Xinjiang officially Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China in the northwest of the country.
Xinjiang, which literally means "New Frontier" or "New Border» is the name of the biggest province of China which is also one of the less populated. It is home to a number of ethnic groups including the Uyghur, Han, Kazakh, Tajiks, Hui, Kyrgyz, and Mongol, with a majority of the population adhering to Islam.
Uyghurs are the majority in south-western Xinjiang. Han are the majority in eastern and northern Xinjiang (Dzungaria) and Kazakhs are mostly concentrated in Ili prefecture in northern Xinjiang. Kazakhs are the majority in the northernmost part of Xinjiang.
Traveling to Xinjiang will doubtless be one of the more fantastic journeys that you will make because the province possesses at the same time deserts, mountains and basins, rivers and lakes and conifers forests. Populated with so many different ethnic groups and a so strong personality, Xinjiang leaves nobody unmoved. The Muslim religion of the Uyghurs gives besides a particular colour to this province.
North Xinjiang Attractions
Urumqi (Wulumuqi) 乌鲁木齐and its neighbourhood
Xinjiang's province capital and city the most distant from the sea in the world, Urumqi became a typical Chinese modern city and does not possesses much of interest to visit. Nevertheless, you will almost automatically stopover because it is the main knot of communication of the province.
Xinjiang Museum 新疆自治区博物馆
Interest (s): museum presenting the Silk Road and its history; well-known for its rich silk artefacts from many periods of history. Brocades from Eastern Han are highlighted, as well as all kinds of specialized silk-woven items from the heights of the Tang
Admission Fee: Free
Tuesday to Sunday:
10:00 am to 6:00 pm (Apr. 15 to Oct. 15; last entry at 5:00 pm)
10:30 am to 6:00 pm (Oct. 16 to Apr. 14; last entry at 5:00 pm)
- Enjoy hiking and horseback riding in a magnificent landscape
- Overnight in a Kazakh yurt (in summer only)
- Enjoy the high-protein, meaty Kazakh food
1. It is cool in the morning. Keep warm
2. Heavenly Lake is 2000m above sea level. Some people may feel some altitude effects.
The spot is about 110km from Urumqi, 1.5 hours by bus. You can take direct bus at the front and back gates of the People's Park (人民公园) to get there, around 8am - 9am.
Turpan 吐鲁番and its neighbourhood:
Turpan is located about 150 km (93 mi) southeast of Ürümqi in a mountain basin, on the northern side of the Turpan Depression, at an elevation of 30 m (98 ft) above sea level.
Turpan has a harsh, drastic, cold desert climate with very hot and long summers, and very cold but short winters, and brief spring and autumn in between. It is also the place in China where winds are the most violent (frequent sandstorms).
The oasis of Turpan and its neighbourhood offer at the same time beautiful landscapes and historic monuments.
Be careful, the sun beats down hardly. Take enough water (1,5L by pers. per hour of hike minimum), a hat and sun cream.
A visit site in the region of Turpan is not an easy thing because of the transportation and it will be necessary for you to join a tour organized by a travel agency or by private taxis. If you opt for the taxi, make sure they take you in the following places.
Interest (s): nested in a lush valley into the Flaming Mountains, with a well preserved Uyghur orientation, Tuyoq is a charming small village and a Muslim place of pilgrimage.
It constitutes an excellent tourist destination to share Uyghurs lifestyle and “Grape Valley» culture in this dry region. Turpan grape is famous in whole China. Test it and discover why!
The Flaming Mountains 火焰山
Interest (s): hiking and climbing in the legendary Flaming Mountains. These mountains which name take all its sense when noon approach are very renowned in China and are the object of several legends.
The mountain climate is harsh, and the extremely high summer temperatures make this the hottest spot in China, frequently reaching 50 °C (122 °F) or higher. As for any tour in the region, take enough water, a hat and sun cream.
Interest (s): located 8kms west of the city of Turpan, these ruins call back to its past as the seat of the Protector General of the Western Regions, the highest level military post of a Chinese military commander posted in the west.
Authentic desert city, these vestiges will seduce you by their charm. You can also visit the monastery sheltering a Buddha.
When to go: the best time to travel is between April and October. If you go between July and October, you can enjoy the freshly harvested fruit.
Emin Mosque 额敏塔
Interest (s): situated in the city of Turpan, it is an example of Uighur architecture; significant for study and contemplation of the superb geometry of the mosque. Site landscaping is inviting and warm. Situated 3 km east of the centre, you can reach the place by foot or bicycle.
Altai Region: (visit recommended from May till October because of the snow)
Kanas Lake 哈纳斯湖
It is one of the most beautiful lakes of China. The Kanas Lake area is covered with dense forests and promises beautiful hikes; it is the only region where animals and plants of South Siberia species can be found in China. Trekking around the area is the ideal way to witness the beauty and an extraordinary experience practiced by all backpackers who travel to Kanas.
