So leaving Jiuzhaigou was an experience. Our flight required a 5am departure for the 90 minute drive to the airport. The airport is surrounded on three sides by snow capped peaks and it was stunning. It is nearing summer here and to have snow on 3 sides was pretty darn impressive. As the plane took off we could see the cloud layer below us and rising above the clouds was the dark layer of rocks and trees of the mountains and then the glistening snow layer.

Unfortunately airlines are a little funny about using telephones on take off and landing so we did not manage to get any photos of this but believe us when we tell you it was spectacular. In fact our entire trip to this part of China has been amazing and anyone planning to travel should have this place high on their list of things to do.

Our next stop was to the town of Urumqi in the north west of China. This place is the local provincial capital and due to the way the transport system works, we will be in and out of Urumqi quite a few times over the next few weeks. The flight into town skirted the Tian Shan mountain range so the view from the left hand side of the plane was that of snow peaks as far as the eye can see.

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Urumqi translates to beautiful pasture and is yet another stop on the northern section of the Silk Road. While the name means beautiful pasture it is anything but… Urumqi has been recorded as one of the most polluted cities on the planet (in 2007). In its defence the city has cleaned up quite a bit since that time but is really just a big industrial centre in the west of China with not too much going for it.

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Urumqi is actually in the Guinness book of records as the most inland city on the planet…meaning the furthest from any sea or ocean in the world. The closest body of water is over 2500 kilometres away in any direction. As a city it is big and ugly. For those old enough to remember the commonwealth bank money tins we got given back at school… that is the housing here…row after row of these ugly multi-storey boxes. Being China they still do a good park and the open spaces between the ugly buildings is quite nice but it is not a place high on the destination sakes.

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The area is largely Muslim but the eclectic mix of facial features here is possibly the most varied we have seen anywhere in China thus far. The traditional Chinese features are here but it mixes with the Tibetan, Middle Eastern, Indian and Russian facial features and the various hybrids that occur over time.

Being a largely Muslim area the food is very different to most of China…and is fantastic. We hit the street stalls and had a Muslim version of a pastie with lamb, beef, onions and spices…which was great and cost between 30-40 cents each. The lamb kebabs and naan are a fantastic and are available everywhere…it is a bit like getting a good coffee in Melbourne. There is the obligatory night market with food stalls aplenty and the bazaar which is a cornucopia of all things regional with spices, fruits, foods and the usual tourist trinkets.

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I got into essentially a flattened and roasted chicken that is cleaved into bite sized pieces and served with a chewy style of dry naan and spices. This was sold everywhere throughout the bazaar and was on the stand with the whole roasted sheep, and the stand next door to the sheep heads and entrails. Anyway…Chook, fingers, bread…tuck in. Would have been nice to wash it down with an icy ale…but it is frowned upon right next door to the mosque…go figure.

We went to the Xinjiang Uygur Regional Museum which is a tribute to the minority communities in the area. According to the museum there are over 47 nationalities or cultures residing in the Urumqi area. Thus explaining the variety in facial features. We did the normal tourist spots (parks, pagodas, temples etc) which were fine without being startling.

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Jill loves tulips and at this time of year they were in full bloom everywhere throughout the city.

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