We met Jason at about 10:30 am, after we had had breakfast and checked out of the hotel. We drove out of metropolitan Urumqi and began to cycle southeast towards Turpan. The day started off in the low 20s and cloudy, but as the sun came out the temperature rose about six degrees – still, it was a pleasant day for cycling.
The road we took headed due south and east, in a wide valley between two mountain ranges, and this resulted in a wind tunnel effect for our entire ride today. We had a strong wind blowing at our backs all day, so strong that it almost felt like we were riding e-bikes – pedaling was virtually optional! We zipped along at speeds ranging from the high 20s kmh, to as much as 40 kmh – very fast for us! We made the 75 km to Dabancheng in a little over 3.5 hours, including stops for photos, and a few exciting moments when it surprisingly began to rain in this dry, arid climate!
We loaded our bikes into the van right at the outskirts of this small town, and Tali had a large bowl of tasty cold yogurt, served to her by three older peasant women with long plaited hair, the kind of hair that was made famous by a popular Uygur folksong about Dabancheng. We had a tasty lunch at a small family-run Uygur restaurant in this little town, then drove the rest of the way to Turpan.
The descent into the great Turpan depression began right outside of Dabancheng, as we drove through the gebi (stony) desert, surrounded by great rocky crags with no trees or anything else growing on them. The temperature steadily rose as we got closer to the city, rising to the high 30s Celsius, really hot, but well below Turpan’s recorded high temperature of 76.6 degrees Celsius, reached thirty nine years ago!
Turpan is the second lowest place on earth, bested only by the Dead Sea, about 80 meters below sea level. It is a desert oasis town, due to an elaborate irrigation system that brings water from high in the surrounding mountains, and it is even
well known for its grape production, for both raisins and winemaking. Marco Polo visited Turpan in the 13th century, a testimonial to its historical importance as a Silk Road trading center.
After we checked into the Tulifan Huozhou Hotel, the newest in town and very comfortable, we met Jason for dinner. He’d managed to find a small family-run restaurant serving the food typical of his home village in Northeast China. We had a delicious meal of boiled dumplings with either celery and radish, or spinach filling, eaten with soy sauce and hot chili oil as a dip, cold mashed tofu prepared with scallions, and fresh lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Superb!
After dinner we walked around the large town square, which had the festive feel of a major holiday celebration…but it wasn’t, it was just a normal weekday evening, and this was what the local townspeople did for fun! The square was packed with people of all Xinjiang Province’s thirteen minorities, each with their children dressed up in charming prince or princess or fairy or other costumes, and everyone was walking around the square, chatting, eating snacks, putting their kids on one of the two gaily-painted merry-go-rounds for a ride. There were several people selling glow-in-the-dark princess’ wands or bouncing balls, and you would have thought there was going to be a riot, there were so many people lined up to buy them! the whole scene was so charming, so full of childish glee over very simple amusements, that it just brought tears to my eyes, remembering my own childhood, when I got just as much pleasure from just as simple fun and games. How wonderful! Our morning and evening affirmations encourage us to visualize the Divine Child within, and here in Turpan, in the town square, we were getting a demonstration of a lot of people doing just that.