Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: Turkestan: Gansu & Xinjiang, Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan







I got in to Turpan

at a good early hour, though it was two hours later than scheduled and taxied in to the hotel. That was, of course, a shambles, since. The guy assured me he knew where the place was and then took off in the wrong direction. It took quite a bit of pointing at maps and eventually phone calls to sort. It out. I'm pretty sure, however, that the bus did not stop in the location described in the guidebook as the long distance bus station. It just dumped us on the side of the road ( just like the bus into Bombay did, as I recall.) I also note that the street called Bezaklik Lu is listed on the whereis map as Baizikelike, and that the red pin indicating this address is not where my hotel is.

Again, not that accurate


I hadn't even put my bag down when I was urged to sign on for a tour of the main sights leaving in 30 mins and returning in the late afternoon. It was 200Y rather than what the guidebook claimed was a normal price of 60Y, but I eventually decided to go anyway.

Turpan area

The tour wasn't very enjoyable. I was exhausted, there were no English speakers at all, the old minivan was terribly uncomfortable, it was very hot, and I felt very dirty and hungry. The first place we went to was the Karez museum, all about the curious semi subterranean channels that take water for the mountain slopes' raised aquifer down to a pool for redistribution over the fields. They're pretty clever and successful, but not that interesting to look at for long. The museum was, however, very nicely arranged. From there we went to some other places in an order I can't quite remember. We stopped to look over desert cliffs to see operating vineyards; we drove through really a impoverished Uighur village where they were growing miles of vines; and we stopped to look at what I suppose were the Flaming Mountains.

Karez Museum
Rather a pleasant grapevine tunnel


Roadside oasis
Notice the mountains in the background


Vineyard oasis

The only thing that was really worth seeing was the Bezaklik caves. They are long barrel vaulted excavations dating from 10th-12th c to late Gaochang (Huihu?) In the caves that were open (3 only) there were the evidences of Sleeping Buddha pictures which had previously illustrated the Mahaparinirvana Sutra on their front walls, with behind him the standard mourners and Saro trees. (And what are they? I'll need to look them up.) at the side were some remains of 'Donating bodhisattvas' and Jataka scenes further along the walls towards the doors. Also interesting: according to the notices in fractured English, there were illustrations of scenes and themes from the Avalokitesvara and Samantabhadra Sutras. There were also paintings of Mt Wu Tai which mountain is apparently associated by long tradition (not just Chinese) with Manjusri. That's something else I'll need to look into. It's unfortunate that all of these had been very badly damaged by the German archaeologist/ explorer Albert von le Coq, who took many of the frescoes and statues back to Berlin at the start of the 20th C - where they went missing or were destroyed in the Second World War.
Bezeklik Caves
Not the only ones of this name, which apparently means 'painted place'  (or something like that) in the local Turkic dialects
Bezeklik Visitors
The tourists come very well-dressed here.
Bezeklik Singer
Entertains the crowd on a most peculiar looking instrument
Another moderately interesting site was Gaochang, but my stamina was flagging at this point and it was almost more than I could face. The book says it's not much worth seeing, and i was prepared to take its word for it. I sat in the shade with some chubby young girls and their boys from my tour for a while, until they left and I felt obliged to get moving. It was just a dry and dusty mud brick construction with nothing remarkable remaining except some indications of a Buddhist temple in the Southwest corner. I walked to that, happy-snapped my way around a group of Buddhist pilgrims and then walked out.
The extensive remains of an old city
What happens when you leave a mud brick wall in the rain for too long.
Home and I made use of the shower and toilet. Most welcome. I wandered about looking for a place to eat, winding up at the Hanzeda on Gaocheng Lu, where I struggled to be served by some of the most offhand waitstaff I've met outside of Guangzhou airport. The meal (apparently I was only allowed to have a pizza) was expensive and not that great. Much better was the meal that the staff made in the White Camel hostel and offered to some of the guests to share. If only I'd known.
Turpan Hostel
The White Camel. A huge space.






Mostly a rest and reorganisation day. I've realised that I'm just not going to be able to do the route that I'd originally planned - which is not a great surprise - I'm often more ambitious than reasonable with these plans. I've decided to skip from Urumqi to Bishkek by plane and if possible to do Kuqa on the way back to Urumqi . Well, we'll see how it goes. Having eventually, after a great struggle, bought a ticket from URM to FRU, and with similar difficulty resigned myself to dorm accommodation in Urumqi , I headed off to the long distance bus ticket office. It was completely invisible to me, but I did eventually find the station itself behind the bazaar (and nowhere near where the LP book or the whereis map had put it) and got a ticket leaving at 8:10 am on the 22nd.
It wasn't possible to go to the museum today (it's closed until tomorrow) and I've no interest in the emin minaret, so I didn't do much this afternoon. In the later afternoon I went out to get a chicken burger and chips down the road. There I ran into a chap who was doing a charity ride across china from his home in Zhousan to Urumqi and the Kazakh border. He's almost finished now and is looking forward to getting back with his wife in Zhousan. I had intended to wander about the night market, but instead he and I went to sit outside a little beer shop and had a long chat. His name is Jerry Grey and he's got a blog attached to I've sent him an email and it's possible that we'll stay in touch. (Note that he has a riding partner called Phil with him.)






