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Attractions of Turpan

The Grape Valley

Looking at the Flaming Mountains in the distance from the city of Turpan, one can see nothing but glowing, barren red sand. But the Grape Valley of the Flaming Mountains, 15 kilometers from the city center, is a world of unique beauty, presenting a striking contrast with the hot, dry and barren outside.

Cushioned by green grass and graced with green trees, the valley is a world of green with brooks, canals and sparkling springs. There is a poetic flavor to the idyllic beauty of the valley. Scattered everywhere in the valley are trees: mulberry, peach, apricot, apple, pomegranate, pear, fig, walnut, elm, poplar and willow; also watermelons and muskmelons, making the valley into a "garden of one hundred flowers" in spring and an "orchard of one hundred kinds of fruits" in summer. In the valley there is a reception center where dense grapevines interweave with each other and winding paths lead to secluded places with clusters of grapes within easy reach.


Eight kilometers long, half a kilometer wide and inhabited by about 6,000 people of the Uygur, Hui and Han nationalities, the Grape Valley has more than 400 hectares of cultivated land, 220 hectares of which is grape-growing area. Grapes growing in the valley are of several strains, including the seedless white, rose-pink, mare-teat, black, Kashihar, Bijiagan and Suosuo. There is a fruit winery producing several kinds of wines and canned grapes. 

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Flaming Mountains

The Flaming Mountains, lying in the middle of the Turpan Depression and running from east to west, are one of the branch ranges of the Tianshan Mountains and were formed in the organic movements of the Himalayas fifty million years ago. The Flaming Mountains are so hot and so dry that " flying birds even 500 kilometers away dare not to come". Yet, the mountains at the same time act like a giant natural dam of the underground reservoir in the basin.

In millions of years, the natural weathering and the numerous folded belts caused by the crystal movements have formed the undulating lie and the crisscross gullies and ravines of the Flaming Mountains. Under the blazing sun, the red rock glows and hot air curls up like smoke as though it were on fire, hence its name. The mountains are 98 kilometers long and 9 kilometers wide. The highest peak is 40 kilometers east of the city of Turpan and 831.7 meters above sea level.


Situated on the north route of the ancient Silk Road, the Flaming Mountains have many cultural relics and often told ancient tales. In recent years, the number of visitors to the mountains has been on the increase and clamoring to go on the Flaming Mountains tour has arisen. 

The Ancient City of Gaochang

The ancient city of Gaochang is located near the seat of the "Flaming Mountains" Township, 46 kilometers southeast of the city of Turpan. The city walls are high and the crisscrossing streets and the city moat are still visible. The city walls, which are basically intact, divide the city into three parts: the inner city, the outer city and the palace city. The 5.4 kilometer-long wall of the square outer city is 11.5 meters high and 12 meters thick. The wall is built of tamped earth, with some section repaired with adobe. There are two gates on each side of the outer city and the two on the west side with defense enclosures outside the gates are the best preserved.

The construction of the city of Gaochang started in the first century B.C. First called Gaochangbi, it was a key point on the ancient Silk Road, but after many changes in fortune over a period of 1,300 years, and under the jurisdictions of the Gaochang Prefecture, the Gaochang Kingdom and Huozhou Prefecture, the city was burnt down in wars in the fourteenth century. 

The inner city, which is located in the center of the outer city, has a 3-kilometer long wall, most of the west and the east sections of which are well preserved. The rectangular palace city is in the northern part of the city of Gaochang and it shares the north wall with the outer city and uses the north wall of the inner city as its south wall. There are still several 3 to 4 meters high earthen platforms in the palace city where the court of Huigu Gaochang Kingdom was seated.

In the north central part of the inner city, there is a high terrace on which stands a square pagoda built of adobe called "Khan's castle" which means "Imperial Palace". Somewhat to its west there is a half-underground, two-story structure which was probably the ruins of a palace.

In the southwestern part of the outer city there is a temple which is 130 meters long from east to west, 85 meters wide from south to north and covers an area of 10,000 square meters. The temple consists of an arched gate, courtyard, a lecture hall, a library of sutras, a main hall and the monks' dormitory. Murals remaining in the main hall are still visible. The renowned Buddhist monk Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty is said to have lectured in the temple for more than one month in the year 628 on his way to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures. In the vicinity of the temple there are also ruins of workshops and market sites. In the southeastern part of the outer city there is a smaller temple, the ruins of the murals within which are better than those in the main hall. 

