China # 6 – Turpan – Heading east along the Northern Taklamakan Desert – September 2014

June 1, 2018

After a short drive from the Gaochang ruins we arrived in the pleasant city of Turpan. Turpan is China’s “Death Valley”. Part of the Turpan basin is 154m, (505 feet), below sea level, making it the second lowest depression on earth, just after the Dead Sea. It is the hottest spot in China. In July and August, temperatures soar above 40°C and even 50°C, (120°F), forcing the local population to sleep on their roofs.

We arrived in the heat of a summer afternoon to visit the Turpan Museum, a wonderful collection of over 7,000 exhibits including cultural relics with examples of pottery, bronze copper and textiles dating back to the Silk Road civilizations of the Greek-Roman, Ancient China, Persian-Arabian, and the Nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe.

To give cooling shade during the intense summers, many streets in the nearby villages are covered with grapevine trellises. Despite the heat, the ground water and fertile soil of the Turpan depression has made this a veritable oasis in the desert. An amazing sophisticated irrigation system known as the Karez brings irrigation water from the surrounding mountain ranges from the annual melting of the snow. The Karez System consists of wells, underground channels, ground canals, and small reservoirs, which use the natural slope of the terrain to sustain the water flow and guide the water right to the plants while minimizing evaporation. California could learn something here. Just under 1,000 canals with a total length of about 5,000 km (3,100 mi), the system is considered one of the three great ancient projects in China along with the Great Wall and the Grand Canal.

These unique buildings are where grapes and other fruit are dried, out of the direct sunlight.

These unique buildings are where grapes and other fruit are dried, out of the direct sunlight.

Farming in the Turpan Basin is particularly famous for its fruit production, especially grapes. Because of the dry and hot conditions, the fruits grown in the depression have very high concentrations of sugar. They are traditionally processed by drying in open drying barns. The cultivated fruit include mulberry, peach, apricot, apple, pomegranate, pears, fig, and more than 100 varieties of grapes.

Green, (our trusted guide), was good at keeping us away from tourist traps, but the Grape Valley Amusement Park and the annual Grape Festival in a nearby village sounded interesting. Indeed, we arrived just in time to watch a talented group of musicians and folk dancers. Monika was invited to join them while I was busy taking photos. There were small shops selling souvenirs and special musical instruments. We really had to laugh at all the signs, especially those about the bathrooms. You must read them! (see photos).

This friendly farmer suggested we should buy a particular raisin because they were particularly healthy for "old" folks. Hm.

This friendly farmer suggested we should buy a particular raisin because they were particularly healthy for “old” folks. Hm.

Walking back to our truck, which was probably parked illegally, we were admiring the beautiful art on the doors of homes when a man approached us and insisted we come in for tea. We accepted and he humbly explained to our guide that he, (obviously Muslim because of the area), just wanted to tell us and show us he and his family were not terrorists. He gave us an interesting tour of his home, including his vineyard, his stable of goats, and his irrigation channel that was most likely part of the Karez System. We met his mother and his wife and were treated to some appreciated tea and fruit. It was a refreshing experience and we thanked him many times.

Back on the main promenade there were many stands selling the fresh and dried fruits of the area, including piles of sweet raisins and grapes. The first place we stopped, the owner, a gregarious guy, also invited us in to see how the grapes are hung and naturally air dried, a very interesting process. He explained that one kind of particularly big and wonderful tasting raisins would be most beneficial to us and when questioned why, he smiled and said that variety was good for “old” folks. Hm. We were good customers and stocked up on several raisin varieties for the rest of the trip and gifts, knowing that we would never see any better.

 

2 Responses to “China # 6 – Turpan – Heading east along the Northern Taklamakan Desert – September 2014”

  1. Very interesting! China is full of wonderment.

  2. So true!

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