The nicest oasis in the world

Turpan Travel Blog

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A quiet little backyard in Turpan oasis.

And then, as we descended through the heat towards the Turpan basin, I realized this was a definete in my life. Somewhere where all the courses of my parallel lives crossed paths. The one where I remained in Denmark, the one where I studied russian... no matter; They all would have come here . A geeky russian student behind big glasses and dusty books, a busy copenhagen girl and me as I am would all have meet somewhere in central Asias great mountain ranges or cities or on it's dusty roads, congratulated eachother on how far we'd each gotten in life and then moved on again into different directions. Only to meet again at a later crossroad...

This is not fate. These are choices of mine so ingrained within me, they remain unaffected by earlier og later decisions: My name stems from a communist informer who followed my parents relentlessly on their dates in Russia and my brother and I grew up surrounded by traditions they brought back from their journeys to central Asia; We ate shashlik, listened to russian and kasakh music and fairytales and many of my dolls were of this indestructable russian kind.

The makeshift bike shop.

Inevitably I got the feeling of arriving home soon. The feeling of boarding the last train after a long journey. In this case however it was just the last days ride before Turpan. Literally a hole in the Gobi dessert at -142 meters with hellish heat. But to us Turpan was the end of the dessert (An imaginary end as it happened because it wasn't the end at all...)

The majority people here used to be Uighur -an exotic people with a european background- but now the majority are Chinese. The Uighur people have dark almond shaped eyes and their facial features reveal their european descent. They are more sturdy and the women are beautiful with a stronger and more powerful appearance than the chinese waiflike beauties. They are muslim but wear dramatic velvet dresses or pretty fifties kneelenght skirts always with high heels.

Jiahoe ancient city near turpan.
Some wear head scarves, but mostly in a relaxed style with heavy sideswept fringes or even just lace scarfs. Others wear their huge wild hair in elaborate styles full og shiny clips and in beehives. The endresult is much more of spanish flamenco dancer, amy winehouse and wild gipsy rather than demure muslim women. The men peer out under flatcaps or litlle round islamic hats and wear suits with dusty jumpers or shirts and next to the women they could look a tad under the foot. 

The Turpan basin itself, is fertile with nuts, melons and dates but mostly they seem to grow wine. The ruins of ancient cities and their breweries reveal that this is not a chinese chashcrop policy but an ancient tradition.

The nicest oasis in the world!
And the grapevines are so beautiful; At this time of the year they are illuminous green and stand out in stark contrast to the reds, yellows and browns of the surrounding dessert. Indeed if the Gobi provokes thoughts of death the oasises are an explosion of life: These beautiful, strong people tending their grapevines, donkeys hovering sleepely in the shade and water guzzeling through irrigation channels that have provided life for generations. Sparrows and other little birds that take advantage of these luxuries complete the contrast with their constant fluttering and tweeting.

In the villages it is the same: In Turpan the central market is essentially a turkish style market, but for women. Only right outside the gates stands a small man selling breads, then there is a line of shish kebab shops and finally a couple of hardy women making keys. They seem to be the guardians of a world full of seamstresses, shoe shops and hair decorations. In the middle, where men don't venture, the secret wollen underwear, the supportbras and bodyshaping pants are for sale. And everywhere in the shope groups of women listen to music, put on makup, chat and compare shoes or babies.

Outside, as dusk settles, the streets turn into endless rows of shaslik eateries and as the air cools down it all fills with people lingering over meat and tea or beer. The chinese in their efficiancy generally don't linger over food. They get very drunk and sing karaokee instead. Only the old men, all the old men of most cultures, chinese, arab, asian...they all seem to find the time to sit for hours and play board games.

But as drunk as they may get or as loud as they may sing (or eat) the Uighur men as well as the chinese are always incredibly nice to us. They stand around us with their flatcaps, shirts rolled up over their bellies, blkow smoke into our faces and watch us do something. Often in the past we'd feel so invaded and like zoo animals! The personal space thing is very different in Asian and European cultures but here, they have time after time proven they are just waiting for a chance to help. someone will get a englich teatcher out of the blue if were really stuck with the language, someone will bring bits and pieces they recon we may need and so on.

In Turpan this watchfull helpfullness completely saved us as I had asked Daren to help me fix my bottom bracket. However the tool was glued together by some leaked glue and my bottom bracket had never been removed before and was stuck anyway. But slowly around us, in the hotel yard,  a bike shop appeared. These men, first watching and smoking thoughtfully, began to bring spanners, then poles to help hold the pedals, eventually a saw to saw the broken tool to size and finally a vice. At some point there were three bikes being fixed at this impromtou work shop but mostly everybody pulled and sawed and pushed and held on to my bottom bracket. In a haze of smoke and sweat I snuck of to deal with our ever worsening visa nightmare, comfortable in the knowledge that noone would leave Daren until the bottom bracket was fixed. Hours later it worked again and the bike shop was swiftly taken appart and carried of by its various owners all refusing icetea or anything appart from cigarettes.

All this is fantastic. But the cruel reality is that as much as I love it, central Asia it doesn't really want us there. We've already given up entering Uzbekistan because we would have to have a hotel for each night to get the visa. Plan B was to get a 2 month double entry visa for Kazakhstan and reach the caspian sea that way. Without the internet this to was difficult and we spent hours and fortunes on the phone waiting for the right people to be available, for meetings to finish and for approvals of faxes sent. Then came payment which had to be done via the internet and involved both my brother and Darens parents and talks to banks (WHAT!!! money to Kazakstan! -all security mechanisms automatically come into place), our visa contact and so on. The people in our phone shop became so used to me sitting there they feed me sweets and gave me discounts, desperate for me to feel happy in the political berocratic web they have to live in. At times it consumed whole days, other times we could venture out into the fantastic surroundings and forget about it. By the time we finally left Turpan we had secured to letters of invitation from a Kazakh company. This should have been the worst and in reallity we should have been able to pick up our visas easily but central asia is just not like that...

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A quiet little backyard in Turpan …
A quiet little backyard in Turpan…
The makeshift bike shop.
The makeshift bike shop.
Jiahoe ancient city near turpan.
Jiahoe ancient city near turpan.
The nicest oasis in the world!
The nicest oasis in the world!
photo by: Biedjee