Turpan has always been one of my favorite places in all of Xinjiang. It’s relatively small, it still feels predominantly Uyghur, and it holds the key to much of the region’s history.
Turpan (also known as “Turfan” or “Tulufan”) boasts only about 300,000 residents and is located in what has to be one of the hottest depressions in all the world. For those who have visited Turpan in July or August, you’re nodding your head right now in agreement with me. It’s cook-a-burger-on-the-sidewalk hot!
It’s also only about two hours southeast of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, so like I said it’s easily accessible. One of the big draws of this Silk Road city is that much of the tourist sites are all relatively close and easy to see in a 1-2 day time.
During our visit my wife and I had the chance to see the Jiaohe ruins, the Emin Minaret and all of the “must-see” sights in Turpan, but there is one trip that has been etched in my memory as the most fun site in Turpan.
Turpan’s Tuyoq Valley
The Tuyok Valley (Chinese: 吐峪沟 Tŭyùgōu) is not part of most of the 1-day itineraries you’ll see with any travel agency, so at first we were skeptical when it was suggested we check it out.
Hidden in a small valley between an extension of the Flaming Mountains, this gorgeous Turpan gem is surprisingly unknown to most travelers. Tuyoq Valley is a living museum of Uyghur history and a representation of the region’s glorious mixture of dry and fertile landscape.
Within a pleasant walking distance you can find:
- Uyghur folk homes: mud-brick Uyghur homes in all their glory.
- An old cemetery near the entrance with above-ground caskets.
- A Mazar that has become a Uyghur pilgramage site.
- A grape valley that is lush during the summer months.
- Ancient Buddhist caves rediscovered by Von le Coq in 1905.
The locals are pleasant and at every turn in the road we found ourselves pulling out the camera for one more picture.
Giving Life to History
Because we had hired our own driver (as opposed to joining a tour group), my wife and I were the only tourist in the valley during our visit. We had the entire place to ourselves as we stepped along the dirt paths and peeked through any and all open doors.
The most odd feeling during the visit was the change in attitude toward us as foreigners. In Tuyoq, where tourist are normal, if not annoying, nobody seemed to care that we were white. In fact, most of the locals flat out ignored our presence.
I didn’t mind. The truth is, it actually gave us the feeling that we had walked back in time and were exploring all of the ancient cities like Jiaohe and Gaochang back when they were inhabited. Children played in the stream, men gathered grapes to be hung to dry and the women took on the never-ending job of beating the dust out of the rugs.
Tuyoq City Layout
The layout of Tuyoq is fairly simple, mostly because it’s just so small. The tourist entrance is to the southwest of the valley and requires a short hike down across the river to the heart of the city.
It’s here in the heart that you’ll find one of the most recognizable buildings in the valley: the mosque. The four minarets shooting toward the sky can be seen from almost anywhere in the town and can help you get re-oriented if you feel lost.
To the north of the mosque is the grape fields and even further is where the ancient Buddhist caves are. At the time we visited, the path to the caves was closed, although any adventurous hiker could probably find their way there.
The further south you go on the path the more you’ll run across the brick buildings used to dry all the grapes (see an example of one in the picture below). Tuyoq is actually famous all over China for it’s oval-shaped seedless grapes as well as the raisins that are produced in these drying buildings.
Finally, to the west of the town is the mazar situated atop the hill. Officially called the Hojamu Tomb, Uyghur legend has it that five pious Muslims (and one convert) lived in Tuyoq to preach the faith. Their memory is honored by the fact that any Uyghur wishing to make a pilgrimage to Mecca must stop here first.
The Buddhist Caves near Tuyoq (not easily accessible as you can see)
A building used to dry grapes in Tuyoq
Tuyoq Travel Tips
Because Tuyoq is a good 70km to the east of Turpan and not extensively written about in major China travel guides, the following tips should be helpful as you plan your visit:
- Entrance Fee: It costs 30RMB to enter Tuyoq village and another 20RMB if you wish to enter the Mazar up on the hill.
- Transportation: While there are tour groups that include Tuyoq on their itinerary, I recommend grabbing a few friends and renting a taxi for the day. Work it in with other sites to the east of Turpan, including Gaochang and the Beziklik Caves.
- Other Tips: wear some good shoes for hiking as the paths aren’t paved for tourists (yet). I would also recommend some water (which is true for pretty much any Turpan tour) because it does get hot. Visiting in the morning or late afternoon is best if possible.
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