most outlines as well as the general layout from a certain height. One could however tell that it had seen its share of wear n tear n abuse by father time, constant stamping of shoes, elements and nature. It was strictly forbidden to stray of a path that had been laid-out in bricks. As you walk through the ruins, you can see the mountains around and the mini-valley separation the city from the surroundings. It’s easy to imagine guards standing watch on their towers, checking the horizon for any potential threats.
As I mentioned before, the buildings were all in various conditions with some slightly better off if the term can even be used to describe their condition like this average standard house located by the entry gate:
I have seen a few dead cities before but nothing like this. It was built to resist any invasion and be a stronghold. It was obviously clear considering there was only one access point and the choice of terrain. However, for some reason, once it was destroyed, it stayed abandoned. There was also a story of dozens of infant bodies buried within the confines of the old city-hall for no apparent reason.
Alas, just one more of the region’s many secrets that will forever remain buried under the weight of time, sand, mud and history.
Our next stop was The Emin Tower, a remarkably well-preserved treasure of uighur architecture. It was built long ago by the Turpan Prefect to as a commemoration of his father who had dedicated his life to preserving the unification of China and the union between Uighurs and Chinese, Muslim and Buddhist. It had the tower, prayer hall, grapevine and everything else we came to expect in such a monument:
Right next to it stood the residence of said prefect which was somehow well kept down to the original frescoes on the walls and sleeping mats:
Mission accomplished as far as the Turpan vicinity goes. We then readied to head for Hami and stop on the way to see the Flaming Mountain and the ruins of ancient Gaochang.
Besides being quite imposing on its own merit (it’s huge and temperatures can reach 48 deg. celsius ), flaming mountain was made famous by a novel telling stories of the Monkey king in the novel “Journey to the west” which I gotta go and find.
That was a really fun part of the day as we rode camels, drove a donkey cart and even got a history lesson. As you prepare to get into the mountain compound, there is a tunnel lined with carvings taken from the novel ( English and chinese commentary was also available)
Each block on both sides was nicely illustrated:
Past tunnel was another exhibition of paintings and statues dealing with lost/stolen relics of the silk road. reproductions of statues and painting currently sitting in European or Japanese museums were on display next to statues of the main culprits. There was also a giant thermometer to showcase how hot the ground could get.
We couldn’t resist the attraction of getting on a donkey cart and riding around for a while! We had seen so many of them throughout the trip and it just felt like the thing to do…. until we got on the darn thing! Every bone, joint and fragment of our bodies was shaken up and down for the 3km we were on board… Jee.. didn’t think anything on a road could shake worse than the chicken bus we rode to Yarkand.. the donkey proved that theory wrong:p
Having had enough donkey and came business, we got back on the road heading towards the Ancient city of Gaocheng.
Gaocheng was a cultural and economical capital in the area for 1400 years until it was burned down to the ground during some war. It was about 5 times the size of Jiaohe! We got there on time for the sunset and proceeded to walk in.
Interestingly enough, there wasn’t much protection given to Gaocheng when compared to Jiaohe. The area was littered with plastic bottles and there were donkey cart tracks all over the ruins.
I did a weird experiment on this one shooting it while covering the lens with my sunglasses.
The city was mostly in really bad shape and there wasn’t much left except huge chunks of the wall that used to be 10m thick. However, once we got deeper into the center, we came across a whole section being renovated which was quite surprising:
It looked like they were trying to recreate the palace or the temple judging by the size and the extent of the refurbishing. Thing is the parts that were new looked like they belonged just fine and that in itself was impressive… I can just picture going back there next year and finding it completely rebuilt and renamed as the gaocheng attraction park or smtg like that.
By the time we finished, it was too late to head for Hami which was almost 400km away. There was just no point in going there and then having to drive back 750+ km the next day. We decided to go back to Turpan and take a more extensive look at what the area had to offer the next day.
We checked back into the Turpan hotel then went for a quick snack at the night market:
quick snack, huge dinner, crappy wine, UNO and then ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz…..