China: Xinjiang Province

Welcome to Xinjiang Province, geographically defined by staggering extremes of altitude and climate, ranging from towering snow-capped peaks to arid basins below sea level…

and bordering on eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

But the most interesting thing is the Uyghur culture, ethnically more Turkish than Chinese, where Arabic is the mother tongue, and Islam rules. Alas, it appears that tensions between the Chinese central government and Uygurs have seriously escalated since Frank’s visit here in 2013 (and it was already pretty tense).

Destinations include Urumqi, Turpan, and a drive through some of the flattest and most desolate terrain on planet earth.

Let’s go!

The Turpan Depression

The Turpan Depression is the third lowest point on the earth at 150 meters (~500 feet) below sea level. The rain shadow cast by the surrounding mountains and the low elevation make this one of the hottest and driest places on earth.

A warm welcome at the airport!


I was absolutely astonished to discover this enormous metropolis in the middle of the desert.
You cannot turn your head in China without seeing a huge construction project!
Large-scale construction projects can be found all over China.
And heavily-polluting power plants, too.
Urumqi nightlife, outdoors!
Friendly bartenders serve all the Chinese and imported beer you want!
Making some Han Chinese friends. A small world… This gentleman, who spoke English quite well, is a mechanical technician and has been to Nashville several times on business.
Bilingual signage.
Dinner at a Muslim restaurant… Unlike the rest of China, Lamb, rather than pork, is the main source of protein.
A heavy Chinses presence patrols the streets in the Uyghur neighborhoods, ready to suppress even the slightest hint of disorder.
Predominantly Han Chinese, Urumqi has a large [Muslim] Uyghur population that feels quite segregated from the Han neighborhoods.
Curious, but wary Uygur gentlemen.
But let’s leave Urumqi on a more uplifting note… How many Chinamen does it take to open the hotel safe?

On the Road between Urumqi and Turpan (Turfan)…

The drive from Urumqi to Turpan passes through a wasteland…
Wha could this possibly be?
of coal-fired power plants

and a thousand electric-generating windmills.

Turpan (Tufan)

Emin Mosque, which feels like an enormous sand castle.
Jamming at 1000 Buddha Caves.
Gaochang Ruins
Karez, underground waterways that irrigate the desert.
Tuyoq Cemetery
House of Albert von Le Coq who looted the Thousand Buddha Caves.
Sadly, the spoils were destroyed in Berlin during WWII. Evil and stupid!

Turpan City

Uygur Noodles, one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.
My new Uyghur friend, who gave me his cap as a gift and invited me to smoke and drink beer with him. I was the first Westerner that he had ever met. And he insisted that he pay because I was his guest!

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