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  • Day14

    Turpan

    May 29, 2019 in China ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    The oasis city of Turpan is located in the region of Xinjiang. Sharing borders with 8 countries, the region is primarily desert and grassland, fringed by some of the largest mountains in the world. Oasis towns are scattered along the Silk Road that skirts the northern and southern edges of the Taklamakan Desert.

    The predominance of "minority" ethnic groups (and especially the Uighur people) resulted, in 1955, in the declaration of the region as the Uigher Autonomous Region. The 15 police stations we observed on the 30 minute journey from the train station to our hotel reminded us, however, that we were still very much in China. Indeed it was rather disturbing to see police walking around the streets in full riot gear, as if this was a normal part of life.

    Turpan itself lies in the Turpan depression - one of the lowest points on earth. This was really the first place where we'd seen the influence of the Silk Road on ethnic diversity, with street and shop signs written in both Chinese and Arabic. The local people, their faces, their food, the architecture - all reflected the long history of the Uighur in this region. And of course there was plenty of lamb (and no pork)!

    The Jiaohe city ruins lie a short distance from the city centre. Founded as an administrative centre and garrison town by the Chinese in the 2nd century BC, it came under the influence of the Uighur people in the 6th century. While mostly comprised of ruins, it is still possible to appreciate the complexity and especially the building methods used to create this impressive place. Located on a steep plateau, many of the structures were created by digging down into the rock (rather than building on top) - a mammoth task! At its peak it supported about 700 households, mainly Buddhist Uighurs.

    Turpan is famous for its grape growing. Grape vines are everywhere, as is a great variety of fruit and vegetables. Grapes are dried in specially designed rooms, often located above houses. The area is truly an oasis and a complex aqueduct and irrigation system (known as a karez) supplies much-needed water to support the extensive agriculture we observed. There was some debate about the origin of the system, and perhaps this is a good example of the success of the Silk Road.

    The influence of the Turkic culture was also evident at our lunch at a local winery, where we were entertained with dancers in fabulous costumes. How they managed these energetic activities in 30+ degrees escaped us! Luckily there was plenty of local beer for us to quench our thirst.
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