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A desert oasis on the Silk Road linking China to the West, Turpan remains an oasis for travelers interested in the history of this region. This small city of 250,000 is located in the Turpan Depression, the second lowest point on Earth (next to the Dead Sea) at 500 feet (154 meters) below sea level. Turpan is surrounded by the Taklamakan Desert in China's far northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and the Uighur minority, Islamic descendants of early Silk Road traders, account for two-thirds of the city's present population. The outstanding sight in the town is the Karez underground water system, with an entry point at the Turpan ...

A desert oasis on the Silk Road linking China to the West, Turpan remains an oasis for travelers interested in the history of this region. This small city of 250,000 is located in the Turpan Depression, the second lowest point on Earth (next to the Dead Sea) at 500 feet (154 meters) below sea level. Turpan is surrounded by the Taklamakan Desert in China's far northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and the Uighur minority, Islamic descendants of early Silk Road traders, account for two-thirds of the city's present population. The outstanding sight in the town is the Karez underground water system, with an entry point at the Turpan Water Museum. The surviving 1,000 vertical wells and linking channels still keep Turpan cool in the blazing hot summers and help irrigate the famous grape arbors, which can be viewed at Green Pearl City, seven miles outside of town. In Turpan, the most popular tourist site is the Emin Minaret, built in 1777, China's tallest, and, for eating and shopping, Qingnian Pedestrian Street. Turpan's chief historical monuments are the splendid ruins of two ancient Silk Road cities: Jiaohe, a military garrison dating back to the Han Dynasty, and Gaochang, another ancient walled city. The Astana Graves (200-800 AD) near Gaochang consist of a thousand small underground chambers with painted murals. Mummies from Astana are on display in the Turpan Museum. Another archaeological treasure house, the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, 27 miles to the east, line the steep cliff sides of the Flaming Mountains above Mutou Valley. Of the original 83 Buddhist grottoes, many fashioned in the Tang Dynasty, 57 remain open and 40 retain the colorful murals painted inside. But like the ancient Silk Road cities, these cave shrines have been reduced to ruins, only faintly evocative of a romantic desert past.

J.D. Brown
About the Expert

J.D. Brown is a contributor to Frommer's China and Frommer's Beijing, coauthor of Frommer's China: The 50 Most Memorable Trips, Berlitz Shanghai, Berlitz Singapore, and other books.

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J.D. Brown for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Located in northwest China in Xinjiang, on the Silk Road
  • Language: Mandarin and Uyghur
  • Currency: Yuan
  • Research: Wikipedia | Wikitravel

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    In this dry desert climate, summers are long and extremely hot and winters are fiercely cold, making early spring and late autumn the most temperate times for travel.