Turpan is hot. Very hot. It sits in the Turpan Depression, the second lowest point on earth behind the Dead Sea, roasting in the still air. In Turpan, the summers are very long and boiling hot, the winters are short and numbingly cold, and the two seasons are briefly broken up by a short Spring and Autumn.
There is a lot of history baked into the desert here, as the city has for many years been a legendary oasis town along the Silk Road. Independent kingdoms like the Gushi and the Tiele sprung up around this fertile oasis, while the Uyghurs, Ming Chinese, and Mongols all asserted their rule over the area at one point or another.
What to see:
There are some fascinating things to check out in and around the city, if the heat doesn’t melt your face off first.
The Emin Minaret: The Emin Minaret is a monument to the great general Emin Khoja, who led the city (then under the Uyghurs) during the 18th Century.
The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves: Also near Turpan are the world famous Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves. They are located about 45-50 kilometers east of Turpan, and the 70-some caves are filled with Buddhist frescoes and other artwork. They represent nearly a millennium of Buddhist tradition, having started in the 5th century and continuing until the 14th century, when Islam then became the predominant religion.
Grapes, grapes, and more grapes: The area is also famous for it’s grapes, which are used to produce both raisins and wine. Visiting during prime growing and harvesting season, July to early September, is your best bet for seeing just how green this desert oasis can be.
Getting in to and out of Turpan
You can get in to Turpan by rail or by bus. The train station is about 50 kilometers northwest of Turpan, in the small, small town of Daheyan. The station for buses into Turpan is about a five minute walk from the train station. Buses leave Daheyan every half hour to an hour.
The long distance bus station is located inside Turpan proper, and buses run to a lot of the nearby cities (including buses nearly every 20-30 minutes from Turpan to Urumqi).
All in all, plan on spending a few days here. The map below will help guide you to some of the region’s best attractions; while you’re here, take in the history, have some of the world famous grapes, and try to avoid frying in the heat on this leg of your Silk Road travels.
If you’re heading east: the city of Hami
If you’re heading west: the city of Kuqa
The Turpan Museum houses artifacts including funerary goods, mummies, silks, figurines, and other items excavated from the Astana tombs. The Astana tombs held the remains of Chinese settlers who arrived in the area from the 4th century to the 8th century.
The Emin Minaret was built in 1777 to honor the exploits of local general, Emin Khoja. It was completed in about a year, and, at 44 meters tall, is the tallest minaret in China. Emin Khoja led the Uyghurs of Turpan to join with the Qing Dynasty for protection against the Mongol Dzungars.
Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves consist of a series of 77 caves, which were filled with Buddhist art. The caves were constructed from the 5th to the 14th century, though most of the caves date from the 10th-13th century. Many of the murals suffered damage over their history, both from some elements of the local population as well as explorers and looters.
You can view photos and more information on the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha caves on TripAdvisor here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g303778-d502223-Reviews-Bezeklik_Thousand_Buddha_Caves-Turpan_Xinjiang_Uygur.html
Ruins of Gaochang
The Ruins of Gaochang
Gaochang was once a thriving oasis city along the northern Silk Road. It was constructed in the 1st century BC by the Jushi people. The city grew and traded hands between the Jushi, various Chinese dynasties like the Han and the Tang, the Rouran Khaganate, and the Uyghurs. Gaochang was eventually destroyed in the 1300s, as the Mongols of the Chagatai Khanate ravaged the area with a succession of wars.
You can view more information on the Ancient City of Gaochang on TripAdvisor here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g303778-d487370-Reviews-Ancient_City_of_Gaochang_Kharakhoja-Turpan_Xinjiang_Uygur.html
Putao Gou (Grape Valley)
The Grape Valley (Putao Gou) is the most celebrated of Turpan's vineyards. The history of grape cultivation goes back more than two millenia in Turpan, and more than 100 varieties are grown in the area. The best time to come is August (when the annual Turpan Grape Festival is held) through October.
You can find more info and photos of the Grape Valley on TripAdvisor here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g303778-d1372934-Reviews-Grape_Valley-Turpan_Xinjiang_Uygur.html
Ruins of Jiaohe
Jiaohe was founded in the second century BC by the Han as an administrative center and garrison town. It lies between two rivers and on a cliff face, very much a natural fortress, though the city itself had no walls. It occupied a place of importance militarily, administratively, and economically along the Silk Road until the 13th century, when the invading Mongols under Genghis Khan laid waste to the area. Though it is not as extensive as the Gaochang Ruins, the ruins of Jiaohe are better preserved.
Turpan Railway Station
Turpan Railway Station
The Turpan Railway station is actually about 50 km outside of Turpan, in Daheyan. There is frequent buses between Turpan and the railway station. Buses depart from the train station every half hour.
Turpan is connected to most major cities in Xinjiang province by train, such as Urumqi, Hotan, Kashgar and Korla. Additionally, there are trains to and from many other major cities in China, like Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Jinan, Chongqing and Zhengzhou.
Turpan Long Distance Bus Statoin
Turpan Long Distance Bus Station
The Turpan Long Distance Bus Station is located on Laocheng W Road and provides regular service to Hami, Kashgar, Korla, Kuqa, and Urumqi. Buses leave every 20-30 minutes from Turpan to Urumqi, and the overall trip takes about two and a half hours. Buses leave from the Turpan bus station to the Daheyan bus station (which is right near the train station) every half hour.
Daheyan Bus Statoin
Daheyan Bus Station
Daheyan Bus Station is the easiest way to get to Turpan city center from the railway station. The bus leaves for downtown every 30 minutes from about 07:00 to 20:00 each day. Long-distance sleeper buses also leave from Daheyan, with destinations including: Tuokexun, Heshuo, Khotan, Aksu and other neighboring cities in Xinjiang.
Tuyugou is a very ancient, well-preserved, traditional Uighur town. The village is situationed in a lush valley carved into the Flaming Mountain. It's about 70km east of Turpan, so about an hours drive, and is a great way to get a glimpse into the traditional Uyghur lifestyle. Not much has changed in Tuyugou in centuries.
White Camel Hostel
The White Camel Youth Hostel
The White Camel Youth hostel is the only youth hostel in Turpan. It's a fairly basic hostel, but decent, and most of the usual amenities are there. A few things to note is none of the employees speak English all that well, the rooms in the hostel do not have locks on them, and it is a cash only hostel. Aside from that, it is a cheerful place, and great to meet up with other travelers and organize excursions.
Click here to book at the Turpan White Camel Hostel.