Turpan: A Day Trip


Welcome to Turpan – Outside the bus station

As I’d covered Urumqi’s charms (and hassles) and wanted to see more of Xinjiang province, I followed the advice of my hotel’s general manager and headed for Turpan, a town about 2½ hours by bus from Urumqi. I envisioned a less militarized, more charming town.

I made the mistake of taking a taxi to the bus station. Don’t do that. My driver took a longer, more expensive route. Both the BRT 1 and BRT 3 buses, among others, will get you from the city center to the south bus station. There are buses leaving every 20 minutes so don’t be taken in by the touts in front of the station who will drive you.

Along the way, the landscape is stark, but that’s Xinjiang. There were some windmills and construction, but otherwise little to look at. Bring a book and you’ll be fine.

The Lonely Planet warned that Turpan is in the “Death Valley of China.” Temperatures can surpass 100°F (40°C), so I was glad I had my sunscreen and parasol. There isn’t much to the town. The bus station was a block away. After passing the butcher and getting some cold water at a general store, I soon found the traditional market.


Entrance to the market

As in Urumqi, you have to pass through security to get into the market or just about anywhere. Still the market was fun to wander through.

I just had some bread for lunch sitting in a park under a big tree.

I wandered a bit more looking for the museum, but it was so hot that I contented myself with the central park and an air conditioned underground mall, which was cool, but oddly empty.


Urumqi Security

I was aware of the unrest and problems in Xinjiang before I went to Urumqi, but I wasn’t prepared for all the check points and security measures that are part of daily life in Xinjiang.

Hong Shan Park

Hong Shan Park

Occasionally, the Uighurs who’d like to separate from China take violent action. The Chinese hold the extremists or freedom fighters depending on your perspective responsible for a car bomb incident in Tianamen Square, a deadly, coordinated knife attack at a train station in Kunming, a bombing at a market in Urumqi and attacks lasting two days in Kashgar.

When I arrived in Urumqi my taxi from the airport had to get gas. This was my first taste of the security measures. The driver approached the gas station and stopped by a guard post. Then he motioned for me to get out of the car as he opened the trunk with my bags. All this was pantomimed so I was worried it was a scam, but no. This was normal procedure. I got out and was directed to a bench covered to keep the sun and rain off the waiting passengers. Only the driver can go to the pumps after passing inspection. A few minutes later the taxi re-appeared and I could go back in.

At the hotel I had to put my bags through an X-ray before I could check in. This would become routine.

Tank in a parking lot

Tank in a parking lot

When I visited the major park downtown, I was surprised to see a SWAT team outside the entrance. They were there every time I passed. After going through a metal detector and putting my bag through the X-Ray, I entered. Inside there wasn’t the usual joie de vivre. Some people had finished tai chi, but you didn’t see much dancing, badminton, exercising or martial arts. They had a lot of amusement rides that you paid for, but no one was on them. I did see a group of 4 soldiers marching through the park and later 4 police who were more like sauntering. In a few spots soldiers were posted to keep watch.

To take the air conditioned buses, you have to go through a security check and open up your bag. I learned you can’t bring water through the bus security. You can’t bring on lighters or yogurt. It’s in the 90°F+/36°C so I didn’t want to surrender my water each time I took the bus so I wound up finding ways to hide it in my bag, which was doable since they didn’t really think I’d be a terrorist, which a very safe bet. Still it’s such a pain.

Another Tank

Another Tank

I went to a Burger King one day and by the entrance they had a desk with a riot helmet, riot police shield, and wand for metal detection. I saw the same thing at a bookstore too. I never say a guard behind the door at any place, but think that perhaps these are props to keep people in line.

After awhile it just got to be too much. By mid-afternoon most days, I’d just get so tired of going through  security checks. I don’t know how people take it day after day all the time.