Ah Xinjiang, that almost mythical land that resides in China’s far-flung northwest. A region famed for its rich cultural heritage, scenic landscapes and internationally-renowned cuisine, Xinjiang, in our so humble opinion, is a place that’s not to be missed.
The magic of Xinjiang comes from the diverse ethnic groups that make up its populace, including Han, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Russians, Hui, Uyghur, Kyrgyz and Mongols. Nowhere in the region is this diversity more apparent than its capital, Urumqi.
Serving as the gateway to the rest of Xinjiang, almost every visit here (by air anyway) will mean passing through Urumqi. Even a short stay in the city can be a rewarding travel experience, offering the adventurous a glimpse into the region’s history and rich traditions.
1. The Delicious Edibles
Urumqi is not exactly a place where you'll find fancy restaurants or swish speakeasies like the ones in Shanghai, and you’d be surprised by how tranquil the bar street can be. Local food, on the other hand, could be the sole reason to make this city your favorite one.
There is no better experience than going to a local kebab shop to enjoy a sizzling plate of roasted mutton and lamp chops. At only RMB6 per skewer, your taste buds will instantly fall in love with the meat’s flavors and textures.
If you are not too keen on grilled food, pilaf is another highly recommended option. Served in different flavors, here it is most commonly made with fried rice, carrots and mutton, while the raisins and pickles offer delicious surprises in each bite.
Finally, don’t leave without tasting the local yogurt, which, although is a bit heavier than most, is creamy, smooth and perfect for dipping skewered meats or bread. There’s a thin layer of milk on the top, and all you need to do is stir it into the rest of the bowl and enjoy.
2. The Bazaar
Anyone that’s been to Urumqi will tell you the bazaar, referred to as Erdaqiao market, is the city’s most enticing tourist site. Admittedly, it’s a classic tourist trap, but offers some good souvenir shopping opportunities, with stalls selling everything from dried fruits to clothing, old war medals and coins.
From a cultural perspective, the bazaar is noteworthy due to its reputation as a traditional Islamic marketplace – a feature that is apparent from the local dress, language and Arabic calls to prayer from a nearby mosque.
3. Red Mountain (Hongshan)
A lesser-known attraction, but one equally worthwhile, is Red Mountain (Hongshan), which offers commanding views of the Urumqi skyline. A perfect stop for selfie aficionados, the mountain also hosts a Buddhist temple and, for couples and those traveling with children, a Ferris wheel.
4. Xinjiang Ancient Ecological Park
Animal lovers can pay a visit to Xinjiang Ancient Ecological Park, an area that is home to a number of rare horse breeds, including Przewalski horses, and some rowdy cowboys.
The cowboy shows are fun to watch and offer a glimpse into the crazier things that can be done on horseback (like riding on your head).
In addition to horses, Xinjiang Ancient Ecological Park harbors an impressive collection of artifacts and art installations that offer curious individuals a glimpse into the region’s long equestrian history.
UPDATE (March 15, 2017 at 12.27pm CST): A previous version of this article incorrectly labelled our #4 Urumqi sight as Liyushan Park. This has been corrected to indicated the location is actually Xinjiang Ancient Ecological Park.
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