One of the most amazing architectural sites of the world is hiding in the Yarnaz valley 11 km to the west from Turpan. This is an ancient Jiaohe city with 2300-year history situated in the forest plateau between the two rivers on a small island cliff. The name of Jiaohe city means “Rivers’ weaving” or “interfluve”. Jiaohe the pise citiy which is remained better than others. The city is placed on the hill 30 m in height, 1600 m in length and approx. 300 m in width, what released the city from need of fortifications; therefore the city had never been surrounded by walls. City was dried in dry air under beams of the sun and retained its ancient appearance till present days.
Jiaohe was also the part of the Silk Road and was ruined in the 13th century in 40-year old war. In spite of destruction it is possible to see streets and remains of constructions, where there were placed shops, taverns, administrative centers or houses. Some of flats are remained so good that it is still could be recognized fireplaces, windows and niches in walls, which served as shelves for different household items. It is easy to recognize the main street which differs by dense building development, crossing the city from north to south. The ruins of the city gates tower on two sides from the main street. The silhouette of big Buddhist temple built in 360 year and ancient pagoda can be seen and recognized in the northern part of Jiaohe. Ruins are open daily from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m.
Astana burial ground
Astana burial ground – is the ancient burial place in Goby desert located not far away from ruins of Gaochang city. Beginning from the 3rd - 8th century AD such inhabitants of Gaochang as aristocrats, officials and commoners were buried there. In total graveyard occupies about 8 sq. km of territory and it is one of the most valuable information sources for modern researchers of Turpan. Nowadays there were found about 500 burial places, but only three of them are available for tourist view. Because of dry climate the buried bodies dried and turned into mummies. A great interest for scientists represent funerary paper and textile objects, which in spite of materials fragility remained in a good condition in hot sands and didn’t rot.
Absolutely priceless material for studying of ancient way of life in Xinjiang became such paper products as caps and shoes. Each tomb represents small cave with pebble floor and sloping corridor leading to the cave. The walls of some tombs are decorated with writings with different plots, among which images of the main postulates of Confucianism. Many tombs were decorated with paintings on cloth or paper with the images of Chinese Gods
Turpan is usually called as the grape capital of China. visitors have a great possiblity to get full understanding about grape culture in Turpan and to taste the most delicious grades of grapes in Grape valley. Grape valley is situated at the foothill of Flaming Mountains 13 km away from Turpan and stretches for 8 km from north to south and for 0.5 km from west to east. Large paradise garden with total area 400 ha is planted with grape as well as with fruit trees. Plantation is irrigated with the help of ancient kyariz irrigation system, which history has lasted more than 2000 years. The water from melting glaciers of Tien-Shan comes in special wells, from where water goes to fields and cities on complicated system of underground and ground channels. In summer, when Turpan looks like molten stone, Grape valley turns into small oasis, where grape vines give a cool shadow.
Tashgar grape – is one of the sweetest kinds of grape in the world; sugar share in juicy grape berry is 22-26%. White seedless grape is called “Tashgar emerald”. It is so sweet that it is recommended to make a mouth rinsing in order not to avoid harm of teeth. Especially delicious is Turpan raisin dried by the winds from the side of desert in a special room with opening in walls. The sugar content in this raisin is 75%. After desert and sun take away all moisture from berries, they keep the taste and fragrance. The best time for visiting the Grape valley is August – when there is a Grape Festival on plantations. Beautiful Uygur women in bright national clothes put juicy bunches of grape in baskets and national songs may be heard everywhere.
Sultry Turpan, blown by hot winds from the desert side, is sometimes called as the gates of the hell because of very high temperature and lack of rains. In summer the air temperature may increase to 49 degrees and ground temperature – to 82 degrees. Flaming Mountains are one of the spurs of Tien-Shan – stretch for 98 km on the northern edge of desert Takla-Makan and from west to east for 9 km. The average height of ridge is 500 m; the highest peak is 831 m above the sea level. During millions of years volcanoes erupted lava flowing down the mountains and formed numerous ravines on the slopes of yellow-orange ridges.
Because of this peculiarity when the sun goes down it paints cracks of mountain and slopes look like giant tongues of flame. Flaming Mountains are known among the traders because Silk Road passed through Turpan, therefore there a lot of legends and stories about these mountains. Mountains also were also described in one of episodes of the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, which was written in 1590. In spite of that desert wind burns face, the ground is so hot that soles of shoes start to melt, the only wonderful thing is a beautiful landscape on sunset, when mountains look like a flame dragon.
Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
These caves are the most valuable among other caves devoted to Buddha in Turpan surroundings. Bezeklik caves are placed 45 km away from Turpan high in rocks in western part of the Mutou valley. A beautiful view to Flaming Mountains, dunes and green valley with small river opens from the height. Only 57 caves of Bezeklik complex remained from ancient times, where 40 of them stores unique frescos created in between the 5th and 9th century. As usually in such cult caves the main personage of paintings is Buddha. Wall paintings in caves give the view about the past of this region.
Some of frescoes represent foreign merchants of European appearance who bring gifts for Buddha. It is possible to see also the paintings of streets of ancient kingdom, inscriptions on Uygur, Chinese and other languages, which represent priceless historical source of information. Some Bezeklik caves were destroyed in ancient times because of different clashes, but in spite of that there remained interesting examples of wall paintings. In the cave #16 there is painted a musician playing on ancient instrument like lute, which came to this land from another province. This fact proves that there was a cultural exchange between northern and southern part of China in ancient times.