The surroundings have everything to seduce you: forests, accommodation in Kazakhs yurts and discovery of their culture, impressive mountains... The access to this region is however difficult and can be expensive if you do not go for for an organized tour. Take reserves because eating in Kanas village is very expensive.
Sayram Lake 塞里木
Interest (s): less attractive than Kanas Lake, Sayram Lake is nevertheless a pleasant stopping place and especially more easily accessible than its neighbour of the North. You will find the same activities there: hiking, discovery of the local culture, etc. …
It is the largest (458 km²) alpine lake in Xinjiang and also the highest (2,070 m).
There are 4 border posts allowing you to join Kazakhstan by road: from north to the south: Jimunai 吉木乃, Tacheng 塔城, Alashankou 阿拉山口 et Korgas 霍尔果斯 (霍城).
You will probably cross the border at Jimunai if you visit Kanas Lake. Otherwise there is no sense to use this border which is the most far away from Urumqi: from Bu’erjin 布尔津take a bus at 11 am or at 4 pm to Jimunai (2 hours, 15RMB). At arrival at Jimunai, take a taxi to reach the border (30RMB. Check the opening hours of the border which change frequently.
To join Tacheng border post, take a bus at the north station of Urumqi at 11 am or at 7 pm (120RMB, 12 hours). At arrival at Tacheng, you can share a collective taxi with other people for 10RMB to reach the border post.
Alashankou 阿拉山is doubtless the most practical border post because it is accessible by road and train. To get there take the train at Urumqi or take a bus to Yining 伊宁 (145 RMB, 8 buses per day from 8 am till 8 pm, 14 hours). From Yining take a bus for Bole at 10:50 am, 11:50 am or 12:50 am (40RMB, 4 hours) then get a taxi to the border.
Last border post: Korgas 霍尔果斯 (霍城) which is also very convenient on the Chinese side as well as on the Kazhak side. Take a bus at Urumqi (110RMB, 14 hours). From Korgas, buses cross the border and drive to Almaty Kazakh’s capital.
To be noted: whatever which border is concerned; you have to possess a Kazakh visa before leaving China.
Trans-desert route, from the North to the South of Xinjiang
Travel through the hostile Taklimakan desert by bus is a unique experience to do absolutely if you are in Xinjiang. The bus leaves Urumqi to join Hotan in the South.
To take this bus, get to the south bus station of Urumqi by taking the urban bus number 1 or 109 according to your location. At the south bus station of Urumqi, take one of the 8 buses which travel to Hotan (between 20 and 25 hours, 350RMB).
A bus leaves in the morning and another one early in the afternoon but schedules change frequently thus we recommend to arrive early in the morning (at about 8 am) or to get information about timetables before the day of your departure. To see completely the desert, take a bus leaving very early in the morning and coming back very late in the evening.
South Xinjiang Attractions
Kuqa 库车 (Kuche) and its surroundings
Interest (s): Kuqa (pronounced koo-ja) is an attractive small town along the railroad route to Kashgar in the middle of the Taklamakan Desert; this mid-sized city -about 60000 inhabitants- is at the same time a place of a rich past and modernity. The bazaar is the major attraction of Kuqa and takes place only on Friday; it is situated 3kms West of the centre on the Renmin Lu artery. In the North of the city, the old town of Kuqa and its big mosque is worth a visit.
How to go there: Go to Tianshan Lu and take bus 1 or 3.
Symbol of the silk route and its caravans, Kashgar is no more totally what she was. Roads, railroads and big buildings unfortunately replaced a lot of small houses surrounded with small narrow alleys. It is nevertheless still possible to plunge in the atmosphere of the old Kashgar when exploring the old town.
Kashgar old Town 喀什古城
Interest (s): visit the West part of the old town to admire the charms of Kashgar of former days.
How to go there: Get to Jiefang Lu 解放路, the old town is situated on each side of this street.
Interest (s): this Sunday market will sink you suddenly centuries behind. Nothing or almost changed and the same products are sold since more than a millennium: fabrics, food, shoes, healing plants etc... Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pakistanis and many other ethnic groups come and crowd this incredible market; it will be difficult to leave without having bought something!
Opening hours: every day from early in the morning to late in the evening but the market is more alive on Sundays.
How to go there: The market is situated on a place lining Aizerete Lu 艾孜热特路.
Livestock market 动物市场
Interest (s): even more spectacular than the Sunday market, the Livestock market is, as its name indicates it, only intended for the sale of the farm and domestic animals. A mosaic of different ethnic groups comes here to negotiate or make business.
