Xinjiang, China Turpan 2002.07.28 - 08.01

Oasis Grapes

In the middle of a vast desert sits an oasis called Tulufan (spelled Turpan in English). Famous for its vineyards, Turpan draws some independent foreign travelers and busloads of Chinese tour groups. Scenic spots listed in guidebooks are overrun with trinket vendors and touts. To see the real Turpan, dismiss the touts and start walking west from the bus station. 3km distant are local inhabitants who farm the oasis. In addition to grapes, they grow corn and other vegetables.

Over half the people in Turpan are Uyghurs. The sound of their central Asian language flows beautifully. Many speak no Mandarin, we think. It's also possible that our pronunciation is so terrible that our attempt to communicate only elicits a blank stare. The Uyghur women wear long colorful dresses and a headscarf. The men nomally wear white shirts, slacks, and a colorful hat similar to a French beret. Older men often boast a dignified-looking long white beard. All Uyghurs we met, except for the touts soliciting at tourist restaurants and the bus station, were wonderfully friendly. They patiently tried to understand what we're asking and generally pointed us in the right direction.

Touts in Turpan are persistent. Most independent travelers succumb to their sale of tours to local sites. A 10-hour tour to the nearby sites costs between ¥30~50 per day depending on how desperate the tout is for business. Simply saying "no" is insufficient. The touts continue to follow new arrivals down the street and into hotel lobbies. They also present foreigners who partook in the tour to convince new arrivals that the touts can be trusted. Trustworthy or not, most people we met who visited the sites were disappointed. Little remains of the ancient ruins. In their place are countless trinket sellers.

From points east, transport by air-conditioned train to Daheyan is the best option. From Daheyan, Turpan is 28km south by bus. Buses depart regularly from 07:00 to 19:00 and take between 60 to 90 minutes one way. The bus fare is ¥6.20.

From Ürümqi, the direct bus travels the only paved highway in the area. The ride takes 3 hours.

A train in the distance crosses the desert between Daheyan and Turpan. The desert climate is harsh. Scorching hot afternoons are normal. Periodic torrential rains can wash away roads.
Turpan is famous for its grapes. Grapes are grown throughout the oasis. At the market, one kilogram is sold for ¥2. These grape farmers can't afford air-conditioning in the 40°C heat on these wages.
Also popular in Turpan are raisins. Grape farmers construct adobe drying rooms to hang their grapes in this fashion.
From Turpan, Xinjiang Province gradually becomes more and more Muslim as we head west.

HomePrevious PageNext Journal PageJournal Index 2002Map of Asia

  Copyright © 2000-2002   Wes and Masami Heiser.   All rights reserved.