The Bizaklik Thousand-Buddha Caves

The Bizaklik Thousand-Buddha Caves, 48 kilometers northeast of the Turpan urban area, are located in the Flaming Mountains' Mutou Valley. They were called the Ningrong Grottoes in the Tang Dynasty. There are 77 numbered grottoes, about 40 of which still have murals in them. The group of grottoes in Bizaklik, with a total of 1,200 square meters of murals, has the most grottoes, most diversified architectural styles and the richest mural content in the Turpan area. The oldest grottoes were hewn in the period of Qushi Gaochang from the Tang Dynasty right up to the Yuan Dynasty in the thirteenth century. It was an important Buddhist gathering place. Its most prosperous period was under the reign of the Xizhou Huigu government, which was built the royal temple of the King of Huigu on this site. Most of the existing grottoes were extended or reconstructed during the Huigu period.

Even today, one can still see on the remaining Buddhist murals the features of the King and Queen of Huigu and people of different status, as well as scenes of the lives of ancient Uygur people. Inscriptions in the ancient Huigu, Chinese and Brahmi languages are valuable materials for research on the written languages and history of Xinjiang's various nationalities, and Uygur in particular.

The murals depicting "Buddhist disciples wailing in mourning" and "Bhikku wailing in mourning" on the back wall of the Grotto No.33 are rare artistic pieces which depict the inner feelings of the figures with vivid images and individual characteristics. The ancient instruments shown in the mural depicting "Female Dancers on Performance" in Grotto No.16 and the mural of "Transformation in the Hell" in Grotto No.17 are seldom seen in Buddhist grottoes in China.

Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs

Known as the "Underground Museum" and widely valued by Chinese and foreign archaeologists and historians, this group of ancient tombs is 40 kilometers southeast of Turpan city proper and 6 kilometers from the ancient city of Gaochang. Astana means "capital" in Uygur and Karakhoja is the name of a legendary hero of the ancient Uygur Kingdom who removed the evils from the people by killing a vicious dragon. They are now the names of two local villages.

Buried in these tombs are nobles, officials and others from the period beginning in the Western Jin and ending in the middle of the Tang Dynasty. Curiously, the tomb of King Gaochang is found nowhere in the group of tombs, but the renowned general Zhang Xiong of the Qushi Gaochang Kingdom was buried here with his wife and son Zhang Huaiji. Almost all of the corpses in the more than 500 tombs have not rotted; instead they have become dried-up bodies, a phenomenon more unusual than the mummies found in the pyramids of Egypt. Most of the dried-up bodies are complete and intact. Thanks to the dry and hot climate, many paintings, earthen figurines and thousands of other unearthed cultural relics are well-preserved and as colorful as new ones. The unearthed boiled dumplings of the Tang Dynasty are the same shape as those of today and the stuffing of the dumplings is still fresh. Furthermore, on a bail of horse fodder are written the words "Judge Cen" and "Minister Feng". Judge Cen is the famous frontier poet Cen Shen of the Tang Dynasty and Minister Feng is Feng Changqing, the governor of Beiting Prefecture of the Tang Dynasty. Most of those buried here were people of the Han nationality, but also some minority nationalities, such as the Cheshi, Hun, Di, Xianbei, Gaoche, and Zhaowujiuxing.

Now three tombs have been opened to visitors. Besides dried-up corpses, there are murals depicting figures, birds and flowers on display in the three tombs. 

The Karez System

The Karez System, an irrigation system of wells connected by underground channels, is considered as one of the three great ancient projects in China, the other two being the Great Wall and the Grand Canal. There are in the Turpan area nearly one thousand Karez totaling 5,000 kilometers in length.

The structure of the Karez basically consists of wells, underground channels, ground canals and small reservoirs. In spring and summer, a great mount of melting snow and rainfall flow down from the Bogda and Karawuquntag mountains north and west of the Turpan Depression into the valleys and then seep into the Gobi Desert. Taking advantage of the mountain slopes, the working people ingeniously created the Karez to draw the underground water to irrigate the farmland. The water in Karez will not evaporate in large quantities even under the scorching heat and fierce wind, hence ensuring a stable water flow and gravity irrigation.

As far back as the Han Dynasty, the Karez was recorded in Shi Ji (The Historical Records) and then called "Well Canals". Most of the existing Karezes in the Turpan area were built in the Qing Dynasty and in after years. Nowadays, large stretches of fertile land are still irrigated by Karezes. The Wudaolin Karez and the Karez in the Wuxing Town are open to visitors.