Spring of Altay Mountain
In regard of tourism, Xinjiang is still lucky enough to be free from over-exploitation. There are still a great many to be exploited yet, despite the number Xinjiang travel books or tour guides currently in the market.
Xinjiang has many things that can become outstanding tourism resources – the magnificent landscape, the diversified ethnic groups, as well as the distinctive history and cultures.
Its uniqueness includes three aspects: hugeness, extraordinariness, diversity.
It’s huge not only because its area accounts for one sixth of China’s whole area, but it has a huge amount of huge things.
There are huge peaks looming in the snow-capped mountains, huge spruce trees growing in the dense forests, huge horses galloping across the grasslands, huge camels trekking into the deserts, huge red fish swimming in the lakes, and huge fruits produced in every oasis.
Even the people in Xinjiang are larger in size than other Chinese, and they implement the spirit of hugeness in their daily lives – eating meat prepared in large pieces, drinking wines from giant cups, and very hospitable toward visiting guests because they have bigger hearts.
Many people couldn’t help but admiring this land repeatedly on their first trip here: “You have no idea how large China is until you see Xinjiang.”
However, those who understand Xinjiang very well know that its hugeness is not just in size, but in its people’s minds. They have broader visions, opener hearts and greater ambitions. Its hugeness is not necessarily clumsiness. Its hugeness is yet to be discovered.
Perhaps it is because Xinjiang has such an enormous area that it is bestowed with so many extraordinary large beings and its people have such magnanimous characters.
And the extraordinary emerges from this hugeness. Xinjiang is full of extraordinary things. Extraordinary natural landscapes, extraordinary history and culture, extraordinary ethnic minorities.
Take the stone inscriptions for an example. Nature and human beings have made a great number of masterpieces here.
The stone-carved human figures dispersing all over Xinjiang’s grasslands are one intriguing myth. Nobody knows who made them and why.
The rock paintings commonly discovered on mountain cliffs are thought to be left by ancient nomads, and they carry the messages from our ancestors. The huge rock carving, discovered at Shimenzi, Kangjia Village of Hutubi County, illustrates a hunting scene, and the primitive people’s worship of reproduction.
The religious statues in Buddhist temples and grottoes are embodiments of characteristic artistic concepts.
The sculptures made of wood, stone or clay, which are recovered by archaeologists show highly skillful coloring.
And Nature also produces dexterous carvers. One of them is the wind.
The wind carvings are as wonderful natural arts as the water carvings, the ice carvings and the sunshine carvings.
The masterpieces of “wind, the carver” in Xinjiang include: the Bailongdui, or “White Dragon Pile”, in Lop Nor; Wuerhe the “wind city”; the “Devil City” in Hami; the “Resonating Dune” at Baishitou; the “Weird Rock Valley” at Bo’ertala; as well as the numerous rocks with bizarre shapes scattered all over the Gobi.
The “White Dragon Pile” is a classic of the Yardan landform. It looks like a gigantic maze, with a kind of enormous beauty. It may be delightful to view the landscape that seems like a white dragon resting on an expansion of land. In history records, however, the “White Dragon Pile” was evil. Lying on the only pass into the well-known Loulan Ancient City, it served as a natural shield against possible invaders. Only the fact is most that have been eliminated by it were harmless ancient trade caravans seeking fortune along the Silk Road, or innocent modern daredevils trying to reach the unsolved myth of Loulan.
The “Wind City” is another grotesque product of the wind. In the “city” there are plenty of castles, palaces, streets, markets, people and animals – only that with the uncanny similarity to the real stuff, all of them are carved out of rocks by the wind. This “city” is an unearthly magical world.
The “Resonating Dune” is not an average dune in the desert. It stands on the beautiful prairie in the east of Tianshan Mountain, surrounded by exuberant flora and dense forests. The surroundings make the dune so “irrelevant” as if it had flew here from somewhere else.
Like a skillful artisan, the wind has left wonderful pieces of artistic work everywhere in Xinjiang. But apparently it is not the only natural carver in Xinjiang. The crustal movement, the changing climate, the water scour and even the erosion caused by sunshine have all contributed to today’s magnificent landscapes of Xinjiang. The Wucaiwan, or “Five-colored Bay”, is dazzling. The silicified wood is miraculous. The drift lakes are rare to be seen elsewhere. The half-black-half-white hill is unique. The grand canyon in Tianshan Mountain is precipitous. The fractured zone at Fuyun is gigantic. The “Heavenly Gate” at Atushi is marvelous. The rock resembling the Avalokitesvara Buddha is vivid. And the shape of the “Great Man Hill” at Tacheng looks exactly like the figure of late Chairman Mao Zedong, who is resting in peace in his memorial hall on Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square.
