In Ürümqi you’ll likely grouse about the heat. Leaving, things are pleasant enough. Vast wind farms give way to salt lakes; the road knifes its way through cliffs. Then the wind stops dead as the descent into the Turpan Basin begins in earnest. The driver flicks on the air-con thereabouts for good reason: disembark from your bus and the heat will practically throw you to the ground.
Worry not. Turpan (Tǔlǔfān) is a legendary oasis; its various settlements have long been a stopover on the northern route of the Silk Road. At 154m below sea level, it’s even better known as the second lowest depression in the world (after the Dead Sea) and the hottest spot in China – the highest recorded temperature here was 49.6°C! Today they’re redirecting attention toward its delectable grapes.
Ah, those grapes. Some streets here are really pedestrian zones covered with grapevine trellis, a visual treat and a godsend in the fierce heat of summer. Given the oven-like temperatures, nobody really rushes around here. Good idea, because the sights are all out of town, in even hotter environs.