The Astana Tombs allow visitors a peak into the ancient burial places of locals who inhabited the area. Guided by a caretaker, it’s possible to descend into the depths of the tombs to explore – though unfortunately many of the corpses have been moved to the Turpan Museum.
North of Turpan County lies a 7th-century Buddhist temple site. Mud-brick caves swathed in murals depict lotus blossoms, symbols of royalty, trees laden with grapes, rows of willow trees and Buddhist portraits. Many of the paintings are accompanied by Uyghur annotations. Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit and Han, along with coins from the Tang Dynasty were recovered at this site. A history buff’s dream!
Northeast of Turpan are a series of breathtaking grottoes. Built during the late Northern and Southern Dynasties, between 420 and 581, fifty-seven grottos known for their brightly colored murals that cover their stone-walls. The murals tell Buddhist legends and reflect the close relationship between Mongolian, Uyghur and Han ethnic groups. Evidence of western Chinese influence is also present in the artistic style of the murals.
Many aren’t aware that Turpan has a surprisingly vibrant wine culture, due to the area’s hot, dry climate allowing for hundreds grape varieties to thrive. Chateau Tuoling is one such vineyard offering wine tours and tastings – but be sure to visit during the summer season, when the trees are not covered by snow, if such a tour is of interest.
Just east of Turpan, the Flaming Mountains stand tall, spanning more than six miles from east to west. Towering, reddish-brown sandstone faces when illuminated by the sun, the mountains appear to be bursting into flames. The coloration of the mountains morphs with changes to solar radiation and ambient temperature; giving the impression that the mountains are living, changing masses.
At the foot of the Flaming Mountains is the ancient ruins of Gaochang City, scattered over a massive expanse of land. Thanks to the preservation of most of the ancient city’s dividing walls it is evident the site is divided into three parts; inner city, outer city and imperial palace. Visitors can view the crumbling remains of houses, earth pagodas and a network of streets. This once great city in a state of constant deterioration is a fascinating testament to man’s ingenuity throughout the ages as well as his beautifully tragic impermanence.
The ancient city of Jiaohe was once the capital of the Jushi Kingdom. The city was built in 2 B.C., and its ruins, worn down by time and tear, remain standing today, waiting to be explored by visiting travelers who are welcome to step inside some of the homes and see how these people lived so long ago.
A visit to the Karez Irrigation System usually entails a trip down into the ancient Karez well, where inquiring minds can discover how the water system worked in ancient times, being brought from as far as the neighboring mountains to the desert area.
Built between 1736-1795, Sulaiman Minaret (also known as Emin Minaret) is a fascinating feat of ancient architecture. The sleek, round minaret is nearly 150-feet-tall. Built of yellow brick, the structure is adorned with an intricate floral pattern. The exquisitely formed minaret with its domed top is of the most famous examples of Muslim architecture in the region.
A truly world-class facility, Turpan museum brings to light the city’s important role as a crucial stop along the ancient Silk Road. Visitors will find millennia-old corpses, well-preserved by the dry climate, along with artefacts from the various ethnic groups who lived and passed through the area.