Turpan Valley of the Grapes

For most of this trip, I walked around idiotically with my mouth open in awe. China is far more vast and surprising than I could have ever imagined.

Turpan was no different. At 155 metres (505 feet) below sea level, it’s the second lowest point in the world behind the Dead Sea. It gets 2 centimetres of precipitation every year. Man, that’s dry. And hot. It was 38 degrees Celsius in mid-September.

Yet Turpan is famous for its sweet delicious fruit. And I don’t even like fruit. I like steak. But Turpan fruit was kinda nice.

Turpan raisinsTurpan produces more than 100 varieties of grapes. “Wha? I have a hard enough time with red and green!” you may be exclaiming, since you may do a lot of exclaiming at the computer and all. But no, my friend. The Chinese are growing 100 kinds. In the desert.

Some of them are air dried on the vine to make fancy raisins. (See pic of my crazy aunties putting in their raisin orders.)

Turpan also produces fine watermelon and hami melon. That’s like cantaloupe but green on the outside.

“Whoa, but how can you grow fruit in the desert?” Good question, my friend. The answer lies underground with an irrigation system built 2,000 years ago. “Doh.” It’s okay, I didn’t know that either.

The Karez systems are made up of vertical wells and underground channels that rely on gravity to bring melting snow from the Tian Shan Mountains down to Turpan and other villages. They dug 5,000 km of canals with basic tools. Underground. From the mountains. Into the desert. Genius.

The Karez system ranks with the Great Wall as one of the three great ancient projects in China. The third is ass-less boys’ pants. Okay, it’s not. It’s the Grand Canal. But you still have to admit the pants are pretty handy too.

Turpan table