Sunday, August 3, 2008

Aug 2 - Hami to Turpan

We woke up for a 9:00 am bus boarding for a long trip (410 km) to Turpan on rough 2-lane roads with plenty of short construction detours. Lunch was to be at Shanshan (Pijan) about 320 km in. The road went slowly up, reaching perhaps 6000 feet, then slowly down and down. Shanshan is within 1000 feet above sea level, and is a whole lot hotter than Hami, which was 98 F. We had mountains generally to the north as we traveled, being the long Tian Shan mountain range. The highest peak on this stretch was at 4400 m or so, which is low by Chinese standards, but is still close to 14000 feet. We took a number of roadside pit stops, women to the right, men to the left, not much terrain or foliage for modesty. We swapped eclipse stories with everybody on the bus, and there was puzzle solving in the back to try to pass the time.

Lunch was at Shanshan, at 2:40 pm. Again we had a whole fish dish per table, as a treat. More of the old luncheon standbys - scrambled eggs with tomatoes, chicken with potatoes and veggies, various vegetable dishes, etc., and of course soup as a last course.

Between Shanshan and Turpan we had two scheduled two tourist stops. Between the two cities there are the Flaming Mountains, a series of fairly colorful mountains, in which we believe the desert scenes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed. By now we were close to sea level, and the temp was well above 110 F (perhaps even 115 F). We pulled into the Bezeklik Grottos, and got off into the scorching heat. The grottos are a poor sister of the Mogao Caves, especially since a number of Sinologists (German, mostly) took away almost all of the Buddhas and a good number of frescos in 1905, or thereabouts. These treasures were located in a museum in Berlin, which was destroyed by Allied bombing in the Second World War, so they were lost. That which had not been taken was generally not taken because the local muslims had damaged the faces over historical time. On top of that, local farmers also scraped the surface for use as fertilizer. That said, the contrast between the fertile below, the Flaming Mountains above, and the line of caves is still striking. Using flashlights, we could scan some of the remaining frescos inside. Ceiling in "Thousand Buddha" patterns were the most intact sections. There was a local musician outside playing a long string instrument with a bow. We ran the sale area gamut, and picked up a Bezeklik Grottos booklet, for only 10 RMB, which had colored pictures of the frescos, much better than anything we could actually see in the dark grottos. Oh, the wonders of photoshop.

As we were leaving, a couple of the Irish guys on the trip bought a Hami melon, and attempted to dunk it through the basketball hoop in the parking lot. Unfortunately, they missed catching it on the way down. Mike tried a bit of what landed peel-side down, and it was only an average melon. Still, no respect for the melon!

Then across the road to the Astana Tombs. These are apx 2000 graves, 400 of which have been excavated. 3 are open for display. Of these three, only one had the mummies therein. The other two had only some frescos. You have to use a lot of imagination here, and our sweaty and tired bodies had little imagination left.

There was a third scheduled stop, at the Grape Valley, a tourist spot where you see how grapes are grown. It was the unanimous feeling that this could be skipped, and we did so.

We arrived at the Oasis Hotel in Turpan at about 6:45 pm. HOT HOT. Luckily the rooms were air-conditioned, and the showers perhaps the best so far on the entire trip.

Dinner was at 8 pm. We were at the table with a couple celebrating their 29th anniversary, and so another couple had gotten a bottle of a Loulan dry red wine, which we all shared, and which was quite tasty.

After dinner, it was out on the town. Just near the hotel was a "supermarket" which had some food, and various sundries. They had underwear for "Big Fat Man" with an appropriate picture. Carol got a 1 RMB popsicle - green bean enrobed in a white milk layer. Very tasty. Mike went back much later to get some water for the room, and discovered that they charged .1 RMB (1 jiao, or 1.5 c US) for the plastic bag.

After the market, we walked around a little bit. Mike was approached by a little girl, of apx age 4 or 5, who was aggressively waving a 1 RMB note in his face. Carol noticed a guy close behind Mike, and we quickly got away from the situation. A chance to steal something from the tourists??? Who knows.

At 11 pm we finally found an internet cafe, but we were refused service. Why?? Maybe they were closing, but midnight is early in Turpan, since it is only 10 PM in XT (local time).

Back to the hotel where we found the tail end of an ice cream party, and a group playing cards. So we joined them for a while, and then to bed at about midnight.

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