Just how adventurous are you?

If your bucket list needs replenishing, a visit to Xinjiang Uygur (China’s Autonomous Region) will give you a whole new perspective on our world. A journey to Xinjiang will bestow upon you the title of “true adventurer.”

Here’s what to expect:

Location of Xinjiang Province

Xinjiang Uygur encompasses one-sixth of all of China and borders nine different countries, from Mongolia to India. In ancient times, teams of camels moved goods through this area along the Silk Road.

In ancient times, camels moved goods along the Silk Road

Three mountain ranges dissect this region: the Altai Mountains in the north, Tianshan Mountains in the middle, and Kunlun Mountains in the south.

The Tianshan Mountains are the most significant because they divide the region into north and south geographical areas. The northern half is cold and damp.

Rugged northern Tianshan Mountains.

The geography of the Tianshan Mountains show signs of ancient water flow.

The southern region is dryer and less mountainous:

Southern side of the Tianshan Mountain range which is dryer, more agricultural.

When Yixian and I arrived in the capital, Wulumuqi, we began our journey to the north first, as the weather was getting cold. Our tour van went through Zhunger Desert to Aletai City. There is an airport there; but, we chose to go by land so that we could enjoy the incredible views. The mountain roads zigzag, but it is worth the journey.

The winding roads along the Tianshan Mountains.

Hemu Village (Kanas, Xinjiang), ranked as one of the six most beautiful villages in China, is one of only three remaining places where the Tuvas Mongolian tribe live.  It is located in a valley which boarders Kazakhstan and three other countries. The people of Hemu Village still practice their old traditions. They raise livestock and live a simple life.

Hemu Village where the Tuvas Mongolian tribe lives

Hermu Village serenity.

The village was so quiet when we arrived in the late afternoon. Silver Birch, river, farmers, cattle and the houses reminded me of a serene painting.

Their houses are built with logs, a kind of grass named “Nuuk” is put between the gaps to keep out the cold wind. The grass expands when it absorbs water to fit the logs perfectly.

The area under the roofs is used to store hay for the winter.

Autumn is the most beautiful season in Hemu. In the morning the mist and the smoke lingers from the villagers cooking breakfast. Colorful trees surround the village, creating a fairyland atmosphere.

Smoke from cooking breakfast lingers above the houses.

Autumn mist floats above the tree line.

Our journey took us many miles down the road to Kanas, also in Tuvas. Kanas, a Chinese National Park, is a popular tourist destination. The Kanas River’s emerald green water winds through the valley which was formed millions of years ago by a volcanic eruption.

The emerald green Kanus River.

Guides take visitors to Kanas Lake and tell them stories of lake monsters, much like Nessie, the Lock Ness Monster.

Flowing from Kanas Lake, the Kanas River rushes forward for ten kilometers (six miles) before emptying into another lake. Hiking is permitted along a trail beside the river, but it takes four hours to complete the walk. An alternative is to take a bus to the other side. At the first snow, the bus is no longer available. However, private transportation is still allowed along the road.

It snowed the night we arrived closing the road to a third Tuvas village. Not only the road, but all the hotels and services closed. We had to cancel our visit to the border and drive south.

Sayram Lake, a famous tourist spot, is the largest and highest (2,071 meters or 6,795 feet above sea level) mountain lake in Xinjiang. It is called “the last teardrop of the Atlantic” because it is the farthest place where the warm and humid air from the Atlantic reaches. The other name for the lake is “Clear Sea”.

Sayram Lake, the last teardrop of the Atlantic.

The water originates from mountain snow melt. The water is so clear, you can see to a depth of 12 meters (40 feet). Many migrating birds spend winter here.

Migrating birds spend the winter at Sayram Lake.

The improved roads make it is easy to travel to Sayram Lake.

The most famous tree in Xinjiang is the Desert Poplar.

The most famous tree in Xinjiang is the Desert Poplar. It can live in the desert for as long as three thousand years. Even after the tree dies, the wood will not decay for another three thousand years.

The leaves of the Desert Poplar turn golden in the autumn.

In autumn, the leaves turn yellow, making the surrounding landscape golden.

Autumn is a busy tourist season. We visited two forests.

The one by Tarim River is gorgeous. The trees either grow in the sand or in the water which reflects the colors.

Tarim River is the largest inland river and critical to the Xinjiang people and economy. The Lopnor people live along the river

One hundred year old Lopnor man.

Their diet of fish is thousands of years old. The river flows along the desert and irrigates the farmland. In this village, the trees, desert and river mingle.  A drawbridge transports people across the river.

Trees, water and desert coexist in Lopnor

Fruits abound in Xinjiang from April to October such as apricot, melon, grape and apple. The fruit is  sweet and juicy because of the abundance of sunshine and sandy soil.

The different types of meat dishes are mutton kebab, Xinjiang-style braised chicken, Turkey, and Tumaris-style lamb chops.

Man preparing mutton kebab

Cumin Powder is the seasoning used in cooking the mutton. The food is natural and delicious.

A typical meal of soup, vegetable, meat and bread.

Our two week adventure went by quickly. Many people in our group said they would return if given the opportunity.

If you are bored with Paris, Rome, and London, try Xinjiang for a different destination experience. Contact China Travel to book your trip. Being based in Xinjiang, they know Xinjiang.

About the Author:

Zhu Xiaojian taught English at the university in Fuzhou, China. She also briefly lived in the U.S. to learn English and become familiar with the American culture. She is the co-author of Walk Beijing.

When I lived and taught English in Fuzhou (1996-97), Zhu and I became close friends. She did her best to teach me Mandarin, but I struggled with such a difficult language. Over the years, we never lost contact with each other. In 2007, I contacted Zhu and asked her if she would like to co-author a guidebook to Beijing featuring the up-coming 2008 Olympics. In August (2007), we joined forces to live in Beijing and write what became Walk Beijing.  She is an incredible person and I am honored to be her friend.