RapidRequest: Any suggestions for 5-6 days in Urumqi?

The Rapid Traveler referred reader Jb to the Points, Miles & Martinis award booking service for a stellar Star Alliance business class redemption from New York to Beijing, Urumqi (Xinjiang Province) and Shanghai.

Xinjiang is marvelous and Jb’s follow-up question sent The Rapid Traveler into a revelry of Silk Road ruins and cumin-scented kebabs:

any suggestions for 5-6 days in Urumqi?

Misty Moon Bay

Photo by kudumomo

The list of Xinjiang’s neighbors hints at its ethnic diversity: Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The major ethnic group is the Uyghurs, speakers of a Turkic language. Han Chinese will soon outnumber Uyghurs; those familiar with China’s policies in the Buddhist neighbor province to the south will find much that is tragically similar. The Uyghurs are Muslim and it is hard to not believe that the paltry international support they receive is not related to their religion. Those who want to face the full dark side of its plights should read The Xinjiang Procedure in The Weekly Standard.

Xinjiang needs international exposure and is safe for tourists. Tourists have not been targeted in any political activity. Uyghurs and the ethnic minorities do not see the windfall from extractive industries so every tourist dollar directed to them makes a difference.

Colors in Kanas

Photo by kudumomo

What to do in Urumqi? Get out.

Urumqi is the transport hub but now little different from other Chinese cities. The Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum is worth a look for the relics (not the propaganda) but even the Erdaoqiao Market has become a Chinese-run tourist trap.


Photo by kudumomo

Tian Chi (Heaven Lake) is an easy day trip from Urumqi with possibilities for longer stays among Kazakh nomads in the summer months. This is the major draw for Chinese tourists but it is possible to break away from the crowds.

Turpan (Turfan), a great Silk Road city, is 2-3 hours from Urumqi. Dine under grape trellises and wander ruins. Pass the Flaming Mountains.  Marvelous. Spend 2-3 days.

Cross River City

Photo by kudumomo

Kashgar is the legendary last Silk Road stop in China before Pakistan. Sadly, the Chinese government has done much to destroy the tourist appeal of Kashgar, not worth the flight or 24-hour train ride unless heading to Karakul Lake and on Pakistan via the Karakoram Highway.

Rather, consider flights northeast to Kanas Lake for alpine scenery to surpass Tian Chi in Kazakh lands or even northwest to the Ili Valley, passing Sinicized city Yining for remote scenery in lands when even Manchurian is still spoken by population remnant from Qing Dynasty expansionism.

These flights are mostly under US$100 each way, remember to book on Chinese websites to avoid full-fare tickets.

Forced to choose, with 5-6 days, assuming two of those are partially lost to flights to/from Xinjiang, The Rapid Traveler would be tempted to try for two days in Turpan and two days in Kanas, but more reasonable is a day for Tian Chi, three days for Turpan and surrounds, and a little taste of Urumqi.

Happy Moon Festival

Photo by kudumomo

Note: all pictures in this post from this stunning set from kudumomo, shared with a Creative Commons license, check them all out.

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