A Brief Idea about Xinjiang Province
- Location: Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Region, the north-western province of China is the largest Chinese administrative division. Countries like Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan & India neighbor Xinjiang.
- Natural Features: This region, being the home to the deadly desert Taklamakan and encircled by mountain ranges like Pamir, Karakoram, Tianshan & Kunlun, offers spectacular landscapes of serene lakes, majestic mountains & strange landforms.
- Cultural Aspects: A number of ethnic groups like Uyghur Turks, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Hui, Kyrgyz, Mongols reside in this province. Their language, food, attire, lifestyle differ from the mainland China. In fact here, an outsider can observe a unique cultural blending of central Asia & China, what I think is the key feature of attraction in Xinjiang province.
- Historical Significance: The legendary silk route connecting ancient China with the western world ran through this region from east to north-west. This the place, where Buddhism was first introduced to China.
- Political Conflict: In recent decades, occasional clashes have been occurred between separatists and Chinese government; therefore, in Xinjiang the security system has been strengthened to utmost level.
How to Handle Security Issues
Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Region is a highly sensitive province of China. Here, the biggest challenge for foreign travelers is to handle the security issues. Here are some tips:
- Though independent travel is the best way to experience a place, but here security officials are usually skeptical about independent foreign travelers. Since most of them cannot speak, read or write English, therefore it would be difficult to make them understand about your identity and purpose of visit. Therefore, I will recommend you to hire a car or a local guide or arrange the entire trip through a registered tour operator. It is difficult for a foreign traveler to acquire necessary permits for the roads he/she wish to traverse and your tour operator will do it for you. Tell your operator to make an invoice in Chinese language with clear mention of the name(s) and passport no(s) of all travelers, purpose of your visit and a detail itinerary. Make several copies of that invoice; always carry one of them with you and whenever you are stopped by police or check post just hand it over them. Remember, police can check you and your belongings anytime and anywhere, even can enter in your hotel room at midnight. So always keep your passport and invoice handy.
- In the towns of Xianjiang, you will see police cars and check posts everywhere. There are police posts almost on every 50 kilometers on the highway. Therefore a huge portion of your travel time will be killed in queuing in front of the security check posts, so plan your itinerary accordingly. Don’t try to fit too many things in one day.
- Language problem would create major crisis in check posts. I repeat, most of the security persons cannot speak, read or write English. Therefore, they usually take long time to find your details from the passport like your country name or your visa type. Whenever you have to hand your passport over them, do these following steps : 1. Point out your country name written on the passport cover along with repetitive declaration of your country name, 2. Open the page of your passport where the visa sticker of China has been attached, 3. Point out the immigration stamp of China where your entry date has been mentioned. It is recommended to do these same steps during your check in to any hotel; even in international hotels staffs do not know English and get confused! Tell your tour operator to arrange an English speaking driver/guide who can interpret for you and for them also during this type of communication issue. Download an offline translating app to your phone before your trip.
- Never discuss politics with anybody, even with your driver/guide. Even when you are in a public place, political discussion within your own group in English or any other language should also be avoided, because everybody has smart phone and anybody can use translating app. If any local person tends to discuss politics, for your safety, change the topic by making any excuse.
- Never take photographs of police and security check post. Especially when you are in a city, take precautions before taking any street photo or even selfie, because in cities, police roam everywhere, and if any of them is found in your frame, though it is not your deliberate attempt, you would be in a big trouble.
- Security officials may make you wait for long until and unless they are convinced about your identity and purpose. Don’t loose your patience. Never talk rudely.
- This area is a highly sensitive zone. Remember your driver/guide knows this area better than you. Therefore, follow his instructions. If he considers not stopping car in a particular place or feels unsafe to cross the speed limit, don’t force him to do that.
- Try to avoid visiting Xinjiang immediately before festivals like national holidays, Labor Day etc, because you have to face too much security checking which would make you restless. More to this, some area may be closed during this period for foreigners.
Modes of Transportation
- Major towns like Hotan, Kashgarh, Kuqa, Korla, Aksu, Hami, Urumqi, Turpan are well connected by trains.
- There are airports in Urumqi, Kashgarh (Kashi), Hotan, Aksu, Hami, Turpan, Yining, Korla, Kanas, Qiemo, Karamay, Shanshan, Tacheng, Fuyun Koktokay and Huayuan. Urumqi has international airport.
- Anybody can take long distance or short distance buses, hire car or taxi, but remember permits for some routes are mandatory to be collected before the trip.
In Xinjiang province, international guests are only allowed in some specific hotels. Before booking through any booking site or during spot booking be sure whether that is an international hotel. Remember that even in international hotels most of the staffs do not know English, so the translating app of your smart phone would play a significant role.
Best Time to Visit
Here summer is extremely hot and winter is freezing. The months of May and October are the best time to visit Xinjiang. Especially the region looks stunning during fall.
Xinjiang is the paradise for foodies. Must try dishes are Nang (Uyghur bread), kebabs, Uyghur Polo, roasted lamb, lamb-head soup, lamb’s feet, handmade noodles, Lagman noodles & handmade ice-cream. You can buy several types of dry fruits in cheap price. Try to experience the tea-house culture and night food markets to get soaked by local delicacies as well as for people watching.
Due to the ethnic culture, the old bazaars of Xinjiang province offer a lot of choices for shopping, for example: silk, carpet, musical instruments, jade carvings, jewelries, fur garments, copper utensils, wooden crafts and so on. Even if you are not a shopaholic, you may enjoy just strolling inside the alleys of bazaars to cherish the good old charm of local life.
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