From southern Bayankhongor Aimag it is just a hop, skip and a jump to Turpan, in China’s westernmost province, Xinjiang. Turpan is located in a deep depression, 100 feet below sea level, between the Tian Shan Mountains to the north and the Taklamakan Desert to the south. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it is the hottest city in China, Turpan is immensely popular with domestic tourists. The daily highs of over 100ºF in the summer give people a perfect excuse to spend the greater part of the day eating, drinking, and lounging in air-conditioned restaurants and bars, which is all that most people want to do anyway. The streets, almost completely deserted during the heat of the day—many of the locals retire to specially built cellars in their homes to escape the heat—become alive with thousands of people the moment the sun goes down and the balmy night air rolls over the city. The Night Market has hundreds of food stalls featuring Uighur and Chinese food and outdoor cafes feature Uighur musicians and discalced, bathukolpic dancing girls. Many people stay up till dawn and then sleep most of the day. The main street of Turpan is paved with flag stones and covered with grape vine-draped trellises meant to provide some shelter from the brutal sun.
Turpan is the grape capital of the world. The oasis surrounding Turpan produces hundreds of thousands of tons of grapes a year. The most popular variety is the Thompson Seedless, which was introduced from the United States after a grape blight decimated many of the local varieties. The Thompson Seedless proved resistant to blight and soon became the favorite of Chinese consumers, who made up the biggest part of the market. There are many other kinds, however, and in the markets you can buy raisins made from ten or twelve different varieties of grapes, most kinds available in three or four different grades. Turpan produces 100,000 Tons of Raisins A Year.
Aiding Lake, about thirty miles south of Turpan, is 508 feet below sea level, the second lowest place on earth, after the Dead Sea. The lake is often dry, but after rains and spring runoff from the Tian Shan Mountains water up to three feet deep can cover an area nearly 50 miles long and 20 miles wide. The heat here is truly staggering. The day I was there the air temperature was 112ºF. I took a reading on the ground and got 138ºF. The driver of the car I went here with had to keep pouring water over the fuel pump of the car’s engine to keep the gas from vaporizing—otherwise the engine just died.