Opening hours: every day from early in the morning to late in the evening.
How to go there: Take a taxi from the centre or bus 16 at Sunday market. The market is situated in the southeast of the city.
Id Kah mosque 艾提尕尔清真寺
Interest (s): one of the biggest and oldest mosques of China, Id Kah mosque was built in 1442. It is a group of old Islamic constructions with strong ethnic style and religious features; it accepts the visit of the non-Muslims except hours of prayers.
Admission Fee: CNY 20
Opening Hours: 08:50 am to 10:00 pm
Recommended Time for a Visit: One hour
Bus Route: 77, 13
Note that when visiting a mosque, a proper clothing is required (long clothes and scarf on the head for the women, shorts should be avoided for men). It is also compulsory to deposit shoes at the entrance and it is forbidden to take pictures.
Karakorum Routes 中巴公路
Interest (s): the Karakorum routes bridge a mountain range spanning the borders between Pakistan, China, and India, located in the regions of Gilgit, Ladakh and Baltistan. It is one of the Greater Ranges of Asia, often considered together with the Himalaya The Karakoram is home to more than sixty peaks above 7,000m (22,960 ft), including K2, the second highest peak of the world (8,611 m, 28,244 ft).
You will be able to explore this road and stop in Tashkurgan 塔什库尔干. You can also join the luxurious Karakul Lake卡拉库勒湖and spend a night in a yurt (80RMB)
How to go there: Take Jiefang Beilu 解放北路route and walk approximately 1 km in the direction of the North to arrive at the bus station. From there, take the bus 10 to Tashkurgan. You can also take a bus for Sost (Pakistan) at the international bus station situated in the South of the city at Renmin Donglu 人民东路. Both buses pass in Karakul.
Notice: It is misadvised to travel in Pakistan, the country being in the grip of a permanent political instability. The risks of kidnappings, terrorist attacks are to be seriously taken into account in this country and add to the present conflict for decades between Pakistan and India in the Kashmir province.
Silk Road Kashgar- Kirghizstan
Two passes allow to join Kyrgyzstan from Kashgar known as “the Pearl on the Silk Road: Torugart (Tulugaerte Shankou, 图噜噶尔特山口) and d’Irkeshtam (Yikeshentanmu Shankou, 依克什坦姆山口).We deeply recommend to borrow Irkeshtam (much more practical and less subject to border closures)
Silk route: Kashgar-Golmud (Qinghai)
The Kashgar-Golmud road offers impressive landscapes between Taklimakan desert and high mountains announcing Tibet. Some historic monuments or interesting sites mark the road. Following sites can be quoted:
Interest (s): the knife capital under all its forms. City of craftsman-cutler, this town isolated at 60kms in the South of Kashgar is interesting for those who appreciate the art craft and the local art.
How to go there: By bus from Kashgar in the direction of Yarkand (1 hour 30, 15RMB) or by motorcycle-taxi to the city centre.
Interest (s): doubtless the old city of Xinjiang the best preserved, Yarkand challenges the laws of time and plunges you into its history confidentially bound to the Silk route. By reaching the Altyn mosque (15RMB, you will inevitably get closer to the old city).
How to go there: By bus from Kashgar (every hour, 3 hours, 26RMB).
Interest (s): the city of Hotan possesses besides the traditional market of Sunday a silk factory.
How to go there: By bus from Kashgar; 7 buses a day among which 2 express at 12 am and 2 pm (90RMB, 7 hours and 5 normal buses (65RMB, 10 hours). To go to the silk factory, it is necessary to take the bus 1 at the bus station until the terminus; walk then approximately 200m.
Cherchen (Qiemo) 且末
Transit city you can join Cherchen from Hotan by bus in 2 days (93RMB). At Hotan, take the minibus 10 at the east bus station where a bus leaves for Cherchen at 10:30 am and travels in 2 days 580kms through striking landscapes.
Charklik (Ruoqiang) 若羌
Other transit village, Charklik can be joined by bus from Cherchen (16 hours, 76RMB). From there, take a bus for Golmud or Huatugou 花土沟. From Huatugou, you can join Golmud (Ge’ermu, 格尔木).
Trans-desert Route: from South to North Xinjiang:
Cross hostile deserted of Taklimakan by bus is an unique experience to make absolutely if you are in Xinjiang. The bus leaves Hotan to join Urumqi in the North.
To take this bus, go at Hotan bus station. From there, take one of the 8 buses driving to Urumqi (between 20 and 25 hours 350RMB). A bus leaves at 10 am and another one at 1 pm but schedules change frequently thus we recommend you to arrive early in the morning (at about 8 am) or to inform you about schedules before the day of your departure. To see completely the desert, take one of the two buses quoted above.