Turpan is an ancient city on the Taklamakan Desert Silk Road, famous for its fertile green gorges through the orange desert sands. It is one of the hottest places on Earth.
In Turpan we realized that we had entered a new cultural zone. Largely Islamic, a city of bustling bazaars, mosques, kebabs, its population 80% Uighyr, we felt like we were already in Central Asia, though with a slight Chinese flavor.
We spent some time in the desert. For both of us that was a totally new experience, and in that was very rich and precious! Before the day got too hot we walked up some sandy slopes of Flaming Mountain, looking up at the orange, cream and rusty brown strata of its sandstone bulk. Bare feet in the warm sands, under a hard blue sky, we wandered happily in this barren but rich place.
“The ruins are under construction”
Captured by the romance of this area’s ancient past, we paid the money to see some of the tourist sights, the Bezelklik Thousand Buddha Caves, the Jiaohe Ancient City Ruins, and an ancient Uighyr village. Two quotes start to paint the picture of what we actually found. From our friends’ Chinese guidebook of the area: “Regrettably the ruins are not in good condition.” And from the sign as we entered Jiaohe City, “To protect our cultural heritage the ruins are under construction.” The picture was filled out by the digger that rumbled, the sound of hammers banging as they nailed the brand new boardwalk straight into the ancient mud walls, the slapping of new mud that built new barriers to keep us on the paved road through. We found that the Thousand Buddha Caves now have nice new regular sized entrances that handily fit a locking door, and a tiled patio outside well dotted with rubbish bins. What we never really found was the space to grasp this area’s rich past. Still, as always, plenty of food for curiosity and thought!