I’m ready to call it a night, but across the street from my hotel room the party is just getting started. Yellow light bulbs barely cut through the thick grill smoke hanging over the Turpan night market and even though the sun has already set the sky is still radiating a deep, vibrant blue. The conversation is lively and young children are playing but from where I’m sitting it all blends into a relaxing mumble.
Closing my eyes I try to replay the trip so far. I arrived in Turpan yesterday after a couple hours travel from the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi and I was immediately struck by the color contrast of the yellow desert and the lush green oasis. This area is part of the northern route of the historic Silk Road and it’s not hard to imagine this city 1,000 years ago. Donkey carts and street side markets can still be found everywhere.
Today I took my time exploring Jiaohe, a spectacular ancient city that sits on top of a small plateau a few kilometers west of Turpan. The ruins are unique in that instead of being built up, they were dug out of the ground by its early inhabitants. For hours I had walked through the streets that still remain and stared at crumbling mud buildings that were abandoned in the 14th century.
Turpan is known as one of the hottest places in China, though, and that heat zapped the energy right out of me. On my way back to the city I had the opportunity to visit the old town to the west of Turpan where I caught a glimpse of the karez, a unique underground canal system, as well as the city mosque. By the time I reached the hotel room I was beat.
Now I am faced with a choice: heed the advice of my weary body to go to sleep early or head across the street to enjoy the Turpan nightlife. It doesn’t help that the savory smell of meat on the grill is finding its way to my window, or that my parched throat is begging for a cold drink.
I slowly open my eyes and catch a glimpse of some Uyghur men bursting into laughter after one of the little kids inadvertently runs into a donkey’s hindquarters. It’s not a significant moment, but that’s all it takes to help me decide to leave the comfort of the nearby bed. I won’t be here long and this Uyghur culture is something I desperately want to be a part of.
Josh lived and traveled all through Xinjiang, China for almost 4 years, chronically much of his journey on his website. He used this particular Turpan trip to research and write his Turpan travel guide, which you can now download for free..