The Turpan(Turfan) Basin in the Xinjiang Desert

The fascinating Turpan(Turfan) Basin with its long civilization, unique landscape and rich resources has for centuries attracted many explorers, archaeologists and travelers. In the late l9th and 20th centuries Russian. Japanese and British explorers left their footprints on the exotic Turpan and made fortunes by robbing it of valuable cultural relics. Others won fame with their travelogues about the singular landscapes in this Asian hinterland. Today, with the development of communications, Turpan is easily accessible and draws a greater number of scholars and tourists from other parts of China and the world.

The Turpan Basin with an area of fifty thou sand square kilo- meters is set deep in the Tianthan Mountain range of eastern Xinjiang(Sinkiang). Turpan and Shanshan counties and part of Toksun county occupy the entire basin. Historically, it was a key point on the ancient Silk Road. The basin presents a changing panorama of deserts, gorges, sand dunes and wooded oases. In the center of the depression is Aydingkol(Moonlight)Lake, 152 square kilometers in size, which contains large amounts of crystalline salt, Glauber’s salt, copper, manganese, quartz and other minerals. Its name was given by the Uygur people who live by the lake because of its crescent shape and shimmering whiteness.

Known as“The Oven” since ancient times, Turpan is the hottest place in China, its temperature reaching 47 degrees C (166 degrees F)in July. Such temperatures are produced by the peculiar topography of the place Averaging 154¨meters below sea level, it is also the lowest point in China-second only in the world to the Dead Sea in Jordan. Further, surrounding high mountain build it from cooling winds, so that heat from solar radiation shields up here and is not easily dispersed, giving the basin a sizzling six month summer. The hottest spot within the basin is Flaming Mountain near its center, where the temperature can reach 75 degree C.(167 degrees F). The blazing sun makes the red rock glow as though it were on fire, and approaching travelers are greeted with a blast of hot air as from a furnace.

This Flaming Mountain figures in the Chinese mythological novel Pilgrimage to the West, which describes the long and arduous journey made by the great Tang dynasty monk Xuan Zhuang to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures. Xuanzhuang and his three disciples encountered one obstacle after another one the way and one of these Was Flaming Mountain. Fortunately, the disciple, Sun Wukong-the Monkey King-subdued the Iron Fan Princess with his magic power and obtained the only thing with which the flames could be extinguished—her fan-so that the party was able to continue their journey westward. The novelist based his description on Flaming Mountain in Turpan.

Another strange natural phenomenon of Turpan is sparse rainfall in the basin with an evaporation rate of over there thousand millimeters. Frequent thunderstorms occur high in the sky, but the moisture entirely evaporates before it reaches the earth. Often on a summer afternoon a column of smoke suddenly rise from the earth, spirals into the sky, then disperses like the mushroom cloud of an atom bomb. This is followed immediately by a sandstorm which darkens the sky with a shower of swirling sand.

How can the people grow crops here, or even manage to survive? one may ask. In fact, both are possible. In summer,work is done mainly in cellars under the family“grape trellis. People can work in the fields only at dawn and dusk. What saves according to historical rcords, the renowned Buddhist monk Xuan Zhuang was warmly received in Gaochang and lectured there for more than a month while returning to Xi’an from India.