Remember: Urumqi (and all of Xinjiang Province) are on the same timezone as Beijing. Even though, Urumqi should be approximately 4 or 5 timezones behind Beijing they are the same. Thank the People's Republic for this divine wisdom!
In practice, this means that when you wake up at 8:00 AM, it is still pitch dark in the streets (time schedules are not adjusted to accomodate for daylight hours). This can feel VERY strange and will wreak havic on your internal clock. Bare this in mind when venturing into western China!
Fondest memory: I remember feeling as though that I was truly in the middle of nowhere. As my first visit to Central Asia, arriving in Urumqi for the first time in winter 2000 was a very exciting experience.
Urumqi has been the center of nomadic movements and merchants on the Big Silkroad.
History goes back to Han-Dynasty, when they build a military and administrative outpost in this western borderregion. When this northern part of the silkroad gained more importance in 6th and 7th century Urumqi also grew. In 9th century Uygur people, a Turk nomad people, dominated the population. Since 1882 Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang Province.
Specially in recent years Urumqi grew from a small province town to a modern city with 2 million people living here and many highrise buildings. It is a vibrating, mainly Chinese looking city with many young people.
"Urumqi" means "A Beautiful Pasture Land" in ancient Mongolian used by the Junggar tribe, which used to live in this area. In Chinese Language it is called "Wulumuqi".
The Ancient Luntai, as Urumqi was called when founded in 7th century, played quite a significant a role on the northern route of Silk Road in the Tang Dynasty, was the only town of tax collection, the only town of management, the town of supply and the first town as well. In the time of Qing Dynasty(A.D.1763) , the emperor Qian Long named the expanded city as "DiHua". UP to A.D.1884, another emperor Guang Xu put up Xinjiang as a Province and the Di Hua city as the capital of XinJiang. After the founding of the people's Republic of China, by Feb.1,1954, the city name was restored to its original meaning e.g. Urumqi .
Today Urumqi is far from being a "beautiful pasture". It is the capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Province with about 2 Million inhabitants.
When Albert von LeCoq, one of the famous adventourers exploring the Silkroad, visited Urumqi about 100 years ago, he called Urumqi a dirty, fly-infested city with a bloodstained past. He spoke of unhealthy looking population and ugly streets.
Well, Urumqi has changed a lot. 2 Million people, highrise buildings and wide highways are now the main sights in Urumqi. The Old Town has almost completely vanished. But the bazaars and streets are colorful and interesting, bustling with life.
Fondest memory: All around Xinjiang province, the people are what makes the place interesting. Despite being in China there are many native groups that give a little more colour to the place than some of the rather uniform Han-Chinese areas. This Uygur barber is just finishing off the job and was happy to pose for us.
If you have a China guidebook, they are all seriously out of date for the city of Urumqi. I.e. John's Cafe has closed down, a year or two ago, and The Holiday Inn has been renamed.
As a result there is only one backpackers / foreigners hang out in town: "C D Bar". However this has newly opened and so isn't in any guide book yet.
This is near the southern area of the city centre: Basement floor of a large building on the corner of a large junction: CD bar, Xiao Ximen, Min zhu Lu 83-1.
If I happen to be there, say hello!
Favorite thing: I would like to thank my beautiful guide in Urumqi, Ms Baha-er Guli. She is a young and energetic lady of the Uyghur group, and she told me that a lot of ladies have the word "Guli" in their names which means beautiful flower. Yep, she is a beautiful flower indeed :)
Favorite thing: In Turpan, wander around the bazaar and talk to as many people as you can. They don't get a lot of foreigners in those parts and will be happy to talk to you, particularly if you just say hello in Uigher.
China is generally ideal for budget tourist since the transport is cheap, food is cheap and accommodation is also cheap if you know where to find them.
Ask as much as you can (of course in Mandarin) and you will find that the local people will try thrie best to help!
