Our final overnight train in China delivered us to Turpan, one of the lowest places on earth. It was once an important staging post on the Silk Road because of its large oasis. We were force fed an odd collection of "tourist" sites here, of differing value to me and, I suspect, the rest of the group. Thes were:

The underground water system that brings water from the mountains to Turpan; the abandoned ancient city of Jiaohe; & the so-called Flaming Mountains. Of these the only one well worth seeing was the Ruins of Jiaohe

The Turpan Water System

The Turpan water system (locally called karez water system) in Turpan, is a vertical tunnel system that brings water to the city. Turpan's well system was crucial in Turpan's development as an important oasis stopover on the ancient Silk Road skirting the barren and hostile Taklamakan Desert. Turpan owes its prosperity to the water provided by its karez well system.

A mother well will exist some miles from Turpan and a shaft is sunk there, then a series of shafts is dug every 100 metres or so, a man would be winched down each shaft, and would tunnel in both directions to link up with adjoining shafts.

The canals are designed to eventual channel the water to the surface, taking advantage of the current provided by the gravity of the downward slope of the Turpan Depression. The fact that the canals are underground also reduces water evaporation.The system has wells, dams and underground canals built to store the water and control the amount of water flow

Today there remain over 1100 karez wells and channels having a total length of over 5,000 kilometres. The local geography makes karez wells practical for agricultural irrigation and other uses. The Turpan summer is very hot and dry with periods of wind and blowing sand. The water from the underground channels provides a stable water source year round, independent of season

Although we did descend low enough in the museum to see the actual drainage canals, there was really not a lot to see. The diagram above, showing how they created an artificial oasis with remote water, tells the whole story

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A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2014, the Jiaohe Ruins are a Chinese archaeological site found in the Yarnaz Valley, 10 km west of Turpan. It is a natural fortress located atop a steep cliff on a leaf-shaped plateau between two deep river valleys. It was an important site along the Silk Road trade route leading west,

The city was built on a large islet (1650 m in length, 300 m wide at its widest point) in the middle of a river which formed natural defences, which would explain why the city lacked any sort of walls. Instead, steep cliffs more than 30 metres high on all sides of the river acted as natural walls. The layout of the city had eastern and western residential districts, while the northern district was reserved for Buddhist sites of temples and stupas. It had a population of 7,000 according to Tang dynasty records.

It was finally abandoned after its destruction during an invasion by the Mongols led by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. The ruins were visited by the archaeologist and explorer Aurel Stein, who described "a maze of ruined dwellings and shrines carved out for the most part from the loess soil", but complained that a combination of local farmers' use of the soil and government interference in his activities prevented examination. The site was partially excavated in the 1950s and has been protected by the PRC government since 1961.

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Flaming Mountain

Words fail me with the tastlessness of this place, but that may well be because I do not understand Chinese culture. The fact that it exists means that there is a demand for it. The Flaming Mountains are barren, eroded, red sandstone hills in the Tian Shan Mountain range. They lie near the northern rim of the Taklamakan Desert and east of the city of Turpan. Their striking gullies and trenches caused by erosion of the red sandstone bedrock are said to give the mountains a flaming appearance at certain times of the day (we saw no sign of this, and, anyway, you could have seen it, should it have existed, without entering the second rate theme park supplied for the purpose.)

It really is not worth the time in getting out to the so called "Flaming Mountain". The mountain itself is pretty bland, and the purpose in getting tourists there is to sell them entry into the park area, then sell them Camel Rides (they actually have a posted price list in English and Chinese detailing the price for you to take a photo in front of the camel sitting on the camel, or riding the camel). Plus donkey rides, or for the more adventurous with more money to spend, para glider rides over the mountains (different prices for different time lengths) Masses of Chinese tourists, who seem to lap up this type of venue, and over priced souvenir shops My advice is don't bother coming here, you will see lots of similar mountains for free along your journey in this part of China

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Emin Minaret and Mosque

The Emin Minaret stands by the Uyghur mosque in Turfan. At 44 meters it is the tallest minaret in China. The Qing Empire conquered this largely Muslim region in the 1750s by defeating the Dzungar Mongols with their superior weaponry in a series of battles. The minaret was started in 1777 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796) and was completed only one year later. It was financed by local leaders and built to honour the exploits of a local Turpan general, Emin Khoja, hence the name "Emin".

The Emin Minaret is located along the ancient Silk Route (near the ancient Uyghur capital of Gaochang). The arid landscape of southern Xinjiang has long been connected to both East Asia and West Asia by historical trade routes such as the Silk Road and the land around these crossroads became the location for most of the Uyghur Islamic structures in Xinjiang.

It is still an active mosque today. I felt a little uncomfortable that we, as tourists, were intruding into their religious worship.

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It was then a 3 hour bus journey to Urumqi, where we caught a flight over the desert to Kashgar

On to next town- Kashgar

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016