Day 53 - Wednesday 24th May - Turpan

Lonely Planet described Turpan as a laid back place where you could sit under the grape vines and have a coffee or cold beer. Marco Polo also wrote favourably of the town. We were looking forward to the cold beers.

We found the grape vines growing on overhead trellises sheltering the streets, but the sheltered streets were devoid of any form of commercial activity.  Unfortunately something seems to have happened since the last edition of LP was published. I think it is the general escalation of security across the whole of Xinjiang that has cleared any major gathering of people. The only place that there was any form of out door dining was around the lake in the centre of town. But that was surrounded by a 10’ high barbed wire fence with people and bag scanning security at both entrances.

Without the offer of the alfresco option and the fact that it was also blisteringly hot, I took to option to catch up on stuff while Loris went to the museum.

At 5.00pm we were organised to drive out to what was described as an irrigation museum. This showed the Karez irrigation system used extensively in this area, Afghanistan and in Iran. In summary water is captured in tunnels dug down the mountainsides and then channelled down into irrigation ditches at the foot and around the fields. As its all underground, it protects the water from excessive evaporation. The tunnels go back for thousands of years. Unfortunately the museum was a Karez theme park, nothing real, but tons of the favourite Chinese construction material, concrete.

It was then off to Jiaohe, the ruins of a garrison town built in the Han Dynasty (about 1700 years ago). Situated on an island that rises about 50’ high out of the middle of the river. Today its surrounded by stark desert, in its time, I assume that it was surrounded by green fields as it was noted as a significant supply base for the silk route.