Xinjiang is a riveting blend of winding landscapes and century-old craftsmen
THERE are few places you can go to in China that don’t retain at least some sense of the country’s ancient culture and colorful history.
However, Xinjiang province in the northwest region of the country is a place unto its own, distinct from the rest of China in its landscapes, foods and people.
Though modernization has come to parts of Xinjiang in the same way it has to China’s other provinces, visitors can still glimpse the old ways in cities such as Kashgar, where artisans still work their crafts in the same vein as those who came before them.
Thanks to the Silk Road running through it, and being bordered by eight countries, Xinjiang has seen a mix of cultures and traditions that have made it in many ways a distinct and fascinating far-flung part of the country.
Xinjiang has been the sight of unrest and conflict between the Uyghur people and the Chinese government. Reports often conflict about who initiated bouts of violence, as the government puts the blame for flare-ups on locals they deem terrorists, while others say the authorities are the ones instigating the trouble.
It is worth being aware of the political situation in Xinjiang ahead of your trip, though the travel site Far West China says travel there is generally no less risky than in other parts of China.
No permits are required for travel into the region, though permission may be needed when hiking certain mountains or visiting border towns. Be sure to bring your passport, which is necessary to keep on you wherever you go in China.
Start your trip in Urumqi, where you can visit the Xinjiang Uygur Regional Museum. Here you’ll find artifacts and displays that will give you a sense of Xinjiang’s history before you venture out into the region.
You can also get your first taste of Xinjiang food straight from the source, and ponder the place over a dish of laghman noodles or some fresh baked naan.
The Silk Road tops the list of places to see in Xinjiang Province. This famed international trade route extends through the province, and was once the place where the cultures of ancient China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece and Rome came together.
You can book a tour that will take you along several stops on the Silk Road route, allowing for a better understanding of its significance and an appreciation of the natural wonders that surround it.
The Kashgar Bazaar is another must-see, and Sunday is the best day to do it. This is the busiest day of the week at the bazaar, so while you’ll have to deal with the crowds, you’ll get a real feel for life in Kashgar.
According to Travel China Guide, the Kashgar Bazaar spans 41 acres and consists of 21 separate markets and 4,000 stalls. Come prepared to be on your feet for a few hours, and to eat; Xinjiang foods are especially delicious.
You can also do all your souvenir shopping here, as there are plenty of stands where you can purchase clothing and handicrafts in between sampling the local eats.
You’ll have no end of foods to try and savor while making your way around Xinjiang province. Tuck into a bowl of laghman, the hand-pulled noodles for which the region is known. Meat eaters won’t be able to get enough of yang rou chuan’r, tasty lamb kebobs with melt-in-your-mouth tender meat.
Far West China also recommends Da Pan Ji, a big dish of chicken and potatoes that won’t disappoint on flavor and will fill you up to boot. Browse the markets wherever you happen to stop for some local gems. Oftentimes it’s at little mom-and-pop shops or roadside stands that you’ll find the best meals.
In both Urumqi and Kashgar, nightlife is limited and certainly less colorful than in other Chinese cities. But in each of these places, you’ll find nightly song and dance performances and a few bars where you can wet your whistle after a long day of shopping, eating and touring.
There are plenty of unique souvenirs that will have you thinking back on your trip to Xinjiang for years to come. A dopa, or four-pointed hat worn by many local men, will make a good gift for male friends and family members and should not cost more than 50 RMB (about US$8).
Xinjiang silk or housewares make great presents for the women in your life, and there are handicrafts in the markets that might make nice pieces to adorn your own home.
You can also find knives with interesting and unique handles, though those could be a bit more difficult to get through security and customs.
How to get there
The best way to get to Xinjiang Province is to enter through Urumqi. You can fly in from a number of cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Kunming and Chongqing.
Trains are also available from several cities, though trips from cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an can take a day to two days of travel. This is a great way to see the country, but not great for those on limited time.