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Urumqi with a population almost the same as the whole of NZ to the remains of the 2nd century BC ancient city of Jaihoe – truly a trip back in time! We’ve travelled north from Kashgar, flying over the ridges of the Tien Shan and the wind blown foothills of the Taklimakan Desert; we’ve swopped the electric motor scooters for traffic jams and congestion! But our host’s hospitality makes up for any delay in the traffic – we were treated to an abundance of food and a fine home cooked meal. What a welcome to Urumqi!
Urumqi to Turpan, its just over 200 km with a drop in altitude of 800m, driving through a forest of wind turbines catching the winds as they blow from the high plateau to the Turpan Depresssion, at its lowest point 154m below sea level. Its normally very hot in Turpan but our good fortune with the weather continues – high cloud and only in the mid 20oCs. A perfect day to visit Jiahoe ancient city. We waded our way through the large groups of Chinese tourists walking into the site to the first viewpoint, wandered beyond the Chinese tourist stopping point, through the old streets and paths, marvelling at the extensive remains Jiahoe was an important site along the silk road adjacent to the Korla and Karasahr kingdoms to the west. The city was built on a large island in the middle of a river which formed natural defenses.
Another anciety city – 2nd century BC Gaochang was also on our list of places to visit. This place is even more extensive that Jiahoe, but the remains are more weathered. We made use of an electric car to take us around the ruins and to the remnants of the Buddhist monastery – nowadays the niches are empty of Buddha statues but its not hard to visulise the building as it was. Gaochang is the site of an ancient oasis city built on the northern rim of the inhospitable Taklamakan Desert. A busy trading centre, it was a stopping point for merchant traders traveling on the Silk Road.
Astana graveyard was the cemetery for the Gaochang city – not much to see on the surface, but a descent to the underground crypts reveal decorated walls and in the crypt we visited, the mummified remains of two ancient people lie beneath protective glass.
We drove alongside the Flaming Mountains – named from a fantasy account of a Buddhist monk, and through the spectacular geological formations into the Toyuk Valley for lunch with a local farmer, earning a few extra dollars by opening his courtyard – a very pleasant place to sit beneath the grape vines to drink tea and eat lunch.
We visited Sugong Ta (Emin Minaret) dating from 1777 and built entirely with clay bricks. The minaret is 44m high and built in simple Afghani style. We looked at the Karez underground water system – 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. We saw hundreds of Chunche (Raisin drying house) – a building used to dry grapes into raisins. The building has a dark interior, and the walls are covered with a large number of holes to allow wind to pass through and assist in the drying process through evaporation.
Our next stage of the journey was by overnight train to Jaiyuguan – we boarded the train with bags of raisins and several bottles of the processed grapes in the liquid red variety. We are continuing east to Mainland China – next stop the western most point of the Great Wall.
Follow Pat and her fellow Great Silk Road travellers as they make their way to Xian