Turpan (Tǔlǔfān) is China’s Death Valley. At 154m below sea level, it’s the second-lowest depression in the world and the hottest spot in China. In July and August temperatures soar above 40°C, forcing the local population and visiting tourists into a state of semi-torpor.
Despite the heat, the ground water and fertile soil of the Turpan depression has made this a veritable oasis in the desert, evidenced by the nearby centuries-old remains of ancient cities, imperial garrisons and Buddhist caves.
Though the Turpan area has been inhabited for thousands of years, and was once an important oasis on the northern Silk Road, ruled and coveted by the Xiongnu, Han, Tiele, Tibetans and Uighurs, the new town is a fairly recent creation; the historic sites are scattered in the surrounding basin. Still, there is mellow vibe to the place, and recovering from a day’s sightseeing over a cold Xinjiang beer under the grape vines on a warm summer evening is one of the joys of travelling through the province.