Xinjiang: Places we visited (and not)

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, being China’s largest region and located in the Far West, it borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and obviously the home to many ethnic groups descendants from neighboring countries and ancient Turkic kingdoms. Probably this what has made us pull all effort to visit this colorful land, apart from wanting to get mesmerized by snow capped mountains and taste the world’s softest, juiciest grilled lamb ever. Here’s a summary of places:

1) Urumqi

The capital of Xinjiang and main connector between Xinjiang and other region (and some Central Asian countries) by air, and the city is far bigger than we had expected. Not being fan of big city, we dont find Urumqi very exciting. The Tianchi Lake is pretty, but seems enough to spend a few hours there. It’s been very touristy anyway. I dont find anything amazing about the Grand Bazar either, despite looking like an icon of building from China Silk Road time. We have spent around 3.5 days in Urumqi including transit, which actually could be shorten it to 2 days or not visiting at all.

2) Kashgar

Although Kashgar also turned out to be a rather bigger city than we had imagined (no quite such views people riding donkeys..) but more than half of Kashgar is still purely blended with Uyghur culture, Old Town, exotic food, cattles and easygoing people. We spent around 5 days in Kashgar (includes Karakul Lake) and still couldnt get enough of it :) Az even wanted to change our train ticket last minute and skip Kuqa and Turpan so that we could stay longer in Kashgar, only they didnt allow us as the tickets were booked online by Derek and any changing isn’t possible done in train counter.

3) Karakul

It’s the most distant point we stretched beyond Kashgar (given that we didnt have time to proceed to Tashkurgan finally). Being here is like in a quiet, hidden paradise, watching views you had never imagined to see, all for yourselves without a sight of people. We spent one day and one night in here after 5 hours journey from Kashgar, and we would have wanted to stay for another night if our camera hadnt run out of battery (and if the night wasn’t THAT cold!)

4) Kuqa

We wanted to visit Kuqa as to divide 24-hour journey between Kashgar to Urumqi/Turpan by half, as I believe in traveling during night and spending the day time for sightseeing, whatever place it is. Thefore Kuqa was our chosen transit place to do a day sightseeing before continuing night train to Turpan. But tragedy came unexpectedly, the sleepy town was in heavy dust thanks to sudden sand storm from nearby desert. Because of bad weather, we missed the chance to go sightseeing (only stayed in train station and made a short city bus trip between station and town) and even worse, our train to Turpan was cancelled and we were stranded for another day in this town.

Places not visited

5) Tashkurgan

It’s a town 2 hours beyond Karakul Lake via Karakoram Highway. I read there’s nothing much of intrest about this town except that you can see Tajik ethnic people. The bus between Kashgar and Tashkurgan run only once daily which is the only means for you to have a ride and get down to Karakul Lake in the middle of the road. Were worried if the inbound journey to Kashgar bus can be full, so we thought of hitch hike(?) the bus going to Tashkurgan instead (when possibly some travelers get down at Karakul, and we get to have their seat).  It turned out that 1) We went to Karakul Lake 1 day later than itinerary 2) We could finally get the inbound bus with seat, thankfully. It’s just a matter of going with the flow.

6) Khunjerab Pass

Wanted to go here but not included in initerary because too far. It’s 4 hours beyond Tashkurgan and is actually the Pass entering Pakistan. I read that the mountain views are really majestic when reaching this place. If only we had more days…

7) Turpan

I still can’t belive we had to skip Turpan last-minute because of wasting a day in Kuqa after the train cancellation (afraid not having days left in Urumqi). I dont know what to expect, but Turpan is said to be a must-visit, then again its attractions are mostly ruins of old city, which we dont have much interest in afterall.

8) Kanas

I so wish we could include it in our itinerary, but when you’re planning to go southern-most to Kashgar, Tashkurgan whatsoever, it’s almost impossible to make another trip to the Nothern-most point of Xinjiang. Kanas has very beautiful pine tree lakes and villages bordering Kazakhstan and Russia, yet we have to be realistic that it could be too cold to visit there in April, and the pretty pictures you see on internet are taken in Autumn! Let’s hope there will be a next time to Xinjiang.

9) Ili

Didnt really think of visiting despite having pretty grassland, mountains and lakes. You can never visit ALL places in Xinjiang in a time (unless you’re in one month trip or longer). This place is located far northwest of Xinjiang, with high possible of being an untouched beuty.

The Most Isolated Place We Have Stayed

Many years ago, I used to whine over USM Engineering Campus being so remote from things and places I can call a habitat. I would always refer Nibong Tebal as a deserted place. I know that was only me being so emotionally unadventurous. Until I really came to stay for an isolated place you can’t even see people around. Like, VERY isolated. And I’ve know got a new picture to define that.

Karakul Lake, located 5 hours south of Kashgar by bus. In reality, it can hardly be recognized as a place mentioned in Lonely Planet for its inhabitant, empty look. Not even any signboard saying the name. When we got down from the bus (only Az and I!) in the middle of the mountains, the first in my mind was, “OMG, this. Place. Is. So. EMPTY!” Although, I had never expected a busy supermarket here either. But, we had never imagined that only two of us would come to this place at this time.

Maybe it was not yet the season. Middle of April. And yes, it’s cold. But the amazing thing was, you have all the lake and mountains for yourself. This is the view we had in our left.

Nobody, really. I had thought that Kyrgyz locals would set up their yurts around the lake, but that’s in summer. They actually live in a village 10 minutes by bike from here (so does our yurt owner). The Muztagh Ata mountain, sitting peacefully at our right.

And at the back, the one and only yurt at this point of time. Where we spent a freezing night with a traditional burner that failed around 3am >.< and far at the corner.. yes, you spot it right.. is the outdoor toilet. A literally open toilet, the only toilet I have used where you can see the most beautiful views (the first 2 pictures) while doing the business.

 

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