Turpan is located about 150 km (93 mi) southeast of Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, in a mountain basin, on the northern side of the Turpan Depression, at an elevation of 30 m (98 ft) above sea level. Turpan has a harsh, drastic, cold desert climate. However, the very heat and dryness of the summer, when combined with the area's ancient system of irrigation, allows the countryside around Turpan to produce great quantities of high-quality fruit. We received about 75% sunshine when we were there in September.
The Tianshan is a large mountain range in Central Asia stretching about 2,500 kilometers. It is the largest mountain chain in the world’s temperate arid region, and the largest isolated east-west mountain range globally. The Xinjiang portion of the Tianshan runs east-west for 1,760km and is a mountain range of outstanding natural beauty. The beauty of the Xinjiang Tianshan lies not only in its spectacular snow-capped mountains and glacier-capped peaks, beautiful forests and meadows, clear rivers and lakes and red bed canyons, but also in the combination and contrast between the mountain elements and the vast deserts.
Grapes and corn are by far the most important agricultural products. Translating this to the table, Turpan is awash in a wide variety of sweet raisins and wine. The winter climate is so severe in Xinjiang that the vines are dug under and covered each autumn to protect them from the temperatures which can fall as low as -20°C and are accompanied by biting winds. The hot dry climate in the summer, however, provides a taste advantage when towards the end of the growing season irrigation is decreased and the sugars are allowed to set in the grapes.
Grapes are dried in mud-brick buildings – checkered with holes to allow circulation of air – called qunje in Uyghur. The grapes are left in the qunje for thirty or forty days, by which time they have turned into full, succulent sweet raisins which still retain the color and luster of fresh grapes. Sometimes, the grapes are allowed to dry for a few days in the sun before being hung in the qunje to make a sweeter variety of raisin.