Fondest memory: The Lake Tian Qi is a must see location where you can stay inside the local people's tent for one night or two, you can try their food and drink and you can also lying on the grassy slope at night and watching the shinning stars hanging in the night sky.
Dunhuang lies at the western end of the Gansu Corridor, called Hexi Zoulang. The name Dunhuang originally meant 'prospering, flourishing'-- a hint that Dunhuang must once have been an important city. Its position at the intersection of two trade routes was what made Dunhuang flourish. The coming and going of horse and camel caravans carried new thoughts, ideas, arts and sciences to the East and West.
It is said that in the fourth century a Buddhist monk had a vision of 1000 Buddhas, and began to carve grottoes into the sandstone cliff and fill them with buddhist images. They were abandoned and forgotten in around the 11th century until Stein and other archaeologists arrived to carry away huge quantities of manuscripts, textiles and other art objects. However Magao remains a brilliant trove of statues and wall paintings from the 4th to 10th centuries.
THE FLAMING MOUNTAINS
The Flaming Mountains, lying in the middle of the Turpan Depression and running from east to west, are one of the branch ranges of the Tianshan Mountains and were formed in the organic movements of the Himalayas fifty million years ago.
In millions of years, the natural weathering and the numerous folded belts caused by the crustal movements have formed the undulating lie and the crisscross gullies and ravines of the Flaming Mountains. Under the blazing sun, the red rock glows and hot air curls up like smoke as though it were on fire, hence its name. The mountains are 98 kilometers long and 9 kilometers wide. The highest peak is 40 kilometers east of the city of Turpan and 831.7 meters above sea level.
The Flaming Mountains are so hot and so dry that 'flying birds even 500 kilometers away dare not to come'. Yet, the mountains at the same time act like a giant natural dam of the underground reservoir in the basin.
BIZAKLIK THOUSAND-BUDDHA CAVES
The Bizaklik Thousand-Buddha Caves, 48 kilometers northeast of the Turpan urban area, are located in the Flaming Mountains' Mutou Valley.
There are 77 numbered grottoes, about 40 of which still have murals in them. The group of grottoes in Bizaklik, with a total of 1,200 square meters of murals, has the most grottoes, most diversified architectural styles and the richest mural content in the Turpan area.
It was an important Buddhist gathering place. Even today, one can still see on the remaining Buddhist murals the features of the King and Queen of Huigu and people of different status, as well as scenes of the lives of ancient Uygur people.
The murals depicting 'Buddhist disciples wailing in mourning' and 'Bhikku wailing in mourning' on the back wall of the Grotto No.33 are rare artistic pieces.
To the southeast of Turpan can be seen the ruins of Gaochang, once a thriving town in the first century B.C., standing against a background of arid mountains which look like giant ant hills. It was one of the main points in the Silk Road. There is not much left, but I enjoyed it a lot walking around with my walkman on and the music of 'The Silk Road' (by Kitaro) taking me back in time to Marco Polo's years... well, that was my experience.
The Karez System, an irrigation system of wells connected by underground channels, is considered as one of the three great ancient projects in China, the other two being the Great Wall and the Grand Canal. There are in the Turpan area nearly one thousand karez totaling 5000 kilometers in length.
The structure of the karez basically consists of wells, underground channels, ground canals and small reservoirs. In spring and summer, a great mount of melting snow and rainfall flow down from the Bogda and Karawuqunta mountains north and west of the Turpan Depression into the valleys and then seep into the Gobi Desert. Taking advantage of the mountain slopes, the working people ingeniously created the karez to draw the underground water to irrigate the farmland. The water in karez will not evaporate in large quantities even under the scorching heat and fierce wind, hence ensuring a stable water flow and gravity irrigation.
TIAN CHI LAKE (Heavenly Lake)
An excursion to Tianchi, from Urumqi, is worthwhile. There you can have a ride by boat, or spend the afternoon riding horses through the mountain. It is a popular 'picnic'place for chinese too.