Given my very public aversion to heat you think I’d avoid going to the hottest spot in China. A place that is the second lowest point on earth (after the Dead Sea) and below sea level. Just my luck, in the days leading up to my stop, they had a sudden heat wave and temperatures in Turpan were measured at 167 degree Fahrenheit (75 degree Celsius).
A HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SEVEN FRIGGIN DEGREES, PEOPLE!!!!
But in the comfort of my air-conditioned home, weeks ago, I had bought a train ticket to there, and booked my hostel. I had to go.
Luckily the day I arrived the heat wave had broke, and temps were down to their regular 100-116. (40-47 C.) Sitting at the hostel watching the thermometer go up to 115 degrees isn’t fun. You’ll probably expect me to start ranting about how miserable it was, and how I hated every second.
But I didn’t.
Actually Turpan turned out to be one of the best spots of the trip. It was due to two reasons: An awesome hostel, and awesome people.
Like all of Xinjiang, Turpan is dry. Which means dry heat. If you stayed in the shade with a fan, you could survive and be (relatively) cool. In fact, the only thing to do when confronted with such wild, inhumane temperatures is sit and relax.
Turpan is also famous for grapes. It’s such a hot dry climate, it’s perfect for grapes. You think nothing would grow in these conditions, but actually Turpan is fed by underground water sources. So while rain is very rare, there is plenty of greenery all around, and grapes thrive.
My hostel, the amazing Dap Hostel, was a traditional muslim courtyard house. The hostel rooms were on one side, and the middle was a courtyard with raised seating platforms covered by grapes. With a few well-placed fans, you could sit comfortably there all day. Which we did.
But there are things to be seen in Turpan, and as a tourist I had to do my duty. One day, four of us rented a car and spent all day driving around looking at the sights.
For literature fans, Turpan has a most historic site: the Flaming Mountain. Made famous by Journey to the West, one of the “four classic books” of China, the Flaming Mountain is an important place in literature. Of course, there aren’t actually flames there, but the place is so sparse, dry and hot that it has heat waves coming off it that can make the ground shimmer like flames.
We also went to the ruins of an ancient city called Gaochang. This place was originally the stopping point on the Silk Road. Also the local Uighur’s used to be Buddhist, before the Muslim religion came to the region, and these ruins house a large Buddhist temple. (Buddhism originally entered China via the Silk Road.) But life here was not peaceful, with Chinese and Mongolian leaders all battling for control. It was destroyed by the 14th century and has stood deserted, the dry climate protecting the remains.
Since the local Uighers were originally Buddhist, there is still evidence of the Buddhist past including more caves with Buddhist paintings and art inside them. Unfortunately, unlike the Magao Caves, these were looted and the art was chipped off the wall and sent to collectors around the world. There wasn’t much to see, but we managed to have fun.
We also went to a Tuyoq Village,a traditional Muslim village where people live just like the old days. Unfortunately, this was where the heat caught up with me, and I thought I was gonna pass out/puke. So I let the others go ahead while I found some shade to sit under. (I drank probably 4-5 bottles of water throughout the day and had eaten two ice creams. It was just too overwhelming in the end despite all my precautions.) I did get some raisins here from the local people and they were the best tasting raisins of my life.
So despite the horrible temperatures and mild heat stroke, I was quite upset at leaving Turpan. It was a beautiful place, delicious food, and I had met amazing people. Luckily, as I continued my journey westward I would run into several of them again. No regrets!
Travel Tips: Stay at the Dap Hostel. Don’t be a dummy and miss out on this great place. Think I’m just blowing smoke up your ass? It’s the number one rated place on tripadvisor, has a 94% rating on hostelworld, and a 9.1 rating on booking.com. So it’s not just me.