Travel Report Six

Xinjiang

Xinjiang is about three times the size of France, and just a little smaller than Alaska. It has diversity to match – mountains, the vast and dry Taklamakan Desert, the Turpan Basin, which is about 150 metres below sea level (but safe from oceanic flooding for now - the Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans are all at least 2400 km away).

The diversity of landscapes is matched by that of people. It’s a Central Asian crossroads with people of Turkic and Russian descent living alongside Kazakhs, Mongols, Han Chinese, and others. Its international borders are with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Driving all night, and into the dawn at the heart of the world’s greatest landmass.. Lanzhou, in neighbouring Gansu Province, is a 40 hour drive.

Fortunately, the long distance roads across the vast emptinesses are of a high standard, thanks to China’s approach to infrastructure.

Driving all night and into the dawn, on the long, long roads of Central Asia

The excellent museum in Urumqi celebrates the diversity of populations, with mummies that include the remains of European races. It is the same diversity, however, that results in a higher level of security than elsewhere in China.

Hand-crafted goods, with personal delivery, Urumqi

The multi-ethnic nature of the region is clear to see. This might have become a region of unrest, but peace and stability now predominate, through education and determined law enforcement.

The Grand Mosque in Urumqi and a Buddhist shrine at Tian Chi Lake – religions coexisting.

This beautiful building interior may look like a mosque, but is in fact part of a museum that provides information in Uyghur, Mandarin Chinese and English, about the ingenious irrigation system that uses water from the mountains to irrigate the grape crop.

In Turpan there is a museum (LEFT) celebrating the ingenious irrigation system, first developed two thousand years ago, with 5000km of channels at its peak, and still used now to create life in the desert.

Grapes are the principal crop in the area around Urumqi, and they are largely used to produce exceptionally sweet raisins.

Why are there so many buildings made of bricks and … holes? So that the dry desert air can turn sweet grapes into sweeter raisins.

The Pacific Ocean north of Shanghai, the Arctic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Caspian Sea coast of Kazakhstan are all almost 3000 kilometres away. The Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountain) region, close to Urumqi, offers beauty in all seasons. The region, of course, has a very continental climate; winters are cold, summers are warm, and can be hot in the city, but with cool nights.

Recommendations: Xinjiang is photographers’ heaven. It’s best to get a group together and then arrange travel with car and driver. Check your own country’s travel advice. Expect frequent passport inspections.

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