Tali woke up today with sore calf muscles, probably from the stair climbing we did at Heaven Lake the day before yesterday – more than 500 steps in the trip to the Confucian Temple there, I’m guessing. We met Jason at 10:30 this morning to begin our first of two days’ sightseeing by visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins of the ancient city of Jiaohe, on the outskirts of Turpan.
Jiaohe was the capital of one of the 36 kingdoms that made up the Western Region during the Han Dynasty. It’s watchtowers and high walls are an indication of its dual role, as both a seat of government, and as a military fortress providing safety to area peasants from marauding enemy horsemen. Jiaohe was largely destroyed by Mongol rebellions, and gradually abandoned after the Yuan Dynasty.
Because of the extremely hot, dry climate in the Turpan Depression, and the fact that ancient building techniques used mud bricks and stone, rather than wood, there are extensive remnants of many buildings of Jiaohe. The ruins provide lots of interesting shapes to photograph, especially framed against the blue sky, and escaping the busloads of tourists with their guides explaining everything to death via loud microphones, was not too difficult, as it’s a large area, and the guided tourists tend not to venture beyond the closest sights.
The karez irrigation system has brought water from the mountains, more than twenty five miles away from Turpan to the city for more than two thousand years, and as been responsible for this area thriving as an agricultural oasis, in the midst of an arid desert. We next visited a tourist site illustrating how the karez works, but it was mostly a big commercial market, with just a little bit of explanation of this amazng ancient feat of engineering.
We left the karez tourist site quite quickly, and well-fortified by a delicious flatbread still hot from the clay oven that cooks it in just a minute or two, we went on, to visit Grape Valley. Turpan (or Tulufan, which is what the locals call their city) produces an enormous bounty of grapes, mulberries, melons, and other fruits and vegetables, thanks to the cool mountain water provided by the karez system. These grapes are then either dried into an astounding variety of raisins, large and small, black and yellow, possibly more than a dozen different strains, or made into wines, which are popular all over China.
The tourist sites in Grape Valley seemed well suited to providing large amounts of tourists with samples of raisins and wine, but as we are here well before the harvest begins, later in the summer, when I’m sure there are large crowds, the sites had a slightly forlorn air about them…but never mind, we took off on foot to explore the Valley ourselves!
The main road of the Valley is lined with most interesting adobe houses, and most of them have beautiful hand-painted wooden double doors, in varying states of repair. Tali and I walked down a good stretch of the road, photographing these doors, and anything else of visual interest, include the narrow alleys that run between houses, the grape arbors everywhere, and the huge, ancient mulberry trees, whose fruit is ripening now.
We were invited in by one family, to see their house…we politely declined their invitation to lunch, having just eaten the flatbread, but we were welcome to photograph them as they went about their business – mother making noodles from scratch, grandmother tending to the baby in its cradle, father and son playing at the table while waiting to eat. So warm and hospitable, these people of Turpan! I have several times been asked where I was from by local men, and when I said “America,” they have smiled and responded, “Welcome to Tulufan!”.
Once we had taken our cultural and creative walk in Grape Valley, we had one more place to visit today, before calling it a day… the Emin Minaret, also called Su Gong Ta, one of the architectural gems of the Silk Road. Built in 1777, it is a circular tower with a beautiful design of differently shaped bricks at each level. The attached mosgue has beautiful wood beams inside, and the whole structure has a wonderful balance and grace.
By now, our feet were demanding to be rested, so we had dinner at the same dumpling shop near our hotel as last night, “Longjiang Dumpling Restaurant, featuring delicious vegetarian dumplings along with hot and cold vegetable dishes.
It was a delicious end to a satisfying day!