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Grapes and Islam

Grape field in front of the Emin Minaret
Grape field in front of the Emin Minaret

Shade from the overhanging grape vines make life in Turpan bearable. The metal in the cheap Chinese umbrellas is too weak to support the canopy on a still day and the edges droop down as if melting in the sun. No wine comes from these vineyards, only raisins. This is the Muslim part of China. It's so dry that many of the grapes shrivel on the vine before they're ripe enough to fall off. The rest are hung in hole-e mud duplexes. A series of canals called the Kariz, one of China's three ancient architectural marvels along side The Great Wall, brings water to the grape valleys.

Structures in town are still made of mud, just like the city which used to be here 2,000 years ago. The ruins of Jiaohe lay just outside of town, as do many other ancient sights. You know you're at a Chinese tourist attraction when you see costumes to dress up in to take pictures. In the desert areas there's always camels to ride and pose with. Paved pathways lead through the high walls obscuring Chinas natural beauties. Concrete railings made up to look like wood are there to help you handle the steep entrance fees.

Me on a giant walled-off sand dune by Dunhuang
Me on a giant walled-off sand dune by Dunhuang

More people speak English in Xinjian than in the other parts of China, but I suppose that being an ancient trade route the Silk Road has always been polyglottic. It's one of China's "autonomous" regions, and like the rest, tensions are high and travel is restricted. Buses are routinely stopped and police walk by on trains to check IDs. They pass by the foreigners, they're concerned with the locals.

China's domestic tourism industry is clearly thriving. You can see it everywhere manifested in large groups of red hats following a flag and a loudspeaker. It doesn't take much to distance yourself from the crowds though, just walk a little. "A beautiful part of the country" is how the Central Chinese view the autonomous regions like Xinjian and Tibet. "Tourist Attraction" is the best way to sum up the Silk Road while the main post picture sums up Turpan: grapes and Islam.

Soundtrack: Samson (Regina Spektor)


Tom Williams
August 27th, 2013 at 6:14 AM

No wine! shocker.
Don't know how you have found so many English speakers this side of China, I don't think we've had an English Language conversation with more than one person (apart from the guy at reception in a YHA) in 2 weeks!

August 28th, 2013 at 11:53 AM

I think it helps to seem completely lost and helpless. Maybe you could try that...

If you're asking a question, it may be better to just email me at beau@dangertravels.com