Xinjiang: Transition to Central Asia

The Furnace of Turpan

My head is pounding. Just one more kilometer. Keep the legs moving. I can’t believe it is 50 deg C. That’s 122 deg F. I feel dizzy. My throat parched. I need to find some shade. I need a rest. Do I have enough water? The next town is still 30 km away. My rear wheel seems low on air, squishy. Watch out for that rock. I need to put more sunscreen on. My lips are chapped. Do I see hills up ahead? My hands hurt. I can’t go anymore. The sun is too hot. Just one more kilometer. Where is that shade???!!!

I thought I knew what hot was. I have been in Phoenix in summer, in southern Spain, in the Chaco of Paraguay. Even in south Florida in July. But nothing compares to the heat here in Turpan, the hottest place in China. From 1:00 pm to about 8:00 pm the temperature ranges between 100-120 deg F. Blazing sun and waves of heat wash over me as if I am in convection oven. One day my bike computer registered 52 deg C in the sun. That’s over 125 deg F. Check it out:

No escape from the beating sun

Even with a hat on I was forced to stop every few km to rest in the shade. Luckily I was on a highway under construction that had many little overpasses for drainage. I guess when it does rain here floods are common.

These poor souls had to work on building the highway.

Surveyors on the highway.

Even at night the temperature did not dip much below 100 deg F. Here is one on my campsites in a dried out gravel pit.

There were some nice sunsets.

A few drops of rain produced this rainbow.

Where there’s water there is life. The only reason Turpan exists is because natural oases provide water.

Xinjiang province has a lot more Uyghur people than the rest of China. These people are descendents of a Turkic-speaking race who were powerful in Xinjiang province around the year 800. More about that later.

Here are a couple Uyghur kids selling melons on the road side. They speak arabic and chinese.

A view of the road on the way to Turpan. Note the signs are now bilingual Chinese and Arabic.

Once in Turpan I could relax for a day. Turpan is famous for melons and grapes. They built grape trellises above some of the pedestrian streets for shade.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Xinjiang (pronounced shin-jang), China’s largest province, is about three times the size of France—consuming one-sixth of China’s overall geography—yet it has an overall population of less than 19 million people, slightly more than that of metropolitan Shanghai.

Historically, the natives of this region have referred to it as Uyghurstan or East Turkistan. It even has its own flag—though it is illegal to fly it in China.

Xinjiang sees more extreme winter and summer temperatures than any other place in China, as high as 50 deg C in summer and as low as –30 deg C in winter. The south of Xinjiang is home to the Taklamakan desert, the world’s second largest. The name means, ‘who goes in doesn’t come out.’ Countless stories abound about cities, towns and people having disappeared in Taklamakan’s constantly shifting sands. Xinjiang is also home to the western fringes of the Gobi desert
in the north and three vast mountain ranges: the Altay to the north, the Tian Shan and Karakoram to the west and the Himalayas to the south.

Up to 1949 the area was about 90% Uyghur, but the government has provided incentives for Han Chinese to move to the area, so that it is about 50-50 now. Xinjiang is my last province in China. I will cross over to Kyrgystan from here.

Next up: Urumqi and the famous Silk Road market town of Kashgar, my final stop in China.

5 thoughts on “Xinjiang: Transition to Central Asia

  1. Jim July 11, 2008 / 9:51 pm

    Wow…I don’t know how you can take the heat…you look toasted!
    I was wondering whether you had a helmet….and how about a hydration pack?

    Great pictures and story. I really enjoy following your travels. Stay safe.

  2. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. July 13, 2008 / 1:17 pm

    I began to realize the size of China when I see your pictures from the countryside and yet know that there are over 3 billion people living there. Lots of space to explore and develop. In one way it reminds me of Brazil with its wide open, albeit very green, spaces. It took moving the capital, Brazilia, to the hinterland to force development of the interior. Has it worked? Probably to some degree.

    I was wondering if you encounter much wind and if so, what is the prevailing direction? I think you could use a small umbrella and one ton of sun screen.

    Riding with you, Kev, in my imagination. Uncle Don

  3. Kevin Koski July 16, 2008 / 7:36 pm

    Jim, I do not wear a helmet. Some would say that is crazy but I guess I am old school. I don’t go that fast normally so I don’t see it as a big risk. But there is a risk. I have yet to fall this trip, but I have taken a few spills in the past. I am not as aggressive a rider as you are. I remember your spill during our bike ride in Copper Harbor!

    What is a hydration pack? I just carry a lot of water. I also listen to my body. When I start to overheat I can tell–I get dizzy, weak and lightheaded. I know then it is time to pull over in the shade and rest a bit.


    Xinjiang is mostly desert so development is not really an option except where they can irrigate. They have developed areas where oil has been found however.

    As for wind, I had several days of extremely strong head winds. The funny thing about the wind is that you always notice it more when it is a headwind. So it seems as though I had headwinds (from the west) 90% of the time, but it was probably less.

  4. Jim July 17, 2008 / 2:12 pm

    Helmet is a good idea regardless. I’m referring to a “Camelbak”….mine holds 72 ounces and straps to my back, with a tube leading to my mouth. As I age my thirst mechanism has gone away, so I find that I have to take in a few ounces every 5 minutes or so to keep hydrated.

    I remember that spill in Copper Harbor!….just trying to keep up with you young studs!

    David and I are planning to mountain bike on snowmobile trails from Houghton to CH one of these days. We tried some of the trail last month and it looks doable.

    Looking forward to more interesting reports….stay safe.

  5. DAD July 24, 2008 / 12:37 am

    No comment—————DAD

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