Aydingkol Lake, 155 m below sea level, is the lowest part of China, about 50km from Turpan
We arrived at the train station before sunrise, it was still dark, only about 5:30am or so! Getting off the train (we all had different cars because tickets were hard to come by!) I saw Hannes waiting at the platform. However, there was no signs of Phil or Julia! I looked at the car where they were on, and asked if anyone had seen them. The conductor was yelling that the train was leaving, and they were going to be fined for holding up the train! I tried to get on, but then saw them emerging, not very happily because they had a rude awakening by somebody and had to grab all their stuff in b big hurry. Luckily they didn't leave anything on the train, and we left the unhappy conductor behind and headed out of the station.
We had an idea of having to only pay about 10 RMB per person for a taxi to town which was still about 50km away.
a street at Jiaohe city ruins
Some guy saw us leaving the station, and said 7.5 RMB per person, sounded reasonable? except it was not a taxi, but a mini-van. Phil knew this was trouble, and said they probably would wait to fill the van before going anywhere. We got on the van, and the driver alternately said he would be going right away, because we now had 5 people (the Korean guy was already on the minivan), and oh he wanted to get more passengers, the next train was coming right away, etc. I asked the taxi drivers also waiting, they wanted 20 RMB per person. So after sitting in the van for almost an hour, with a couple of trains arriving, but no new passengers boarded the van. Phil got impatient and left with Hannes to scout around. They soon came back and told us to get our stuff off the van and to a taxi they found, who would take all of us for 50 RMB.
At the Keraz where they showed how the water was collected and transported underground into the city
Except the Korean guy wouldn't fit, the taxi can only take 4 people. The minivan and other taxi drivers crowded around the poor taxi driver, who looked like he was an outsider, small in statue, but he was not afraid of them in the end, and we took off toward Turpan
. He was obviously unfamiliar with the city, nor had any idea where the hotel I had booked was. He was not afraid to ask for directions either, but when we arrived at my hotel (supposedly), it was on a street all dug up for construction, and I got off. The other 3 wanted to go near the bus station, where Phil's friend Colin was staying. So we said goodbye, and I got Colin's cell phone number so we could be in touch.
grape vine covered street in Turpan near the hotel
I walked into the hotel which didn't look very good at all, and the woman there looked at me funny. She said I must be at the wrong hotel, and said it was the Silk Road Hotel, but not the Silk Road Binguan! Oh well. back on the street. I flagged down a taxi, and told the driver to go to the right place. This time it was the correct hotel, and I got the taxi driver's phone number, because he asked if I wanted to go anywhere later. I checked into the hotel, no internet in the room, but there was a business center, and I could have my breakfast now in the restaurant. So after a quick meal of Chinese style breakfast, and a rest in the room. I called Colin and found out that they had checked into a hotel, but Phil and Julia needed to rest, not having slept well on the train.
the salt marsh of the lake contains rock salt, Glauber's salt, glauberite, gypsum, etc
Strangely I felt just fine, and decided I should go see some sights by myself that they wouldn't be interested in tomorrow. I called the taxi driver, and asked if he could take me to a couple of places and asked how much it would cost. The driver, a Mr. Wang, was more than happy to take me around all day for somewhere around 110 RMB.
The hotel front desk had some map and information about Turpan, and I picked Aydingkol Lake, about 50km from the city, about 154 meters below sea level, the lowest point in Turpan and China (and the 2nd lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea is lower), and Jiahe City ruins.
Aydinkol Lake was not a place most tourist go to in Turpan, because the road there was not paved, and it would take almost 2 hours to get there! We bought some water at the nearby store and was ready to go.
view of Aydingkol Lake, no water remained here
The road became a dirt road, and along the side were mud walls of buildings which used to house mining workers. It got more desolate. The driver said one time he took a foreigner there (it's mostly foreigners who wanted to see the lake), and as the road got more deserted, the passenger got worried and told the driver to turn back!