The ruins of ancient city Gaochang stand among velvet sands of Goby desert. Many years ago when this city was prospering, it was compared with brilliant precious stone inlaid in lifeless desert. Gaochang is situated at the foothill of Flaming Mountains 46 km to the south-east from Turpan. Ruins of Gaochang remained till nowadays better than other ancient cities excepting Jiaohe city and this is a main sightseeing of Xinjiang. Ancient city was constructed in the 1st century BC by Huns as military colony. At first city was named Gaochang fortress, then Kharakhodja, later Dukhu what means “Royal city”. Gaochang became in a key section of Silk Road because of development of trading relations between far countries and China.
Buddhism got there through this legendary road and Gaochang became one of the first centers of this doctrine on the territory of China. During many years city was passed from hand to hand. Today ruins of the brick walls remind about its former glory. Ruins occupy territory about 2 sq. km. Planning of the city reminds traditional scheme of Tang cities. Generally Gaochang consist of inner city, outer city and Palace part. Beside ancient buildings of Gaochang it is possible to see several temples, where remained altars and niches for Buddha statues. Doors of Gaochang are open for visiting every day from 10 a.m. till 7 p. m.
Tuygou canyon is situated in 55 km to the east from Turpan and 15 km from Gaochang ruins. It stretches from the ancient Subeisy village to the Maza village. It is almost unknown placefor foreign tourists, thus it is popular among Muslim pilgrims and it is one of the most enigmatic and sacramental places in Western China. There are Uygur villages built in primitive architectural style in this gorge, where the most attractive for tourists is Tuyoq village.
The Muslim people consider this Uygur village as a shrine: an ancient mosque towers in the heart of the village and besides it is older than popular Emin Minaret. Other local sightseeing places are – mazars (graveyards), which are more ancient that Astana burial land. Because of remoteness from cities and severe climate Tuyoq village remains untouched touristic business corner with its medieval appearance. Few kilometers away from canyon there are popular Thousand Buddha Caves – ancient Buddhist cave complex. In 2008 eight kilometers away from Tuygou were found 2700-years old mummy of European race in the Yankhai burial ground.
Tuyoq village is the ancient village located 70 km east of Turpan in a lush gully carved into the Flaming Mountains. Tuyoq is a beautiful, timeless village with a friendly Auger community. It is surrounded by vineyards and famous for its oval-shaped seedless grapes, the raisins of which are well known in Beijing. Albert von Le Coq discovered the ruins of Buddhist cave temples here in 1905, ‘clinging like a swallow’s nest to the almost perpendicular slope of the mountainside’.
These caves are thought to be the oldest in the Turpan area and date from the fourth century. Part of the monastery perched atop one of the cliffs fell into the gorge in 1916 during an earthquake. Behind the vineyards, which surround Tuyoq village, there are caves and a mosque. The dome of the mosque is visible behind mud-brick houses and the green valley. The caves are situated one kilometer upriver in the gulley. Only nine caves contain traces of frescoes, three of which are locked.
Karez irrigation system
Water supply always was the main problem of Xinjiang inhabitants. Especially that was the problem of oasis-cities such as Turpan and Kashgar surrounded by deserts and mountains, where annual precipitation hardly exceeded for 20 mm, besides the temperature in summer could reach +50̊C. In order to survive in such climatic conditions ancient inhabitants more than 2000 years ago started to construct one of the most grandiose engineering systems of China – Karez irrigation system. System represents the complex of underground and ground channels connected with each other by vertical wells. Water flows in underground channels from special wells dug on the slopes of mountains.
In Turpan for instance water flows into wells from melting glaciers of Tien-Shan, from where it runs to cities and fields through the underpass. Generally the length of channels in Xinjiang is about 5000 km and therefore this system was called underground Great Wall of China. It is very hard to imagine how it was difficult to construct such a great number of underpasses, due to it arid cities of the Great Silk Road could exist. Only due to Karez appeared a possibility of cultivation of fruits including the sweetest grape and garnets in China. In spite of the age of Karez system, there remained a lot of working wells and channels around Turpan. In addition Karez system has another function – function of natural of air conditioning. Tourists can see this ancient system of irrigatin on the route from Jiaohe to Turpan.
Turpan city preserved till present days the monuments of ancient Uygur architecture among which the best sample is Emin minaret – the oldest and biggest tower in Xinjiang. Emin minaret is the only Muslim tower among hundreds of well-known towers of China. It is situated 2 km to the east from Turpan city and it was built in 1777 in honor of Turpan hero – Emin Khodja general. This man was outstanding patriot, who devoted his life to the struggle for unification of China. After Emin’s death his elder son Suleiman became the ruler of Turpan who constructed minaret in memory of father and in gratitude to Beijing government.
Two steles with Chinese and Uygur inscriptions are placed at the entrance to minaret. Stele with hieroglyphs tells about the aims of minaret construction: it praises Jing government and exploits of Emin Khodja and Uygur inscriptions praise Allah. Minaret is cone-shaped tower in traditional Islamic style 44 m in height and 10 m in base diameter. There is brick spiral staircase with 72 steps which stretches till the very ceiling. There is also a small platform upstairs but it is prohibited to climb up to it. The tower is made of brick and it is covered with various traceries and ornaments. The tower is open every day from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m.