Turpan: Essence of a Place

Turpan City

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region


September 27, 2016


What better way to appreciate and capture the essence of a place * than to stroll along its boulevards and to wander through the markets?

Turpan is buzzing with activity.  The streets are filled with fast moving vehicles that are decidedly Chinese in design.  Battery operated motorbikes or hybrid automobiles or low emission trucks and buses compete for space with a host of creatively designed mini-cars that can carry a small amount of freight or a family.  Now in late summer, the motorized carriages are all open air.

From Lonely Planet:  Turpan (鲁番; Tǔlǔfān) is China’s Death Valley. At 154m below sea level, it’s the second-lowest depression in the world and the hottest spot in China. In July and August, temperatures soar above 40°C (104 F) and even 50°C (122 F), forcing the local population to sleep on their roofs and visiting tourists into a state of semi-torpor.

Despite the heat, the ground water and fertile soil of the Turpan depression has made this a veritable oasis in the desert, evidenced by the nearby centuries-old remains of ancient cities, imperial garrisons and Buddhist caves.

The main market is decidedly Central Asian.  Fabrics and fashions have migrated from the neighboring ‘Stans.  The traditional “ikat” technique is used in silk fabric.  The “adras” creative color combinations and striking designs brighten the market stalls.   They remind me of my own visit to Uzbekistan several years ago.

Folks are busy with the traditional market activities: selling and buying and bargaining and bargaining.  Muslim women, here as elsewhere, are shy.  Only one or two take the time to pose for a photo.

I meet a pair of Han Chinese university students.  At first the young girls giggle and turn away from my camera.  They disappear, but return in a few moments.  With big smiles and genuine generosity, they offer me a gift of a traditional Muslim skullcap. 

The skullcap also reminds me of my visit to a Jewish community in Uzbekistan.  The observant men there wear a skullcap with the same shape and similar embroidered designs.

Muslims and Jews, we are cousins. We cover our head out of respect for our Creator.


PS   I stayed at Turpan Silk Road Lodges - The Vines Hotel. To me it looked like a modern version of a Caravanserai - ancient rest stops for traders and their camels.


*The Essence of a Place.  Please see this book of tips for travel photography by my friend Ralph Velasco.


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