Up until now, my 2018 trip has taken me to relatively “normal” places to travel for most people. But when I set out on my journey this year, I had my sights set on visiting one particular region in the world; the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
What fascinates me about Xinjiang? In short, the Uyghur people and culture, although there is more than just Uyghur people there; ~ 50% are Uyghurs, ~ 40% Han Chinese, and the rest are ethnicities from neighboring countries. In summary, I was interested to see China that isn’t quite China, at least not how it is seen in the eyes of most people; the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors, pandas, Peking duck, Sichuan food, and Shanghai skyscrapers are all wonderful but they are just so… “Chinese”.
Across the vast Taklamakan Desert lies part of the mystical and ancient Silk Road, another interest of mine. Initially, I wanted to journey across it by land and although high-speed trains connect Central/Eastern China and Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang province) on the Lanzhou – Xinjiang Railway, LONG bus/train rides or short airplane flights remain the only options most times once you decide to head west from there.
In addition, the current state of affairs between the ruling Chinese Communist Party and Muslims in the region have resulted in a ban of foreigners in most accommodations across Xinjiang due to, my guess, fear of possible “spying” journalists or human rights observers. In major cities like Urumqi and Kashgar, one can usually find a place to stay, if for a hefty price sometimes. (“Hefty” being about $40 usd a night at business hotels although finding a much cheaper but dumpier $15-20 USD a night room is doable). However, it was impossible to find any accommodation in cities like Hotan and Aksu, important stops that help break up a long overland journey. During my time in China, I used a website called “CTrip” to book most of my accommodation as that is the accommodation-search website of choice for the Chinese, hence where most are listed. However, when I booked a hotel or guesthouse in Hotan/Aksu, I received an email confirmation but was contacted a few days later by customer service representatives apologizing that my bookings were cancelled due to my accommodation not having the proper permits to allow foreigners to stay in. Some proprietors actually mention this on their booking page so foreigners can skip them during the booking process but some don’t.
My next few entries will be about some of the highlights of my time in Xinjiang like checking out mummies in Urumqi, dying in the heat in Turpan, eating delicious “Zhua Fan” (lamb pilaf), experiencing the famous Kashgar Sunday Livestock Market, and gasping at the breathtaking views along the Karakoram Highway. Stay tuned.
For more pictures of China, click here.