There is no middle way to describe Xinjiang... it is a place of contrasts, extremes and superlatives. It is the largest province in China and the place is huge. For example it takes 3 days to drive from Urumqi to Kashgar. The landscape is beautiful and almost ethereal in some areas and varied. You can be in a metropolis in one day, the alpine country the next and the 2nd largest desert in the world in another. The temperature variation reflects the varied landscapes, from blazing sunny hot to alpine snowy conditions.
The peak tourism period for northern Xinjiang is from June to October. Most (>95%) of the tourists are local Han Chinese). Many love to drive. We have meet tourists from Guangdong and Hunan who have driven more than 5000 km to get here. For many, they just drop by and stay a few days if they like the place and then move on without prior hotel bookings etc. We envy these freedom travellers who can arrive at the destination at the right moment i.e. during the peak fall colour period. As overseas visitors, we do not have this freedom; we have to pre-book and stay in designated tourist hotels (and pay more for them). Foreigners have to register with the local police where ever they stay. In most cases, the hotels will do this on their guests behalf. Travelling in Xinjiang is expensive. Accommodation during the peak season is very expensive; some below average 2-3* establishment will charge the equivalent of 5* prices in the city. Because of the large size, tourists have to travel long distances between sites. Entrance fees to the various tourist sites are also very high.
Sunrise at Hemu Village. There is no such thing as the claiming the best spot to put down you tripod. Someone else will come along later and plant theirs right in front of yours.
Domestic scene of a family enjoying a day in the sun. Their yurt close by sells local fabrics and souvenirs to tourists. Nalati Grassland.
Xinjiang is the fruit bowl of China. The region produces grapes, melons, figs, dates, peaches, persimmons, sunflower seeds, maize and etc. Fresh and dried fruit stalls are everywhere. Raising cattle, sheeps and horses are seen in the grassland areas.
Hami melons are cheap and sweet. "Here, try one"
Farmers selling their produces at the Sunday Kashgar Liverstock market.
Every kinds of dried fruits and nuts are available at the local bazaar.
Dried flowers for tea infusion. Note the QR-code for cashless payment which is used everywhere.
Shepherding 'fat bottom' sheep at 琼庫什台 village. These are mainly rear for meat.
Cattle grazing and a stray tourist
Some of the animal farmers are still nomadic, taking the animals to better pasture in winter. Tianshan Grand Canyon
Wind farms are common. Five Coloured Beach
There are batteries of these coal powered power plants scattered everywhere. Some are near cities but others are just in the desert. I imagine the power generated is sent eastward. It is convenient to pollute the desert as there will be no residents around to complain about the bad air quality.
Open cut mine. Tianshan Grand Canyon
Did you know that the richest city in China (in term of per capita GDP) is Karamay in Xinjiang? The economy is based on black gold which oozes out from the ground.
The Guoziyuan Bridge. Extensive construction of roads and rail is seen in many parts of Xinjiang, probably related to the 'Belt and Road' initiative. High speed rail to Urumqi is currently under construction.
There are no better places for people watching than in the bazaars and markets. The bazaars in Kashgar and Urumqi had been in operation for over 2000 years as they are along the Ancient Silk Road.
The Grand Bazaar at Urumqi. This market has changed since we last visited here 7 years ago. For one thing, there is a strong metal barricade across the main square. One has to enter through police barricades at the sides and put your belongings through the Xray machines as in the airport. Once inside, you are free to move around without any hindrance. The security is annoying but at least one feels safe once inside. The markets are not the same as before; the stores are now more organised into orderly rows unlike the unruly haphazard arrangements in the past.
Store selling dried goods
Store selling musical instrument
Store keeper demonstrating his wares
Store keeper oblivious of her wares
Storekeepers gossiping about their wares
Store keeper pushing her wares and free ride for her son
Xinjiang people are passionate about their food. The main ethnic fare is rather meat rich, predominantly mutton/lamb.
Iconic 'Big Plate Chicken' which Xinjiang is famous for. Most ordered dish by tourists going to Xinjiang. This one was in a nice restaurant in Urumqi which cost RMB 98. The same dish in a small dinghy eatery out in the small town new Kanas was over RMB280! What a rip off.
Mutton soup/broth at the Kashgar Livestock Market
Eating at the street stall and taking chances with traveller's diarrhoea. The diner with the rosaries in her hand is asking for divine protection.
Bread similar to Nan
Making traditional Nan (nung). The baker sits above the oven, flattens the dough over an insulated pad, bends over and place the dough inside the oven. Once done, he fishes the bread out with the long metal rod.
Butcher at the Kashgar Livestock market. These are fat bottom sheep (see the lump of fat at the buttocks of the carcasses). Knifes are considered dangerous weapons in Xinjiang. All knifes in public are chained. You can only buy knifes at licensed shops with strict security precautions.
Axes are also chained
Lamb shanks and side of lambs
Hindquarter of a cow
Every Sunday for the last 2000 years, farmers bring their livestock here to trade.
To market to market to sell a fat donkey.
There is some serious haggling and horse trading going on.
"Are you serious? Come on, these are worth much more!"
More haggling. Everyone, including the tourist listens intently in the conversation.
How much is that white horned sheep?
Time to cough up the dough
Locals like to wear hats. Each ethnic group have their own fashion accessory.
Checking the rear end of the purchase. Nothing worse than to find out the stud he bought is missing the nuts.
We went to Xinjiang primarily to see the wonderful and famed landscapes and we were not disappointed. The rich cultural diversity and history in this province were surprise bonuses. Travelling in Xinjiang is quite tiring because of the long road journeys (even though we did fly to Kashgar from Urumqi). The tight security everywhere especially for foreigners gives one a taste of what living in a police state feels like. Our group of 6 foreign tourists was closely monitored by the public security office whilst we were in Tianshan Grand Canyon. The security officers were concerned that we seem to have 'lost' 2 of our members who had decided to complete the 5 km hike to the top whilst the rest had returned to the bus alighting point. The positive side of the high security is the that we feel safe travelling around this land (unlike the current situation in HK). There are other inconveniences in Xinjiang such as suboptimal sanitary conditions in some public toilets and crowds at some of the major sites. Entrance ticket prices are high and some places such as the Nalati grassland and Burqin Ghost City appear to be over rated. Entry to the parking lot at Karakul lake for supposedly better view is a complete waste of money as the free roadside parking 300m away offer much better photogenic opportunities. After such a long and tiring (but productive) trip, we checked into a resort in Sanya for 3 days of R&R :).
Art for Charity