In 2004, the old Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi was demolished to make way for the new Xinjiang Museum (Xīnjiāng Wéiwú'ěr Zìzhìqū Bówùguǎn, 新疆维吾尔自治区博物馆). With its new facelift, the museum gained larger, modern halls and a thorough smattering of English signage. A number of permanent exhibitions reside in the museum, detailing the history and culture of Xinjiang. Artifacts from some of Xinjiang's ancient "lost cities" are as close as visitors can get to locations such as Loulan, now a nuclear test site...
The Abakh Hoja Tomb (sometimes spelled Afaq Khoja Tomb) (Apàkè Huòjiā Mù, 阿帕克霍加墓), situated some 5 km (3 mi) outside of town in the village of Haohan (浩罕村), sits peacefully in the midst of poplars and pines. Although many Han Chinese prefer to think of this as the tomb of Xiangfei (Xiāng Fēi, 香妃), a.k.a "the Fragrant Concubine"—a Uyghur beauty who was forced into a marriage with the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong after having participated in resistance to imperial rule— the local Uyghur highlight..
Though Lanzhou's image has been tarnished by a reputation for heavy pollution, bear in mind that media coverage of China is often laced with hyperbole. Lanzhou sees blue skies fairly regularly, thanks to new environmental reforms, and the place to be on days like those is White Pagoda Park. The orginal pagoda is rumored to have been built in tribute to a monk who died on his way to an appointment with Genghis Khan. That pagoda toppled, but was rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty's first emperor, military genius Zhu Yuanzhang, with later additions..
If you only have time to see a single sight in Lanzhou proper, the Gansu Provincial Museum is a fine choice. Recently reopened after major renovations that conceal its Russian-designed origins, the museum hosts a collection as impressive for its quality as for its diversity. Among the items you'll find are samples of neolithic painted pottery from the 8,000-year-old Dadiwan culture. You'll also see evidence of Silk Road cultural diffusion (or maybe an as-of-yet undocumented Chinese trade missions to the Roman Empire?) in the form..
As the name implies, these 1,700 year old monuments to both the devotion and engineering aplomb of ancient Buddhists, is set in a cliff side and make for a great place for a little hike close to the city. Just 15 minutes out of town, the structures, and the walkways that join them, were recently renovated. Once you've hiked up to the pagoda at the top of the hill you'll be rewarded with some pretty good views of the city. A pretty good attraction by its own right, but the temple makes a great two-hour activity if..
Xining's premier Islamic education center and the largest mosque in Qinghai Province, the Dongguang mosque, built in 1380, is a pleasant spot for a stroll, some people-watching (especially just before or after prayer times) and a taste of China's Muslim life. Though casual visitors generally cannot enter the main building, the grounds are appealing and the friendly locals usually up for a chat. The architecture combines Muslim and Chinese features in a fascinating fashion, even if the overall fusion is a bit awkward, as if reflective..
To experience the Buddhist culture of Tibet without going through the hassle of permits and tour guides, there may be no better place than Labrang Monastery (Lābǔlèng Sì, 拉卜楞寺), located near the tourist boom town of Xiahe, six hours out from smoggy Lanzhou. Labrang is the largest Tibetan lamasary outside of Tibet. Its sprawling grounds feature a host of 18th century architectural masterpieces including the Grand Sutra Hall, Spring Debate Palace and the Temple of White Umbrella as well as hundreds of prayer wheels and over a..
Sometimes referred to as "Western Badaling" for its resemblance to a section of the Great Wall near Beijing, this part of the Great Wall, about 9 kilometers out from Jiayuguan Fort, was originally built in 1539, through some reconstruction and refurbishment, including the addition of stairs, occurred in 1987. Hiking up to the top, which can be very demanding due to the 45 degree inclination you're pitted against on the way up, is worthwhile. You'll be rewarded with sweeping views encompassing the Jiayuguan oasis, forlorn..
Once considered the end of the "civilized" world, Jiayuguan Fort (Jiāyùguān Chénglóu, 嘉峪关城楼) was Imperial China's westernmost stronghold at the end of the Great Wall. Beyond the fort's walls; primal fears in the forms of elemental demons and barbarian armies waited to ambush disgraced officials and exhiled poets cast out through the Gate of Conciliation (Róuyuǎn Lóu, 柔远楼). On the opposite side of the fort, the Gate of Enlightenment (Guānghuá Lóu, 光化楼), where law-abiding citizens of the empire could come and go..
The ancient city of Gaochang (Gāochāng, 高昌) is a sublimely impressive sight, likely to spur thoughts of the grand sweep of history and the insignificance of one little tourist standing in the middle of the vast desert, snapping digital photos of crumbling ruins that date back to the 1st century BC. Unless, of course, you visit at the same time as a huge Chinese tour group, in which case sublimity is likely a lost cause. Even then, Gaochang is worth a whirl, whether you walk or drop RMB 20 on a donkey cart from the entrance gate. At..
The Emin Minaret (Sūgōng Tǎ, 苏公塔), located 2 km (1.5 mi) east of Turpan, stands 44 m (144 ft) high, and is proudly the tallest minaret in China. Established in 1777 during the Qing Dynasty, the Emin Minaret is well-known for its unusual and unique architectural design, while the elegant design and decoration add to it's beauty. While designed to be an Islamic-style building, the minaret is very much influenced by Chinese features, with both Chinese and Uyghur language engraved on the stele in front. Unfortunately, the..
The Astana Graves (Asītǎnǎ Gǔmù, 阿斯塔那古墓), nicknamed "The Underground Museum", and located 6 km (4 mi) from the ancient city of Gaochang, is the final resting place for over 1,000 inhabitants of Gaochang, both commoners and locals. The tombs cover over ten sq km (six sq mi), having been used for over 600 years between 200 CE and 800 CE. In addition to the inhabitants of Gaochang, some tombs are the graves of several Tang Dynasty rulers, where one can find various Tang Dynasty figurines and Chinese silk..