Turpan[toor´pAn´] or Turfan[toor´fAn´] town and oasis (1994 est. pop. 64,300), in the Turpan depression (c.5,000 sq mi/12,950 sq km), E Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. It is an agricultural center producing cotton and cotton textiles, silk, wheat, grapes, dried fruit, and wine. Oil is in the area. Turpan is the chief town of the Turpan depression, the lowest point (505 ft/154 m below sea level) in China. The depression was the center (A.D. 200–400) of a flourishing civilization in which Indian and Persian elements were combined. This civilization was later absorbed by the Uigurs, who had their capital there (9th–13th cent.). Archaeological finds made in the early 20th cent. include much Nestorian literature and the bulk of the extant Manichaean literature.
DunHuang is the name of the city. It is located between Urumgi and Yumen. It was an oasis irrigated by the Tang River and began to serve as an important way staion on the main trade route between China and Central Asia since the first century B.C. when Emporor Han Wu-ti started to expand the empire westwards.
This was an area where many races lived together. Chinese (in the ethnic sense), Mongols, Uighurs, Tibetans, Hsia, and others resided here. In he mountains nearby, Buddhist cave-shrines began to be constructed from 366 A.D., in which scriptures were stored, and wall paintings and sculptures were created and maintained.
Dunhuang, at 42N, is at approximately the same latitude as the cities of Boston, Rome, and Barcelona.
The Qinghai-Tibet railway connects Golmud and Lhasa. Golmud is in Qinghai, a Chinese province north of Tibet, also located on the Tibetan plateau, with a large part of the population ethnically Tibetan and with historical links to the region.
This is the highest railway on earth, running at over 5000 meters above sea level in many places. The carriages are specially designed to help passengers avoid altitude sickness. Contrary to popular belief, the carriages are not pressurized. It is possible to open the train windows en-route and the train stops at many high altitude stations with no pressurization/de-pressurization before the train doors open. The air is oxygen-enriched by outlets in the carriages. If that is not enough, you can plug a nasal catheter into an outlet for a more concentrated dose. Few passengers require these, but they are available if you do.
The train has different classes of travel — soft sleeper (4 berths in one compartment), hard sleeper (6 berths in one compartment) and hard seat (standard railway seating). In each carriage information about the journey is displayed on scrolling LED displays. This contains much information in Chinese and in English. It is possible to find out the current speed, time and date, altitude and next station information.
Each carriage has an attendant who is responsible for the boarding of that carriage and the passengers within it. There is also a restaurant car serving food and drink and frequent trolley services for food and other essentials throughout the train. Every train also carries a doctor and nurse.
One noticeable problem with the sleeper carriages is that there are only two toilets (one Western and one Chinese) in each carriage. These are not only very busy but also get very dirty as the journey progresses. You are advised also to take your own toilet paper. In addition to this there is barely enough room for luggage. Passengers often have to sleep with their suitcases on their beds if they are too large to fit under the beds or in the over-corridor area linked to each compartment.
The railway connects via Golmud to the main Chinese rail system. You can get tickets all the way to Lhasa from major Chinese cities — at least Beijing, Shanghai,Chongqing and Guangzhou, perhaps others. It’s worth noting that on the Chongquing route, at least 24 hours of the 48 hour journey are spent traveling north to join the main Beijing to Golmud line.
Line speeds average around 100 to 120 km/h, certainly from Golmud to Lhasa, making the journey interesting but also laborious.
On arrival at Lhasa you should have your tickets ready for inspection at the barriers. Also watch out for the taxi drivers who insist on charging a fixed rate per vehicle (despite number of occupants) of Y100 for the journey into Lhasa center. They can also become quite irate if you do not use their car! Its best to try and get 4 people together to split the cost (Y25 each) – but its still a rip off as standard fares in Lhasa start at Y5 and then Y1.8 per km. The journey to a central Lhasa hotel should cost no more than Y20. You could also reach Golmud via routes described in Silk Road and Along the Yellow river.
All pictures by the author