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Turpan - Ancient Stop on the Silk Road
The Turpan Depression, 180 kilometers southeast of Urumqi in the east part of Xinjiang, is one of the few places in the world that are below sea level.

The depression is a long, narrow stretch of land, fifty thousand square kilometers in area, with Bogda Mountain on the north and Kurultag Mountain on the south. There is a salt lake in the depression, Aydingkol Lake, where the crystallized salt surface is 154 meters below sea level. Another memorable sight is Fiery Mountain, meters below sea level. Another memorable sight is Fiery Mountain, which was described in the classical novel Journey to the West as one of the most dangerous obstacles in the path of Monk Xuan Zang and his disciples as they traveled west to obtain the Buddhist sutra. This mountain, which spreads out for fifty kilometers, is formed of red sandstone that glows red in the sun. Because of the drastic (five-thousand-meter) difference in height between the mountain tops and the bottom of the depression, the scenery, too, varies greatly at different altitudes-from perpetual snow at the summits to green oases at the foot of the mountains. After a long journey from the desert, tourists are always fascinated by the strange beauty of the depression with its snow-capped mountains, its salt lake, and particularly its Fiery Mountains.

Turpan is not only special for its low altitude, but also fir its strange climate. In summer, the temperature can reach as high as 47ºC (117ºF), while on the surface of the sand dunes, it may well be 82℃ (180℉). It is no exaggeration to say that you can bake a cake in the hot sand. The average annual rainfall is little more than ten millimeters; sometimes there is not a drop of rain for ten months at a stretch. Days are exceptionally sunny throughout the year; nut people say it is not difficult to endure the heat of the day when you known the night will be cool.

The hot, dry climate is especially beneficial to sugar crops. Fruit trees, melons, and particularly grapes grow very well in the Turpan Depression. Every year, more than a thousand tons of grapes are exported to foreign countries.

Turpan used to be an important strategic point on the Silk Road. As early as two thousand years ago, a town called Jiaohe was built forth kilometers from today’s town of Turpan. Jiaohe then was the capital of the Outer Chshi Kingdom. During the first century, Jiaohe came under the rule of the Han Dynasty. During the sixth century, Turpan was under the administration of Gaochang Kingdom. During the reign of Emperor Tai Zong (626-649), the Gaochang Kingdom was conquered by the Tang Dynasty, and Turpan again became a frontier town of China, serving as a stopover for merchants, monks, and other travelers on their way to the west.

Thousand-Buddha Caves at Bozkrik

These caves fifty kilometers northeast of Turpan are among the best known grottoes in Xinjiang. Built during the late Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-581), the fifty-seven grottoes are known mainly for their murals, which still retain their fresh, bright colors though bits and pieces are missing here and there. The themes of the paintings are taken mostly from Buddhist tales, but they also reflect the close relations that existed between the Mongolian, Uygur and Han ethnic groups. Influence from western regions – China’s Xinjiang and Central Asia-is strongly evident in the artistic style of these murals.

Thousang –Buddha Cave at Shengjinkou

There are ten mud-brick caves, forty kilometers north of Turpan County town, in what used to be the site of a Buddhist temple during the seventh to the fourteenth centuries under the Tang Dynasty. The murals on the cave walls depict lotus blossoms with cloud patterns, lone crown on dry tree branches, vines laden with grapes, rows of willow trees, and Buddhist portraits. Most of the paintings are accompanied by annotations in the Urgur language. Other discoveries at this site include Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit and Han languages, and coins of the Tang Dynasty.

The Underground Irrigation System

This refers to special wells which are linked by underground tunnels and provide irrigation in the desert. This method of irrigation was passed on to Xinjiang people during the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D. 24). The wells were sunk at varying distances to a dozen or several dozen meters deep to collect undercurrent water from melting snow. The water is then channeled through tunnels dug from the bottom of one well to the next and led to oases for irrigation. Most of such irrigation tunnels stretch for some three kilometers, but some extend as far as thirty kilometers. There are about 1,100 such wells in the area embracing Hami and the Turpan Depression. Today, the total length of such underground irrigation tunnels in Xinjiang runs for three thousand kilometers. The project can well be compared with the Great Wall and the Grand Canal. The world-famous grapes of Xinjiang own their excellence to the existence of these wells.

Prefect Sulaiman Minaret

Built during the Qian Long reign (1736-1795) of the Qing Dynasty, Sulaiman Minaret is three kilometers southeast of the town of Turpan. A tablet beside the minaret bears an inscription in the Han and Uygur languages. It was erected By Sulaiman, a ruler of Turpan, in memory of his father, Emin, during the mid-eighteenth century, so the structure is also called the Emin Minaret. The slim, round minaret is forty-four meters tall and was built of yellow bricks with flower patterns. The exquisitely formed minaret with its helmet-shaped top is one of the most famous examples of Muslim architecture in Xijiang.

Grape Valley

On the western side of Fiery Mountain in the Turpan Depression, Grape Valley is crisscrossed by irrigation ditches and dense with trees. As the climate there is moist and cool, the valley is a pleasant place to visit in summer. The seedless grapes produced in the valley are excellent.

Ruins of Gaochang City

Scattered over an area of two million square metes at the foot of Fiery Mountain about forty-five kilometers southeast of the town of Turpan, this site is divided into three parts: an outer city, an inner city, and the imperial palace. Most of the city walls are still well preserved, the highest section being twelve meters high. Within the city walls are the remains of broken houses, earth pagodas, and a network of streets. Most of the houses were built with rammed earth or mud bricks, with arched doorways and windows.

Gaochang City was the political and cultural center in China’s northwest for 1,500 years from the Han Dynasty, when the government began to station garrisons there, until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the city began to deteriorate.

Ruins of Jiaohe City

These ruins, ten kilometers west of Turpan, are considered to have been the frontier post of the outer Cheshi Kingdom during the Han Dynasty. In the sixth century Jiaohe Prefecture was established with the original Jialhe City as the seat of the prefectural government. Jiaohe City was built on an island at the confluence of two rivers, occupying an area of 230,000 square meters. Most of the remaining buildings are from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and later times, and they fall into three categories: temples, civilian residences, and administration buildings. What is left of the town indicated three interesting things about it: (1) that its doors and windows did not face the street – a peculiarity of Tang Dynasty architecture: (2) that courtyards and rooms were dug from the earth, like cave dwellings – a specialty in China’s northwest; and (3) that no city walls were necessary because the town was surrounded by cliffs – a feature decided its peculiar terrain. The fact that Jiaohe’s houses have been preserved so well is mainly due to the area’s dry climate.


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