The small oasis town of TURPAN is an absolute must-see if you’re in Xinjiang. A former Silk Road outpost, it has long been a favourite with adventurous travellers. The town is surrounded by a number of fascinating historical sites – from ruined cities to Buddhist caves, testimony to its historical importance as a Silk Road stopover.
Turpan is located in a depression 80m below sea level, which accounts for its extreme climate – above 40°C in summer and well below freezing in winter. In summer the dry heat is so soporific that, despite the preponderance of places to explore, you may be hard-pushed to do anything but sleep or sip cool drinks under shady grapevines with the locals – this laidback vibe is another reason behind Turpan’s enduring popularity.
Surprisingly, despite its bone-dry surroundings, Turpan is an agricultural centre of note, famed across China for its grapes. Today, virtually every household in the town has a hand in the business, both in cultivating the vine, and in drying the grapes at the end of the season (a Grape Festival is held at the end of August).
Note that if you come out of season (Nov–March), Turpan is cold and uninspiring, with the vines cut back and most businesses closed – although the sights remain interesting, and at these times are almost devoid of other tourists.