Today didn't start very well, since I woke up at 6:30 and was ready to go at 6:50 when I realised that the hostel didn't open until 7:30 and it was all locked up until then. My bus left at 8:10 and I was determined not to miss it. When 7:30 came and there was no movement I escaped out the side door, asking one of the other guests who happened to be going to the toilet to lock it behind me. Later in the day the hostel apologised for not being there and wondering how to return my deposit.(100Y) I said it wasn't their fault and that I'd consider how to get the funds transferred.

The trip itself was a bit uncomfortable since a nice fellow called Hassan (, +86 189 2075 2005) insisted on talking to me most of the way, and as he was sitting behind me it made it quite hard on my neck. But he speaks good English and Uighur and some Chinese, is well-educated (mining engineer) has been to Brisbane , a and is looking for employment opportunities. He actually mentioned a desire to guide tourists around the area, but his parents would need to be convinced that that wasn't going to take him away from them for too long. He sounds like just the sort of chap who might be useful to my scheme.

Arriving at Urumqi

was a bit confusing, but I managed to find the hostel without too much walking in circles. (It was unfortunate that a helpful security guard sent me off in quite the opposite direction, but I soon corrected myself. I find that my natural sense of direction sends me in the wrong direction too, but that I am better if I set myself to work out rationally which way to go - checking the sun and so on.)

I had a nice coffee in the 'Agape' coffee house in a nearby park, which was indeed a Christian establishment. I queried the lady about the number of Christians in the province and she didn't know but would hazard a guess at 20,000. Not that many, but ones surprise to find any. I wish I could have asked about the denomination: I suspect they are evangelicals, but I suppose they could have been the remains of the Nestorians who came out along the Silk Road so many years ago. Well, that's probably just a romantic notion of mine.

In the afternoon I had a satisfactory meal at KFC in the Parkson Shopping Mall and then back to the hostel to organise accommodation and transport to it in Bishkek. I was also pleased to see that I had an email from Jerry. He's offering to show me around the southern parts of china should I ever come near Hong Kong . I'm sure I'd like to take him up on that. Later in the evening I walked along the streets outside the Parkson and all the flash shops which had transformed into a snack street. I had a couple of fried goodies then to a small shop for a good feed for 15Y.

My hostel was the MingTian near Hong Shan park and intersection and transport centre.






Woke up this morning and waited until the others would get up and go so I could have the dorm room to myself. By the time 10:50 came around I realised I would have to give up on that idea. So up I got and got myself ready to go out for breakfast, and what do I find? It had snowed heavily overnight, and was in fact still snowing. It was very pretty, and rather cold, and also made. Me worry that there might be a difficulty with my onward connection. It seemed to clear as the day went on so I am still optimistic.
I went out to get my KFC breakfast and then came back in to get my camera to record the scenes. I think this was a bit unusual for the time or place, because. There were plenty of natives clicking away with their phone cameras - especially in the park around the Agape cafe where I went for a nice warm coffee.
The gate to the park
The roof of the gate to the park
Trees in the park behind the gate
Branches on the trees in the park behind the gate
Following this there wasn't much else to do but walk up the street to the regional museum. This was highly spoken of in the guidebook, but was fairly limited. I had read that there'd be a free English audio tour available, and perhaps there would have been if there had been anyone on duty at the ticket office or tourists reception desk. The displays of mummies and the descriptions of the archaeological sites and cemeteries from which they and a good deal of artefacts had been recovered were quite interesting. The mummies mostly dated to about 1800 BC, and the artefacts ranged through time from that date on. Photographs indicated that there was nothing left to see at those sites in Miran or Qiemo or the other very remote desert places that I had actually considered visiting at one time. There were also displays of clothing which were only really notable for their state of preservation.

One thing that would certainly have benefited from the English audio was a display of paintings that, so far as I could tell, were reproductions of Buddhist cave/grotto paintings. The artists photos and bios were displayed and information about the subjects - but all in Chinese. Still one could recognise the style and subject-matter and the shape of most of the paintings. I just wonder where they were from and what the point of the reproductions was.
On the road to the museum. There were a great many broken trees on the way.
A tapestry - about which I would like to know more
Wrote a long email to Pascaline who has been awaiting a reply for 2 months now. I am ashamed of my slackness, and resolve to do better.

I have made sure that *this* hostel knows that I'll be leaving first thing tomorrow morning. I don't want a repeat of the shemozzle at White Camel!