Along the way to the Bezeklik Caves and other destinations northeast of Turpan, you’ll pass the Flaming Mountains, made famous in the sixteenth-century Chinese novel Journey to the West. It’s not hard to see why the novel depicts these sandstone mountains as walls of flame, the red sandstone hillsides lined and creviced as though flickering with flame in the heat haze. The plains below are dotted with dozens of small “nodding donkey” oil wells, all tapping into Xinjiang’s vast reserves.

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