I wanted to take a trip to Turpan to know what it’s like to be in the 2nd-lowest depression on Earth after the Dead Sea. However, this also meant being in one of the hottest places in all of China. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to that aspect of the trip but it is what it is.
From Urumqi Railway Station (not to be confused with Urumqi South Railway Station… it is important to know where exactly you need to depart from so your taxi driver doesn’t take you to the wrong station across town), it is a 1.5 to 2 hour train ride to Turpan, or as the Chinese call it, “too-loo-fan”. Again, I like the Chinese version of city names.
Once I got to Turpan, I had to pass a security checkpoint. This is where things got a little interesting. The security looked through my passport for a bit before directing me to an officer standing by. I was told to wait as a few others, all Chinese, had their documents inspected. A few Uyghur-looking fellows were also told to wait with me. After a few minutes, we were then told to follow an officer to took us to a building about 5 minutes walk outside the station. I was a little worried and I wondered what was flagged in my passport. Was it because I was American? Or because I had a lot of stamps in my passport? Or because it said in my passport that I was born in Malaysia, a Muslim country, which as we all know, is the religion of Uyghurs who are being “re-educated” by the CCP these days. Guess I can’t always get away with looking like a typical Han Chinese.
I was told to wait with the other Uyghurs fellows as my passport was taken in for who knows what. About 10-15 minutes later, the officer shows up again and tells me I can go. I didn’t ask any questions and left.
Oh sweet Guanyin, was it hot outside! Fortunately, it was a temperature and dry heat similar to that during Texas summers so I was able to adapt quickly mentally. I managed to get a taxi driver to take me to a road near my hostel and then walked the rest of the way. While looking for a place to stay the day before, I was surprised at how difficult it was to find accommodation in Turpan. DAP Youth Hostel was one of few places which took foreigners and since it wasn’t a popular tourist destination, there was availability. (Once I was home in the USA months later, I read that Turpan was one of several cities in Xinjiang which had Uyghur detention, I mean “re-education”, camps and the international out-roar over these camps attracted foreign journalists to the area which led to the CCP banning foreigners’ prying eyes from the truth about what was going on. All this explained the difficulty in finding accommodation in cities around Xinjiang and possibly my brief detention at the train station.)
Besides walking around in small Turpan city and eating some delicious zhuafan (rice pilaf) that was topped with delicious Turpanese raisins, I took a day trip to check out Jiaohe Ancient City. Being too cheap to hire a tour guide, I walked around myself while reading my Lonely Planet guide for a bit of information. What is interesting was how brown and dead the entire city looked but when you peer over the city walls, your eyes are met with lush greenery. As hot as Turpan gets, it actually has great conditions for growing grapes, a major product of the region. This is helped by the Karez irrigation system. So if you are ever invited to have a glass of Chinese wine with grapes from Turpan, don’t automatically dismiss it as swill. (I did not try the wine nor am I a wine expert so if you do try it, let me know if it’s actually any good. I know the raisins were.)
I didn’t spend more than a night in Turpan. The heat was oppressive and I didn’t think there was much to do there apart from checking out more ruins like Jiaohe, which I passed on because I read it was similar. I did end up watching a World Cup match at the hostel with a bunch of other strangers who I would later meet again in Kashgar and who I would travel with for over a week.
Anyway, I decided to return to Urumqi and, after getting away with being able to keep it many times while being flagged at Chinese security checkpoints, finally having my Leatherman utility tool confiscated permanently by a young but strict female security guard at the Turpan train station.