Turpan, China, is a desert oasis 1,600 mi/2,580 km west of Beijing. It dates from the first century BC and was a major crossroads on the Silk Road. Plan to visit Turpan on Sunday, when there's a huge market.

Most other attractions are outside of town. The Emin Minaret (2 mi/3 km east) is an amazing geometric circular tower, although it is no longer possible to climb it. Some 29 mi/47 km southeast of Turpan are the ruins of the ancient Uygur capital, Gaochang, where the city walls and extensive ruins may still be seen. Near Gaochang are the Astana Tombs, which contain a few mummies. The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves northeast of Turpan contain Buddhist paintings, though many have been damaged over the years and you'll need to take along a flashlight to see them.

At 505 ft/155 m below sea level, Turpan becomes the hottest city in China during summer—not a good time to visit. Despite the heat, a series of wells and tunnels, called a karez, allows residents to grow a number of crops, including grapes, which often become wine.

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