The small and economically insignificant town of TURPAN (Tulufan to the Chinese) has in recent years turned itself into one of the major tourist destinations of Xinjiang. Credit for this must go largely to the residents, who have not only covered the main streets and walkways of the town with vine trellises, converting them into shady green tunnels, but have also managed to retain a relatively easy-going manner even in the heady economic climate of modern China.
Nearly all visitors to Turpan end up taking the customary tour of the historical and natural sights outside town. These are quite fun, as much for the chance to get out into the desert as for the sights in themselves, chief of which are the ancient city of Jiaohe and the Emin Minaret. Today, Turpan is a largely Uyghur-populated area, and, in Chinese terms, an obscure backwater, but it has not always been so. As early as the Han dynasty, the Turpan oasis was a crucial point along the Northern Silk Road, and the cities of Jiaohe, and later Gaochang, were important and wealthy centres of power.
Turpan is located in a depression 80m below sea level, which accounts for its extreme climate – well above 40°C in summer and well below freezing in winter. In summer the dry heat is so soporific that there is little call to do anything but sleep or sip cool drinks in outdoor cafés. Turpan is also an agricultural oasis, famed above all for grapes. Today, virtually every household in the town has a hand in the grape business, both in cultivating the vines, and in drying the grapes at the end of the season (a Grape Festival is held at the end of August).
Note that Turpan is very much a summer resort; if you come out of season (Nov– March), the town itself is cold and uninspiring, with the vines cut back and most businesses closed.