Turfan, Xinjiang, China

Emin Minaret in Turfan, Xinjiang, China.

Being located out in the Taklamakan Desert below sea level it is hard to imagine anything growing in the barren, rocky landscape however Turfan is known for its grapes, melons and the nearby flaming mountains, as well as having the notoriety of being the hottest place in China.

Built some 2,000 years ago the ancient Karez irrigation system not only brings miraculous life to the dusty plains making Turfan a productive fertile pocket of land but it also cemented the town as a key stopping point on the Silk Road for caravans and traders in years gone by.

The totally awesome ruins of Jiaohe are a fantastic place to wander and conjure up visions of what times past might have been like in its heyday.

Home to the stunning Emin Minaret, a building that well and truly caught my eye for its simple yet intricate beauty, this is one of the first stops when travelling west that you will really get a taste of Uyghur culture.

But the morning I spent exploring the local animal market was an unexpected highlight of my time in this desert oasis.  Wandering among the action was a great introduction to local life and about as far away from the tourist trail as you get.

We did get lots of inquiring looks of bewilderment, with many not quite actually able to work out what could possibly be interesting about watching herders and towns-people buying and selling sheep, goats and cows.

Everyone was incredibly friendly and curious, though a little camera shy at the beginning.  The Uyghur food is absolutely delicious, particularly if you are a meat lover and the atmosphere in the old parts of town is magic as donkeys “clip clop” their way along the streets.

Turfan has lots to offer and is an excellent place to spend a few days getting caught up in the fabulous legends of the Silk Road.

To see a gallery of images from the Turfan Animal Market, click here.

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