The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is the largest province in China. At 1.6 million km², it’s absolutely huge; but compared to the other tourism hotspots in China, it is relatively unexplored. China is a vast country and varies greatly, but most would agree that Xinjiang is one of its most unique provinces. There is so much to see and do for any visitor that it’s impossible to cover it all in one article, but we’ll try to give you a taste for the place.
The Uyghur people
The Uyghur are an ethnic minority in China, and most of their almost eight-and-a-half million people live in Xinjiang. They are set apart from most of the rest of China because they are one of the main Muslim areas – and China is officially atheist. The Uyghur have some spectacular religious festivals and their own language and alphabet is entirely at odds with the rest of China.
The most popular fare here is Nang. Not just fun to say, Nang is a lovely savoury pie that is most often served with tea. Far from the decadent dishes of Shanghai, the dim sum in Guangdong, or the spice of Szechuan, Uyghur food has a wholesome quality of its own. If you are eating with locals, it is considered polite to leave a little bit of food in your bowl. This implies that your host has given you enough to eat. This custom is common throughout China.
As the Uyghur are Muslim, their customs and traditions are also different from the rest of China. They are keen dancers and storytellers. If you find a native that speaks English, ask them to tell you the story of Afanti. You’ll find the people to be friendly and accommodating. If you are lucky enough to see a wedding party while you’re there, you’ll notice their marvellously bright and colourful dresses and their beautiful, elegant dances.
Place of interest: The Kashgar Bazaar
Although open every day, the Kashgar city Bazaar is especially busy on Sundays, so if you want to get a real feel for the place, make sure you visit then. Expect to find a lot of products from Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and be ready to barter for everything you try to buy. Bartering is part of the culture and you need to be ready to negotiate a good price for everything. Instead of feeling scared and standoffish about bartering, embrace it and have fun.
Hiking in Xinjiang
Xinjiang is a popular hiking destination thanks to its beautiful scenery. Try to spend a day or two walking in Kanas Nature Reserve. It shares a border with Russia and Mongolia, and its lakes, forests and rivers make it the perfect place for any keen hikers. It can be cold, and there are some mountains, so make sure you invest in high-quality outdoor clothing – especially a wind & rain proof jacket and a good pair of walking boots. If you get time, try to visit the Ancient City of Jiaohe, whose first settlers date back to 450 A.D. Tour buses and taxis can take you there from Jiaohe, so getting there isn’t a problem.
We hope this has been helpful and that you consider Xinjiang for your next big adventure. There’s nowhere quite like it in the world – making it the perfect prospect for the traveller that thought they had been everywhere and seen everything. Find out more about it here. Safe travels.