Day 120: Quick Stop in Turfan
I flew into Urumqi late and, after much haggling with a taxi driver, found a cheap hotel right near the train station (no shower though). After a quick six hours sleep I woke up the next day and caught a taxi to the bus terminal. My plan was to head south-east to the town of Turfan, about 2.5 hours away. I’d then see a few of the sights around there before racing back to Urumqi to collect my overnight train ticket from a black market dealer at 4pm (it’s a national holiday all this week so the trains are chockers and it’s really hard to come by tickets the “official” way).
It was past midday by the time I got to Turfan, and I knew I only had about 1.5 hours to see a few of the sights. So I chartered a taxi and off I went! First stop was the ancient city ruins of Jiaohe, on the outskirts of town. As it was made of mud brick, the centuries haven’t been kind and there unfortunately wasn’t that much to see. Some of the Buddhist temples were still somewhat visible, but that was about it. What made the visit interesting was the geography. The city was built in the middle of the desert on top of a naturally fortified “island” between two river beds.
En route back to the bus terminal I had time to sneak in one more attraction – an architecturally interesting minaret in front of one of the mosques in town. Enough said.
I made it back to Urumqi half an hour late but was able to collect my ticket – phew! Chinese sleeper trains turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant experience. The carriages are much newer than a lot of the trains you’ll come across in countries like Italy or France, and the sleeper cabins were actually more spacious and had heaps more room for backpacks and suitcases. The beds had linen and pillows provided, and the rooms supplied with hot and cold drinking water for endless cups of tea and ramen noodles. I had a great sleep as the train trundled 14 hours across the deserts of Xinjiang and Gansu, and woke up feeling pretty good this morning. I’m now in Dunhuang, another desert town and former Silk Road city, and also home of the World Heritage-listed Mogao Caves.