If you’re looking to visit a city with cultural diversity, look no further than Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in north-west China. Although most of the inhabitants in the city are Han Chinese, there is a greater influence of ethnic minorities that live in the city, which really emphasizes the Central Asian atmosphere. Enjoy these must-see attractions both in and around the city of Ürümqi.
Xinjiang Regional Museum is a large building of Uyghur architectural style, containing a diverse range of historical artifacts that were unearthed in the region. These items represent the ethnic lifestyle and culture of the area: glazed pottery, ancient scripture, silk, clothing, tools, and more. Most interestingly of all, the museum contains a fascinating exhibition of ancient Indo-European mummies that were excellently preserved through their natural environment (making them different from the infamous Egyptian mummies that were embalmed) over 3,800 years ago.
Markets are the perfect place to really immerse yourself in the local culture and lifestyle. Bei Yuan Chun market is no different. As you’re exposed to the traditional elements of Uighur lifestyle, you’ll be able to browse through a number of different stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to instruments and handmade delicacies. Be sure to try the naan bread stuffed with lamb and onion.
The Grand Bazaar makes for an interesting excursion for those wishing to do a bit of shopping while wandering through aisles selling everything from jade jewelry and scarves to dried fruit and herbal medicine. It is fun to have a look around, and the surrounding architecture provides some interesting scenery, but what these stalls offer does not really differ from the regular street markets you’ll come across on your way here.
There may not be a huge amount to see within the city center (omitting the usual, such as parks), but this is one of the best spots to visit if you want to enjoy the city’s skyline. The park is well-maintained, provides entertainment such as ethnic performances, and features a pagodas and temples that are atypical of Chinese culture. It’s great if you want a quick morning walk.
This trek is especially beautiful (and quiet) if you head out during the winter months. From the main entrance, you can choose to take a shuttle bus or cable car to the starting point of the trek. There are a few tourist facilities in the area should you need them, but the trek up to the summit is not too strenuous if taken leisurely.You’ll follow a marked path of wooden staircases to assist your hike, during which you’ll come across a smaller lake before the main attraction. Be sure to continue, as the ‘Heavenly Lake’ is just that — heavenly. The picturesque view at the top will take your breath away.
Found in Yarnaz Valley, the city’s architecture was almost entirely made out of earth, carved or dug out of the ground. The whole city was protected by the natural plateau on which it sat, with two deep river valleys on either steep cliff-side. As you stroll through the streets, you’ll come across a maze of buildings such as guard towers, residential houses and a temple, which still has small Buddha statues carved into the conclaves. If you dare look down the cliff face, it’s possible to see the terraced trenches that were dug into the sides of the structure when invading armies came to purge the city.
Of course, no trip is complete without a taste of the local food. Be sure to try out some of the traditional noodles that are available in the area from local markets or restaurants. As the culture is heavily influenced by the ethnic minorities who live in the city, so is the cuisine. Traditional Uighur noodles contain different ingredients from those found in more traditional Chinese dishes — most notably lamb. It is a dish full of flavor and color, and the tea that accompanies it works perfectly to freshen the palate afterwards.
Famously mentioned in the Chinese novel Journey to the West(attributed to Wu Cheng’en), Flaming Mountain is a beautiful sight to behold. Don’t get tricked into stopping at the tourist attraction where you’ll have to pay for a photo opportunity with a group of statues; the real beauty lies just ahead if you take the highway to the backside of the mountain range. This is where you will really be able to take in the wonderful red, orange and cream hues that emanate from the mountain and its valleys.
These caves are located in the midst of the Flaming Mountains, and so the journey to them is worth it in and of itself. However, if you’re interested in seeing the caves that were of great importance when Buddhism first made its mark in China, this is the place to be. Unfortunately, only a small portion of the caves are open to the public, and the murals on the vast majority of them have been either damaged or removed, but what remains gives you an idea of the colorful art that once graced the walls.
Although heavily disputed as being the true center of Asia, this geographical marker lies 20km south-west of the city of Ürümqi. The landmark is very much off the beaten track, as you must drive down some very neglected country lanes to get there. The area of the attraction seems very tired, but being able to stand in the middle of the vast landscape, at the furthest distance from the ocean, is pretty spectacular.