Tag Archives: urumqi


Having left Kyrgyzstan we returned to Urumqi to find that all hell had broken loose. We landed at about 4pm to find that a terrorist bomb had been detonated that morning about 500 meters from our original hotel. The bomb had killed 39 and injured 94 and surprisingly the security had gone into overdrive throughout the city. The baddies drove 4WD’s into the crowd before lobbing hand grenades at a petrol station.

The issue is between the Muslim Uighur minority and the Chinese proper (mostly the Han Chinese). The two groups just do not seem to play nicely together. This part of China has been such for over 1000 years so it is not a turf thing but more a divergent lifestyle kinda thing. This has been the 4th such attack in the last two months and the death toll is over 100 now. The one that happened just before we landed in Urumqi last time was a bombing in a train station. As people fled the blast a second group of baddies were outside with knives and were stabbing those running from the explosion…charming.

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Either way we were only transiting and hopped a flight the next morning to Kashgar. Alas this is within the same province with the same ethnic minority and the security was through the roof and the tension was palpable. In excess of 100 armed troops and police in full riot kit were stationed outside the peoples park along with tanks and troop carriers etc. the looks on the faces of the locals was threatening and very unlike anything we have experienced thus far throughout China. The Uighur are renowned for their brick carving so the buildings around the old parts of the city were spectacular.

Possibly the three standout memories and experiences of this place are all food related…not really surprising coming from me but the number one memory will be the multitude of bakeries making and selling fresh bread from the street stalls. The second will be the butchers…everything is mutton here and a wander past the butcher stall will have 1-5 live sheep out the front (depending on the time of day), the remainder hanging unrefrigerated on the street with the sheep heads lying on the ground to prove the freshness. And the last is the aromas from the spice trade.

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Like Urumqi this city is heavily Muslim and the faces are almost entirely central Asian/middle eastern and the Chinese influence is negligible.  This part of the world is much more influenced by the Turkish part of the world than the Chinese.  The food and clothing reflect very little of the China we have experienced thus far. We hit the Bazaar (Sunday Market) and wandered the streets sampling some of the very different fare on offer. The Sunday Market in Kashgar is renowned as the biggest market in central Asia and has been a pivotal trading point along the Silk Road for over than 2,000 years. Jill was in heaven when we found the man with an entire table of date nougat…he who would happily cleave off big chunks for less than a dollar.

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We arrived here in stunning sunshine and blue skies aplenty. Alas overnight a sandstorm hit (we are on the edge of the desert) and that was the end of blue skies and respiratory pleasure for the next 3 days. The main reason for heading here was to attend the livestock markets that take place every Sunday. These are like no other on the planet so were a must see. Prior to this we hit the Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China, People’s Park, and saw the 18 m (59 ft) high statue of Mao Zedong. But the livestock markets were the highlight by far. Kardashian sheep as far as the eye could see, horses, donkeys, cows, camels all being tested, prodded and poked.

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The horses were being put through their paces by bareback riders amid crowds of bidding Arab types yelling, screaming and chanting. The manner of testing the quality of a sheep was troubling at best…as the fatty deposits on the rear are the prized bit…there was a bunch of Arab types goosing these poor defenceless sheep. It reminded me of the old Rodney Rude learning to drive joke of…

Q. can you make a U-Turn
A. I can make her eyes pop.

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At the end of our time at the market we decided to head back to the bazaar as Sundays were the busiest day. The ride to the bazaar was in the back of a three wheeled open air motorbike ute thing and on arrival Jill managed to catch a pickpocket trying to get into her backpack and pinned shut pants pockets. Now this was fun…as she bashed him over the head with her water bottle…yelling I know it was you you dirty thief. He slunk away meekly while trying to ignore the bottle hitting him on the noggin. I will finish this post with three of our favourite photos from this leg of the journey…the fat bottomed sheep were just funny and a highlight of the region and Jill was overly enamoured by the puckering camel.

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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.