Make time to see the REAL...
Make time to see the REAL grape valley, not the fake one designed for the tourists. You can talk to some of the farmers there and they'll likely invite you in to see how they live - this is outside a farmer's house, where they sleep and eat under vines in the summer.
Urumqi - Skyscrapers in the Desert
This morning we had a three hour drive from Turpan to Urumqi. The driver appeared to go the wrong way at first, but Tony (our guide) said he wanted to buy some local Turpan grapes. He then presented us with a big box of them as a present! The drive to Urumqi was very scenic – bare mountain and desert, following by a river valley. After 2 hours we came to a large wind farm, where we stopped to take photographs (and I encountered my first disgusting pit toilet). Later we passed a salt lake (with similar properties to the Dead Sea) then a freshwater lake and a reservoir.
Urumqi, the capital of XinJiang province, is a very modern city, which has only been built in the last fifty or so years and looks a bit like a sort of Gotham City in the middle of the desert. Our first port of call was the museum, which is best known for the mummies found in the desert. We were first shown an exhibit of the different peoples of XinJiang (Uighur, Kazakh, Mongol, Manchu etc.), before being taken upstairs to see the famous mummies with European features, including the Loulan beauty; a woman who was buried with a small mask containing human teeth; a four year old child; and a couple from 1800 BC (she of mixed European and Mongol ethnicity, he of European) – the textiles they were wearing were finely woven and very well preserved. The way out of this exhibition passed through the inevitable gift shop, which included reproductions (and allegedly genuine antiquities) as well as books about the discoveries.
Tony then took us to lunch (again included). We told him that we were not too hungry, so he only ordered beef with vegetables; chicken with peppers and mushrooms (very bony, but the mushrooms were good), Chinese leaves; cabbage with prawns (slightly worrying in the city that is distinguished for being furthest from the ocean) and soup with tofu and leaves. Goodness knows how much food we would have been offered if we had said we were hungry!
After lunch we went to the bazaar. There were lots of raisins from Turpan, dried apricots etc, but it was more like a modern shopping mall than a traditional eastern bazaar.
Tony then asked what we would like to do next, as we had time to kill before our flight to Kashgar. I vetoed the carpet factory idea, and suggested the park, which he had pointed out to us on the way in. I think he thought we were mad, (he said he hadn’t been there since he was 10) but he complied. The park turned out to be attractive, with flowers, amusements for children, stands celebrating every modern Olympic games, refreshment stands and toilets that were only marginally better than those near the wind farm.
We had a cold drink on a terrace with a great view of the city, where a PA system was (bizarrely) playing Una Paloma Blanca and then visited a pagoda which also had a good view of the city, and another smaller pagoda which marks the spot where the head of a serpent is trapped. The serpent’s tail is trapped by a pagoda on an opposite hill – if the buildings collapse, the serpent will be freed and Urumqi will be destroyed by flood - (allegedly).