Turpan: Oasis in the Chinese Desert


The Turpan Depression in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in Western China is the third lowest point on the earth at 150 meters (~500 feet) below sea level. The rain shadow cast by the surrounding mountains and the low elevation make this one of the hottest and driest places on earth. But the most interesting thing is the Uyghur culture, ethnically more Turkish than Chinese, where Arabic is the mother tongue, and Islam rules.


  1. Staggering extremes of altitude and climate, ranging from towering snow-capped peaks to arid basins below sea level.
  2. The drive from Urumqi, which goes through a wasteland of coal-fired power plants and a thousand electric-generating windmills.
  3. Gaochang ruins, a Buddhist city destroyed by invading Mongols.
  4. Emin Mosque, which feels like an enormous sand castle.
  5. Tuyoq. See the house of Albert von Le Coq who looted the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves. Sadly, the spoils were destroyed in Berlin during WWII. Evil and stupid!
  6. Karez, underground waterways that irrigate the desert.
  7. Uygur Noodles, one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

Let’s go!


  1. Interesting and great imagery… I got to Xian but from Beijing so it’s good to see and hear others perspectives.. just blogged about the wall this morning myself. Thanks for sharing.

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