The Turpan desert

by Marieke May. 21, 2017 820 views

On my second and last day in Turpan (also called Tulufan) I went to the desert surrounding the city. I found a friendly driver named Anwar, who agreed to drive me around all day for less than 30 euros. Our first stop was at the so-called Flaming Mountains, which is the hottest place in China with temperatures often rising to over 50 degrees Celsius! I heard various legends about why the mountains are red, but I haven't remembered any of them. Something about a monkey king...?

At the flaming mountains you can ride through the desert on a camel, the main form of transportation in ancient Xinjiang, which now seems used mostly by tourists.

Then we went to the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, which date back to the 5th - 14th century. The complex consists of over 77 Buddhist caves, of which you are allowed visit a few and see the buddhas painted on the walls. But in most caves, it was not allowed to take photos. Sadly, when the region was converted to islam, many of the paintings were destroyed or the eyes were removed. Moreover, parts of the caves were taken to museums in Germany and then destroyed in WWII.

Driving away from the caves, we passed some really nice looking desert buildings, such as the one below. However, it turned out that these were part of a film set!

The next stop was the ancient city of Gaochang, the best preserved ruins of an ancient city anywhere in China. It was built in the first century BC and eventually abandoned in the 14th century because of wars between the Mongols and Uyghurs. The whole city covers an area of about 2 million square meters. I met a nice Chinese lady who translated the information about the buildings for me!

Our final stop was at Tuyoq village, an ancient village that is still inhabited by Uyghur people. It almost feels like you're stepping back in time and it was my favourite place on my Xinjiang trip. The local mosque was very impressive as well.

Many Tuyoq locals were selling dried fruits and nuts, and I had some very nice freshly picked mulberries, along with a spinach&cheese samsa. There is also a grape valley at the village, but it's not the season for grapes yet.

For some of the buildings in the village, it looked like they were almost disappearing into the mountains. Really great views! After Tuyoq I had dinner at the lake again, and the next day I took a bus back to Urumqi airport with people from the hostel. It was a short but great trip and I would love to come back to Xinjiang some time!


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