After more than an hour of bumping on the dirt road, we got closer to some mountains, but the scenery didn't change much. Salt flats were dug out on both sides, with some rime yellow or green water in them, there were a truck or two we saw along the way, supposedly hauling salt-ridden soil to some factory to process. Eventually there was no visible road. The driver stopped the car, and said this was it! Hmm. kind of interesting I would say, it was hot out.
view of Aydingkol Lake
I wanted to walk a little into the lakebed to see if it looked any different. The driver said he would come with me, in case I get into a hole or something. So we walked on the lakebed, which was surprisingly hard, even though it looked like mud, it was very dry and hard. We walked maybe 100 meters, with no change or scenery nor water. He said there hadn't been any water for years. So I took some photos, and we headed back to the car. At this time, another car approached, we had passed it earlier, and it was obviously more unfamiliar with the area and took this long to get here. There was a tour guide who spoke English, and a German tourist inside. We spoke a little, telling them we had walked a little way in, but didn't see any water. Then we got into the car and headed back to town.
view of Aydingkol Lake
All the while the driver and I chatted about all sorts of things. I found out about his name (showed me his ID card), his girl friend, how his girl friend's parents don't approve of him because his family had land (farmers), his family, he is of the Hui minority, came from a large family, he was the youngest, only in his early 20's. As was usually the case, when in China, I told him I was born in Taiwan, and they were usually very interested in Taiwan. I supposed if I said I now live in the USA, they may be more interested? But anyway, I kept to the Taiwan story. He asked lots of questions which I had to make up answers for, like the price of gas in Taiwan, I had no idea! But I did show him some NT paper money I had with me, which he had never seen before.
view of Aydingkol Lake, with its salt rocks
I often got people who wanted to know if RMB was accepted in Taiwan, and the answer was No, and NT was not exchangeable in China either! But then he asked if I knew how to drive, Yes, how about manual transmission? No problem. Why don't you take the wheel and drive? Huh?! that's a first, interesting. Sure, we were on a dirt road, with no people or even cars around. So I took over and drove his taxi for about 20 minutes on the dirt road and gave the wheel back to him when we got to the paved road. He was impressed that I did know how to drive a manual transmission car. He had asked me to sit in the front seat earlier, treating me more like a friend than a client. When he bought a Naan bread for lunch, he even shared it with me, but I couldn't eat very much in such hot weather.
a piece of hard salt rock at the lake bed of Aydingkol Lake
火州 was the old name for Turpan (aka Tulufan), which meant Fire County! It was not only a depression in the desert, but also known for its super hot temperatures. This was not yet summer, so something like 38 Celsius is nothing, because in the summer, it can get to 40-50 C! But winter was usually sub-zero. Summer time is best because you can get the grapes, melons, apricots, etc. fresh here.
Next destination was Jiahe ancient city ruins. Wow, that was an impressive place on a much larger scale than I had imagined. It was sunny and hot, and walking around in the city ruins was quite difficult. There weren't many other tourists there, but there was one family with a little girl. She was bitterly unhappy about being so hot and uncomfortable.
bottom of Aydingkol Lake
Anyway, I did the best I could in about an hour and half. During which time I got a call from Phil asking if I was interested in a bike tour around the city. I said it was really hot, and I was out at Jiaohe and would pass the bike tour in any case. We said we would try to get in touch later perhaps for dinner together. I would like the photos speak for the place. I was very impressed with it and even came back the next day with our lilttle group.
Afterwards, I stopped at the Karez exhibit. The karez was the underground water channel system they had developed here near Turpan and it used gravity and difference in elvation to move the water from TianShan mountains to the area for irrigation and home use. The small museum was not bad, and there was free guide inside the museum.
the bottom of Aydingkol Lake
However, the 40 RMB ticket price was not in proportion to what's offered. They claimed that there were almost 5000 km of these Karez water channels in Xinchiang, and it rivaled the Great Wall. That may be true, but it did not have as good a tourist value. It was ingenious engineering though.
By this time I had a long day, and went back to the hotel for a little rest. Later I got in touch with Phil again, and met them at another John's cafe for dinner. Dinner was so-so, it was very late, and we sure didn't feel like wandering around looking for other places to eat. The walk through the Grape vine lined pedestrain street was very pleasant afterwards. We even met up with Colin and Hannes who didn't meet us for dinner. Colin found a deal with a minivan to tour around tomorrow for a good price. We also decided that we would head for Urumqi tomorrow evening instead of staying in Turpan another night, beause Phil wanted to get their visa for Kazakstan asap.