Day 36: The Ruins of Turpan

Jiaohe Ruins: The first stop on today’s visit to this desert oasis is the Jiaohe (“Jeeow-huh”) Ruins. Built in the second century B.C., the ruins are some of- wait. That can’t be right. Second century B.C.? *reads sign closely* Yep. Second century B.C. Astounding. This entire area was an important stop on the Silk Road, the trade route connecting the Orient with Europe, because the natural snowmelt from the nearby mountains provided much needed nourishment for travelers. Turpan spent centuries prospering in this oasis by somehow channeling underground rivers to the surface using wells and dams and other things I don’t understand. In the end, Turpan is a real life mirage in the middle of harsh Chinese desert.

The ruins, old as they are, are understandably un-maintained. The surrounding land has reverted back to dry desert, presumably because water has been directed to the more modern city of Turpan. But the skeletal structures of ancient earthen buildings rise stubbornly from the ground. There is a sense that since they have been here for this long, they will never fall.



Before starting our stroll through the ruins, Sam and I stop for a potty break and we each come out grinning and clutching our cameras, eager to show the other the sign we saw inside. In all this time spent traveling, we seem to have settled on the same wavelength: Butchered English and pee jokes.

Sign above the urinal in the men’s restroom:

Step forward, reflecting civilization

Sign above the toilet in the women’s restroom:

As easy as lifting one’ s finger Be civilized

Then we settled down, faked a modicum of propriety, and wondered the ancient city.


The ruins are incredibly cool. Stone shapes hint at the former glory of individual buildings, while a wider gaze reveals the true wonder: this city was huge. And thousands of years later, there is still so much of it to see. Walking through these neighborhoods (and living rooms, maybe) was like legitimate time traveling.


Wider Gaze



The temple was by far the most impressive building, with four protective pillars surrounding a central column. A nearby sign provides some helpful information: “The layout of the temple is full of characteristics .”


Temple. Notice the characteristics.



Gaochang Ruins: Next on the list of ruins to see in Turpan are the other ruins that are in Turpan: Goachang.  Yeah, yeah, built in 200 B.C. been there, done that. But this time…YOU GET TO RIDE DONKEY CARTS!!!!


boys and their donkey carts...


Red Mountains



These ruins were maintained (read: rebuilt) more effectively than Jiaohe, so really this means some of the structures that are more recognizable as, well, structures, are probably only like fifteen hundred years old instead of two thousand. Harumph. Still, the donkey carts make up for being cheated out of 500 years of decay.



Fertile Valley Dinner: As we left the flat desert and drove into a large valley sandwiched between mountains, the real value of the snow runoff became noticeable. The red and orange of desert transformed gloriously into vibrant greens of vines and watermelons, purples of swollen grapes. We hid from the sun as the road continued under the shadow of trees and trellises burdened with climbing fruit. Sam asked the taxi driver if any of the restaurants spotting the side of road were good, so he took us to his friend’s place. An outdoor patio is naturally shaded by grape vines covering the trellis arching overhead. Bunches of heavy grapes test the strength of their vines as they reach down from above.

We sit and watch someone climb up the trellis and pick some of the bunches we were just looking at and just plop them down on the table. So we munched while the owner grilled us the second-best chuanr in China.


Grapes Overhead

barbecuing under the grapes

Grilling the Second Best Chuanr in China

You might recall my description of the best chuanr in China, which was at the Ali Baba grill at the beer festival in Qingdao (http://wp.me/pMFYi-8G). That one was big chunks of meat with a piece of fat attached to one end.  You could pull the meat right off the stick and the fat would stay put.  The Turpan chuanr is smaller strips of meat with delicious seasoning, but still with easily avoidable fat. It is so good.

A plate of truly delicious chow mein rounds out the meal and we go to bed stuffed and satisfied.


2 Responses to “Day 36: The Ruins of Turpan”

  1. 1 hooty hoo
    October 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

    YAY!!!! It is about time!!!

  2. 2 hooty hoo
    November 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

    ps. I think this entry has my favorite pics.

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