After a 13-hour flight, we landed in Shanghai (China’s eastern shore) and promptly set off the next day for Urumqi, a desert city in the far northwest of China. It took roughly 5.5 hours to fly the length of China, and between that and the jet lag, we were thoroughly exhausted upon our arrival.
The following day we got up early and went to the Turpan area, an oasis in the midst of the desert. Turpan is renowned for its grapes and melons – the intense heat makes for sweet fruit, and the irrigation permits the growing of crops in one of the largest deserts in China. The farmers grow fresh grapes and also make an astonishing variety of raisins – we saw a lot of them in the night market.
We spent most of the day going to the ruined cities of Jiaohe and Gaochang. The ruins were moderately impressive, but mostly what I remember was the intense heat and sun on the crumbling adobe. In Gaochang, we took the trip out to the best-preserved ruin by donkey-cart, which proved somewhat amusing as our donkey decided to take a detour while the driver was back in the street picking up a dropped bag.
As the intense heat of the day faded, we went to see the karez museum. The karez are a series of tunnels and wells that were dug as the original irrigation system hundreds of years ago – some of the wells 100 meters deep (so said the tour guide), connecting to underground tunnels that carry the water out to the fields. There are over 1000 karez irrigation lines, all dug by hand – our guide, Jack, said that some of the original karez workers are still alive, and that because of the cramped conditions (the tunnels were no more than 1 meter tall, and excavated completely by hand) they are noticeable in having permanently bent backs.
At the karez was an arbor dripping with the grapes for which the Turpan area was known. I was quite impressed:
We finished up the tour part of the day with a feast with an Uigur (local minority) dance troupe – they roasted an entire lamb for us, which looked kind of grisly:
But the dance costumes were quite pretty – I wanted one for next year’s AIDS Ride!
After a three hour ride, we returned to the hotel, exhausted.