|It's cool when I get off the train. It is 5am, though. At the hotel reception desk, a sign says "Today's temperature 38'C". It's still two months before the height of summer. I'm actually pleased when the room they show me to is underground: it's a good few degrees cooler than outside. It's a dormitory in name, but I'm the only occupant. Where is everyone?
The trainline has no interest in tracking the Silk Road. Turpan train station is therefore thoughtfully located 58km north of town, although that does make it 72km more convenient than Dunhuang's. This means two things:
1. Ryanair have nothing on these guys.
2. At 5am and in pitch darkness you require the services of a local minivan driver.
As a minivan driver dealing with travellers, you tread a very fine line. You have to charge exactly the right price. Too high and you're ripping them off; too low and it looks suspicious. I'm certainly suspicious when one seems happy to take me as his only passenger for the going rate. To his bemusement I make him go and find some other passengers. All of the Chinese have got into tour buses or melted into the night, but he does find the three other Westerners from the train and a young couple from Hong Kong. Safety in numbers.
The only catch, as it turned out, was that the driver wanted me to engage him for a day tour of the sights around Turpan. With the temperature at 38' in the shade, though, I have no intention of sitting in a van for hours being bussed between attractions of limited interest.
No, I'll walk instead. Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. I rest until late afternoon and then set out for an old mosque with an interesting 44m high brick minaret. It's only 3km outside town, through interesting traditional and rustic areas. The faces are different around here, a mix of Han Chinese, local Uighur and other Turkic variations. Best of all, nasty slushy Chinese pop music has been replaced by more Arabic tunes. But it's very hot work. For the journey back, I catch the city bus that the guide book neglected to mention.
All of China officially runs on Beijing time, but this far west of the capital, people work to their own timing. Many clocks show the time as two hours earlier. It's still early morning at 10am when I set out, the next day, on a rental bike for the 8km trip to the Jiaohe ruined city. And when I talk of ruined cities, I'm not on this occasion referring to modern Chinese development.
Cycling is a good way to get out into the countryside, but it's hard to hire a bike that's big enough for me, the saddles are hard, and they never have gears. Most have brakes. All have bells. Once I'm out of town, it's quite pleasant. The temperature today is cooler, but still hot and dry.
The Jiaohe ruins are quite interesting, if a little over-ruined, but the best thing about them is that they're virtually empty. The Chinese are all on their way home at the end of national holiday week.
Back in town, it's siesta time. The hotel has a large indoor pool, gym and arcade games room, but all have remained inexplicably closed throughout holiday week. Apparently they open next week, when there will be no one here to use them. As I think I said before, you get used to this sort of thing. Expect the illogical, and just accept it. You can't change a billion people.
The menace of English practising is not a strong force in this part of China. I collected one student on a walk around town on my first day, but no problems since then. This one finished our conversation with "Welcome to East Turkestan". (In Xiahe, they had said "Welcome to Tibet".) You can probably be shot for less out here, but I couldn't tell if he said it out of secessionary fervour, because he could, in my company, or just because it tends to go down well with the tourists.