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..
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..
The Flaming Mountains (Huǒyàn Shān, 火焰山) get their name from the way the light reflects off the mountains red rocks and surrounding desert, especially toward sunset and sunrise—an impressive site for today's travelers, though one that might have filled ancient Silk Road merchants with trepidation, as little in these regions reminds one of the inhospitability of these dry lands as the sight of Flaming Mountains in full glory. Situated on the northern edge of the Turpan Basin, and stretching for over 100 km (62), this..
Located in the Turpan Depression (Tǔlǔfānpéndì, 吐鲁番盆地), Xinjiang, is the Karez Water System (Kǎnrjǐng, 坎儿井), a qanat system adapted by the Turpan People. The system was both the reason for Turpan's prosperity and its key to development as an essential stopover on the ancient Silk Road, skirting the Taklamakan Desert (Tǎkèlāmǎgānshāmò, 塔克拉玛干沙漠). An irrigation system similar to that which originated during the Han Dynasty, this system is a series of vertically-dug wells, linked by underwater..
The ancient ruined city of Jiaohe (Jiāohé Gùchéng, 交河故城) lies 10 km (6 mi) to the west of Turpan, situated on an island in the middle of river waters flowing through the Yarnaz Valley—the name itself means "at the confluence of two rivers." Abandoned in the thirteenth century after Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes laid it to waste, the ruins of this once-prosperous Silk Road city make for a fascinating day trip out of Turpan. The island rises some 30 m (98 ft) above the surrounding desert and, along with the..
Grape Valley (Putao Gou) stretches outside of Turpan toward the nearby Flaming Mountains. Turpan and its surrounding karez-fed agricultural lands are known for their fruit orchards and vineyards. By late summer, the grapes are ripe, making it is a wonderful time to visit. It's a pleasure to wander through the vinyards, shaded by fruit-laden trellises and surrounded by stark desert. After a few hours out and about in this unique landscape, you can sample the local wine at a local winery, whether the rich and..
Kashgar's majestic yellow-tiled Id Kah Mosque (Àitígǎěr Qīngzhēnsì, 艾提尕尔清真寺) has been the heart of the region's traditional Muslim culture since its completion in 1442. Today, it remains one of China's largest mosques, frequently hosting ten to twenty thousand worshippers on holy days. Visitors are tolerated but only to the extent that they show the expected levels of respect for the institution. Women are advised to cover up bare limbs and all visitors should be wary of turning a serious place of daily worship into a..
Tiān Shān (天山), or the Heavenly Mountains, are a massive mountain range that sheild Urumqi from the Taklamakan Desert to the south. The highest peak—"Iron Peak" (Tuōmù'ěr Fēng, 托木尔峰) to the Han Chinese and Uyghurs and "Victory Peak" to the Kyrgyz—lies on the China-Kyrgyzstan border. Many scenic areas near Urumqi are located in the Bogda Range (Bógédá Shãn, 博格达山), a branch of Tian Shan located to the east of Urumqi. Travelers looking to escape from the city or desert can take a cool, less..
A high altitude respite from Urumuqi's heat in the summer, Tiān Chí (天池), or "Heavenly Lake," is a lovely Alpine lake 2,000 m (6,600 ft) up in the Tian Shan mountain range. The pine-clad surrounding hills are filled with locals grazing their herds, and the snow-enameled mountains are picturesque to be sure. The summer months bring crowds who pay a day-visit to Tian Chi lake or spend the night in Kazahk-run yurts, which run about RMB 40 a person but while the area is a high-profile tourist spot, it remains largely undeveloped...