The Xinjiang province, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region is located on the north west of China and is the biggest province of the country. To move from one site to another takes quite a long time, but the scenery is amazing and changing all the time, you won’t get bored.
40% of the population of Xinjiang is from the Uyghur minority. Uyghur people are Muslim, you will see both Chinese characters and Arabic scripts everywhere on the streets. Uyghur people are a mix of Caucasian and East Asian, so maybe you can see Asian type people with beautiful green or blue eyes. The Uyghur people do love dancing and you can enjoy traditional dance and music shows almost everywhere.
In Xinjiang you will find the hottest, the coolest, the highest and the lowest points and cities of China. You will see deserts and mountains, you have to take an umbrella and some sun cream, both warm and light clothes. From one site to another the temperature can change very fast and nights are pretty cold. You can also find great spots to ski in winter.
Urumqi is the capital city of Xinjiang. The city itself has no real famous sites, except the big bazaar and the Great Mosque. You can also find a lot of night markets and nice places to do shopping. The surroundings of Urumqi are more interesting.
Turpan is located at about 3:30 hours from Urumqi in the east side. In Turpan, the majority of the population is Uyghur, and you can see the difference: the architecture of the houses are typically Arabic and you feel like you are in the Middle East, not in China anymore.
The Grape Valley
In Turpan, you can go the Grape Valley and try the very famous raisins of Xinjiang. The grape valley is located in a small village where the majority of the population is Uyghur. Don’t hesitate to escape from the touristy part of the site and walk around in the village, meet the local and buy them some very tasty raisins. You can also eat with them and sleep in their houses to have an authentic experience. You first have to register at the security office of the village then you can spend the night there.
The Flaming Mountains
The Flaming Mountains bear a well chosen name : the temperature of the site can reach 50 degrees! You can try a camel riding, or more exciting, you can enjoy a fly above the mountain with a delta plane.
The Kariz irrigation system: the Turpan Water Museum.
If you want to refresh from the heat of the flaming mountain, you can visit the Turpan Kariz underground water system in the museum, a very interesting place where you will understand the process to get water into town from the Tianshan Mountains.
Jiaohe Ancient City
In the middle of the desert of Turpan, you can visit the ruins of Jiaohe city, 10km west of the city of Turpan. Jiaohe used to be an important stop for the Silk Road but has been destroyed during the Mongol invasion. The ruins have been dug up and renovated and the place is now preserved.
Have a look at the ancient city walls and houses and try to imagine the city thousands years ago. The place is extremely hot in summer and also very cold in winter, from 50 degrees to minus 20!
About 5 hours driving from Urumqi in the North, the city of Karaway is well-known for its oils fields, which make the wealth of the county. Visiting the oil fields itself is not the best thing to do, it’s like visiting a gas station but crowded with tourists.
Wuerhe, the Ghost City
Wuerhe is located at about 100km from Karamay. The wind and the erosion created natural sand hills with characteristic shapes. The place is now called “the Ghost City” because of the constant wind which makes scary sounds, like if the place was full of ghosts. Unfortunately, I did not see any ghost, only camels.
With a lot of imagination you will maybe see that the shapes look like different kind of animals, a pig head, a horse foot, or a turtle…
After the rain, the salt comes out from the underground and the soil is white.
Kanas Area: the Kanas National Park
The area of Kanas is located at the northest point of the Xinjiang province, close to the Russian border, in the Burqin county. On the way to Kanas, you will leave the desert and the wild camels to the green, wet pastures of the Altai Mountain. On the roads, you will see the Kazakh minorities yurts, where they live during summer time and take care of their cattle, sheep, goats and horses. They are very good horse riders too.
In the Jiadenyu village, you can stay and enjoy horse riding with the local Kazakh in a beautiful landscape. Walk around the place and meet the Kazakh people, and if you can, have a dinner with them and try the Kazakh food and cheese.
The Kanas lake is one of the most famous lake in China. It is a nice and big, very deep lake squeezed between the mountains. You can enjoy a cruise on the lake to have the best spot of the scenery.
The Fish Viewing Pavilion
Close to the lake you can climb the 1068 stairs to get to the Fish Viewing Pavilion and have an amazing overview of the lake and the surroundings… when the weather allows it.
You can not leave Xinjiang without trying the famous lamb kebabs! You will find it everywhere on the streets and the night markets. You can eat your kebabs with naan, the flat bread, some mutton soup and Muslim homemade noodles and to finish (if you still feel hungry after that) you can try the yogurt and the very tasty Xinjiang fruits, grapes or melons.
Give a try to the Xinjiang wine, but with moderation: the Xinjiang wine has the reputation to be strong, and trust me, it is. And of course like everywhere in China you will find plenty of tea, black tea and Turkish tea principally.
Xinjiang food stall
You can also follow up the blog of the Family Yvon who also traveled to Xinjiang lately.