Asia | China | North West | Turpan – Baking in the ‘oven’
We got off the train at 4am in Turpan, and were already coated by a thin layer of sweat. The second lowest basin in the world, Turpans nickname is oven. Most inhabitants are Uyghers, a nationality descended from the Middle East.
Going toward the minaret on the edge of town, we passed a community of mud brick houses and vineyards. The streets were quiet, yet whenever the iron door of a house was open, we could peek into the grapevine shaded quaint courtyard, and see the family having breakfast under the green canopy. Turpan is known throughout the country for its extra-sweet grapes and raisins. Along the country road, farmers sat out in the shade with an endless row of bins filled over the top with green grapes, packing them for shipment. Women in colorful headscarves and men in white skullcaps had much more European features. Children playing outside looked at us (mainly Daniel) with curiosity and said friendly helloa. Some middle-aged men sitting in a courtyard became absorbed in their live-drum session. For once again after Ruili and Langmusi, I felt like I had been another country.
The same driver who had taken us to town from the train station had hooked us up with a tour that would show us basically all the sights in Turpan, a plan that I later considered the biggest mistake I made on the trip and would not recommend to anyone. Most of the sights were simply hoaxes, and we were tired and felt cheated from being rushed from place to place. The fact that the driver spoke only broken Chinese aggravated the situation even further.
Jiaohe City Ruins ended up being the only place I considered worth seeing. Destroyed in 1300, the city was excavated less than 100 years ago. The bases for most of the structures were still sturdy, and formed a maze to walk through. We climbed to the highest point in the ruins. The fascinatingly grotesque image of the mud pillars could be the set for another planet from a sci-fi movie.
We finally succumbed to the heat of mid-day, and were fed up with the pushy driver, so we took off and sat under the canopy of a hospital-turned teahouse with colorful tiled window frame. The true charm of Turpan returned for the first time since our walk through the vineyard village this morning. Most of the other customers crowded together to watch a Japanese cartoon about a smart-ass little monk that had been translated into Uygher, and I could follow the plot because I had seen it in Chinese over 10 years ago. Talk about cultural collision.