After I arrived in Turpan, one of the places I was determined to see were the Flaming Mountains. The mountains are situated on the northern side of the mighty Taklamakan Desert, and formed part of the Silk Road for those keeping north of the desert. According to an Uyghur legend, a dragon lived in this area, with the habit of eating small kids. After slaying the dragon, an Uyghur hero cut the dragon in eight pieces. The blood of the dragon turned the mountain red, and the eight pieces became the eight valleys of the Flaming Mountains. When preparing my visit to the Flaming Mountains, I was convinced I should see them in the early morning, as that is when the light is often best. But the driver I contracted to make a long tour the next day, convinced me that the mountains are actually best seen in the middle of the day. To me, it seemed hard to believe, especially considering the high temperatures reaching well over 40 degrees, but I decided to trust the guy. The next day, after a very early sunrise at Ayding Lake with the sun coming up over the Flaming Mountains, we passed part of the range at close hand on our way to Tuyoq and, indeed, although the shadows in the gullies and trenches looked great, the colours were almost grey. So, I was happy that we were on our way to the Flaming Mountains much later, after a delicious lunch. In fact, we reached the foot of the most typical part of the Flaming Mountains when the sun was blazingly hot.
As with many other places in China, it is not possible to just visit the Flaming Mountains. Some kind of amusement park has been built at the foot of the mountains, with a parking lot, an underground museum, a large statue, and even camels waiting for tourists to have their pictures taken. But I just wanted to enjoy the view of the mountains, and desperately wanted to skip all the tourist traps laid around the base of the mountains. So it was, that I started walking along the fence to find places with a good view of the mountains I could see a few hundred metres away. First, I saw a worker coming out of a gate, who did not close the gate properly. When I approached the gate, a guard came from the inside, inviting me in if only I would pay him some money. Instead, I continued walking along the fence - assuming it would have to end somewhere. And indeed, it did; and I was able to finally just enter the desert-like plains at the foot of the mountains, and walk closer.
I had to admit, the colour of the mountains, under the scorching sun, was very intense and much more impressive than the mountains I had seen that morning. The more I approached the wall rising out of the flat plain I was walking on, the more details I saw. Deep trenches and gullies, running down the Flaming Mountains in a zig-zag pattern and formed by lava running down the sandstone mountains, big rocks, long lines: the closer I came, the better I could see them. Meanwhile, the temperature, while hot, was somehow still bearable, and when I got close enough to the enormous, 500 metre-high wall right in front of me, I started walking along the wall. From here, I could see other parts of the Flaming Mountains in a distance. In fact, the entire range of the Flaming Mountains is some 100 kilometres long; this was just one part of it. I walked on, and turned back to the main road. On the way back to Turpan, my eyes were glued to the window: from a larger distance, the intensely red Flaming Mountains appeared in the foreground, with snow-capped Tien Shan mountains in the background and a deep blue sky on top.
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