Xinjiang Province represents the northern border of China with Central Asia. The name itself means ‘new territory’ and is one of the five ‘autonomous’ regions of China. It’s a vast province (just a little smaller than Mexico) and stretches far out West to the same Latitude as Lahore in Pakistan and Omsk in Russia. The Silk Road, which is more a network than a single route, passes through the Province with Turpan amongst its major trading posts. The geography of Xinjiang is dominated by the scorching desert of Tarim Pendi to the South, a particularly inhospitable place. It boasts the second lowest inland point on Earth at -391m (second to the Dead Sea). To the South West is the arc of the Himalayas including the second highest mountain on Earth ‘K2’. The province is mainly inhabited by people of ethnic (non-Han) origins particularly the Muslim Uygur people.
Popular Cities: Urumqi, Kashi, Yining, Hami, Karamay, Aksu, Shihezi, Korla
Average temperature: in January, -20ºC to -15ºC (-4ºF to 5ºF) in the north and -10ºC to -5ºC (14ºF to 23ºF) in the south; in July, 22ºC to 26ºC (71.6ºF to 78.8ºF)
Places to visit
1. Turpan (Turfan) is the lowest -505 feet [154 meters] and hottest place in China (121°F [49°C]) with ancient aquifers providing the water supply via long, subterranean channels to keep the oasis green. Moonlight Lake (Aydingkol) is a salt lake at the center of the depression. West of Turpan is the famous Flaming Mountains which can reach an unbearable 176°F [80°C] in summer.
2. The Taklamakan Desert is free of vegetation and a real desert and it remains a perilous region to cross. Ancient cities have been engulfed by the sands over the centuries, as at Niya. The southern area is part of the Tibetan plateau and borders Tibet and is the bleakest region.
3. The Kunlun Mountains that form the southern border of Xinjiang are famous as the source of jade which has been mined there for thousands of years. Kunlun is the reputed home to the legendary Queen Mother of the West. The second highest mountain after Everest K2 or Chogori (28,251 feet [8,611 meters] high) is on the Pakistan border with Xinjiang.
4. The ancient Silk Road trading post at GaoChang has impressive gate-towers and many archaeological remains.
5. Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang is an important transport hub inhabited mainly by Han Chinese. It has a large museum covering finds from the whole province. The Southern Pastures scenic spot is located nearby. Heavenly Lake (Tianchi) east of Urumqi is a beautiful lake hidden in the Tianshan Mountains which manages to trap a little elusive moisture. The ‘Iron Tile’ Temple of ‘Temple of Happiness and Longevity’ was built by Qing Emperor Qianlong on the nearby mountain. Further west at Kashgar there is a stronger Uigur influence evidenced by the Arabic style grand Id Kah Mosque. The Aba Khoja mausoleum is one of the best examples of Islamic architecture; while the Kizil Caves house many fine Buddhist sculptures.
6. In the far north west of Xinjiang there is the scenic tranquility of Sailimu/Sayram Lake. Yining (or Gulja) was once the capital of the Khanate of Chaghatati who was one of Genghis Khan’s four sons (another grandson Kublai Khan ruled China).