We booked some sightseeing trips with a tour company so we’d be able to get out and see Xinjiang while staying at the university. Our first trip was Sunday (6/21) in which we took a day long trip to a region called Turpan. It’s in the desert, a few hours south of Urumqi. As part of trip we traveled along the silk road and visited ancient ruins in the city of Jiao. The desert was hot. It was well over 100 degrees. At one of our stops several people decided to take short camel rides across the sand. It was quite an impressive sight and made we realize what a remote area of China we were truly in.
Because of the weather conditions, the region is known for its fruit, especially grapes. We went through The Grape Valley which produces the most raisins in the entire country. We also had time to stop by a local Uygur family to sample their raisins and other fruits. Everything was quite delicious. The tour company also arranged a four day trip for us to head north near the borders of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. Our final destination would be a place called Kanas. We left on Wednesday morning (6/24) and wouldn’t return until Saturday night (6/27).
On Wednesday we left Urumqi at 8 a.m. It would take us all day to get to our hotel in the city of Beriqn. A few hours into the trip we stopped at Heavenly Lake. This was a beautiful location to stop and visit. We took a short boat ride around the lake to visit a temple and then continued on our way to the hotel. The bus ride was long but we finally arrived at our hotel in Beriqn around 10 p.m. We were all exhausted after being on the bus all day. We ate dinner at a local restaurant and then decided to walk around and explore the town a bit.
One of the locals told us about a bakery that served french fries and fried chicken. We all agreed to stop there after dinner since many of us were craving American-type food. The town was very quaint and clean and after about a 10 minute walk from our hotel we found the bakery. It was a great little place that had all sorts of breads and baked goods. They even had an entire case filled with cakes. We ordered our food and waited while they prepared it. Several people in the group took the opportunity to load up on some inexpensive baked goods since we still had three days left on our trip.
The next morning we left for Kanas, about 3 or 4 hours from our hotel. We left in the morning and by noon we were at another hotel right outside of Kanas. After lunch we took a bus to the area surrounding Kanas Lake. It was absolutely stunning. We had to transfer buses several times after that, but we eventually made it to the lake in the late afternoon. From the lake we could see the peak we would be traveling to the next day. Traveling to the peak would give us a perspective from the top allowing up to look down on the lake.
We spend a few hours at Kanas Lake and loaded back on the bus to head back to hotel for the night. It was actually chilly in the area we stayed in that night. Our rooms did not have any heat and if we would have wanted portable heaters it would have cost us. It was a cold night but I made it through. The next morning we went back to Kanas Lake and this time we climbed the more than 1000 steps to the lookout. From the top the view of the surrounding area and mountains was spectacular.
After visiting the peak we walked back down and once again got on the bus. We were on our way back to the hotel we stayed at the first night. Early in the evening we arrived in Beriqn once again. Having been in the town before we were a little more comfortable and confident getting around. We went to the bakery again to get some more french fries. We did a little more exploring of the town and found out about a night market that would be happening later on. After dinner at the hotel we decided to head back out to walk around the town more. It gave us some time to shop and relax. We found the night market which had a lot of vendors selling all sorts of items. During our time at the night market we actually ran into a group of students from the United States. They were all from different universities traveling across China for eleven weeks due in part to a grant from the University of Georgia. It was nice to see some fellow Americans and we chatted briefly with the group about our experiences in China so far.
We all had great night in Beriqn and next morning (6/28) we boarded our tour bus and headed back to Urumqi, a total of about 11 hours. The last stop before getting back to the university was a stop at the Urumqi International Bazaar. We had been to this huge market in the downtown area before, and was nice to be back. I couldn’t help but notice this diversity as I walked down the streets of the market. It was jam packed with people, which is not unlike most other Chinese cities, but there's something different with this city. It felt as though I had wandering across an international border with every street I crossed. The people looked different, the languages changed; the clothes changed; even the music changed. And then it changed right back along the next block. I’ve never been the Middle East, but this is what I imagine it would look and feel like. While Han Chinese make-up a majority of the city, there is a small portion of Uyghurs (pronounced "wee-gers") or Kazakhs. I find this hard to believe based on the faces I see staring back at me along the road.
After the market we went back the university. It was nice to back in the dorm room I'm staying in. We are getting close to the end of our trip and I need to start packing up my stuff. One side note about the city of Urumqi, it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fact that it is the most remote city from any major body of water in the world. I will try and post one more blog before we leave Urumqi on Monday morning. Thanks again for the taking the time to read. Feel free to drop me a line and share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org