Monday 22 May – Wednesday 24 May 2017
Travelling from Dunhuang to Hami was an unusual experience because the road was so flat, long and straight in places it became soporific. In the far distance we could see snow capped mountains but to either side, front and back of us and the cars was rocky desert. We have been on the outskirts of the Gobi desert for a couple of days and will be skirting around the Taklamakan desert and Tarim basin and Tian Shan mountains soon to Kazakhstan. Fortunately, the expressway was well maintained and in some places new, so travel was quick.
Hami (Kimui) is famous for melons and the growing of grapes was becoming more and more evident as we travelled towards Turpan.
On Tuesday the desert landscape changed in the early afternoon as we neared Turpan, the flat plains changed in to very rugged and jagged rocky mountains rising from the flat sandy plains. Also we descended in altitude from around 1580 mts to finally -80 mt below sea level. It was an interesting day we drove through a mild sand storm which blew drifts of sand across the expressway to driving into Turpan through avenues lined with grape vines.
This area is one of China’s biggest grape producing areas. They also produce sultanas and as we drove along the expressway we saw rectangular mud brick structures which were used to dry the grapes. The climate here is extremely dry and hot perfect not only for drying grapes but for preserving mummies and dinosaur bones.
We stopped for lunch at the Astana Ancient tombs complex where they found many relics of ancient documents, vessels, fabric etc after excavating the ancient tombs. On display were two mummys which were preserved by the heat and dryness of the environment. Many of the artefacts which were discovered here we also saw at the Turpan Museum, along with several dinosaurs. The Faming Mountains overlook this ancient burial site. Flaming Mountains were visited by the Monkey King on his journey from India to China.
Turpan is a small city and has an irrigation system which enables it to grow delicious grapes and fruit such as apricots. Peter and I visited the Sugong Tower or Mineret which was built in 1777 and has its own architectural style. The decorations and patterns on the clay tower are varied and beautiful. Later in the afternoon, when it starts to cool down we hope to visit the Karez Well system and see one in action.
Sugong tower in Turpan
We also drove to a magnificent site called Jar City which was once a busy ancient trading town on the Silk Road but following years of successive and constant wars the city fell into ruin. The sights and vistas at sunset were stunning and as we walked through the deep alleyways exploring the various buildings, the still blazing sun beating down on our heads, one couldn’t help but imagine the hustle and bustle of camels, traders from all parts of Asia mingling, shouting and selling their wares through out the city. It was a fortress and very difficult to enter because of its location. Now all that is left are the remains of crumbling clay walls, caverns, stupas and Buddhas.