Having witnessed these extraordinary scenes, you’ll understand how powerful and skillful Nature can be.
But of course, extraordinary Xinjiang have a lot more than these grotesque stone carvings.
The extraordinary Kanas is a barely touched place. Snow-capped mountains, forests, grasslands and lake there make an intoxicating painting. The Moon Bay and the Immortal Bay look like dreams. The old cottages of the Tuwa people harmoniously co-exist with Nature. The lake with color-changing surface is full of mystery. The big red fish in the lake is often paralleled with the Nice Lake monster in Britain. According to the witnesses, they can be as long as over ten meters. In the meadow and forest around the lake live quite a number of precious animal species such as red deer, snow leopard, brown bear, grouse, thunderbird, lizard, forest frog, black bee and white butterfly.
The extraordinary Bayanbulak is like a fairytale, where the carpet-like grassland is studded by herds of horses and cattle, surrounded by looming mountains, and with rivers winding through it like colorful ribbons. The zigzagging river on the endless prairie makes gorgeous scenery. Near the tranquil high-land lakes here, you can spot various kinds of birds such as swans, wild geese, terns, egrets and holy eagles.
The Heavenly Lake at Tianshan Mountains
The extraordinary Yili is reputed as “another Jiangnan city beyond the Great Wall”. (“Jiangnan” in Chinese refers to the areas around the lower reach of the Yangtze River, which is known for rich water resource, well-designed gardens and delicate natural landscapes.) Yili River runs westward moistening the vast territory. Gongnaisi Grassland stretches all the way to the horizon, where come the heroic horse riders. The air at Tangbula smells much fresher than anywhere else with the intoxicating scenery. The plants at the “Wild Orchard” are all rare species. Great mountains are found one behind another at Guozigou, or “Fruit Valley”, leaving visitors wondering how magnificent the land is. And, in Huiyuan Ancient Town, the ring bell at dawn and the drum sound at dusk remind people of a familiar but remote lifestyle.
The extraordinary Hetian (Khotan) has been an oasis since ancient times. It has several fruit trees of fig, walnut and grape, whose ages are all over five hundred year. They’re the witnesses of the tremendous changes on this time-honored land. Hetian also boasts a “Grape Trees Corridor” with the length of a whopping one thousand and five hundred kilometers.
The Pamir Mountain range is reputed as the “ancestor of all mountains”. Mt. Muztagh-Ata is nicknamed the “father of all snow-capped mountains”.
Chogori Peak, rising to 8,611 meters in altitude, is the highest peak of the world except for Qomolangma Peak.
On Tumur Peak, the highest peak of Tianshan Mountains, is the largest modern glacial area in China, where hide the towering ice stalagmites, giant “ice mushroom” and crystal ice caves.
The Friendship Peak is the highest peak in Altay Mountain. It guards the northwestern tip of the country like a loyal soldier.
The everlasting ice and snow atop Bogda Peak is particularly eye-catching in summer. Seen from afar in Urumqi, the peak looks as close as the skyscrapers downtown. It is an extraordinary view outside the window. Besides, for many Urumqi residents, Bogda Peak is a symbol of holiness.
The city of Urumqi is situated right in the geographic center of Asia.
In addition to hugeness and extraordinariness, diversity is another source of Xinjiang’s unique charm.
There are so many things in Xinjiang are diversified – nationalities, religions, languages, people’s appearances, customs, beliefs, tastes, architectures, characters, skills, etc.
So are its natural resources. Plateaus, mountains, peaks, canyons, plains, deserts, gobies, forests, prairies, oases, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, beaches – you can find all types of landforms here, and an abundance of flora and fauna – swans, beavers, wild donkeys, Tibetan antelopes, wild camels, tortoises, hellbenders, snow leopards, black bees, insect waxes and a variety kinds of wild fruit trees. The whole region is studded with natural reserves.
The cultures are also diversified due to historical reasons. Civilizations evolved in Mediterranean, Persia Bay, India, Central China and the grassland areas in the north have all had their influences on this land, so have the four religions of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and Islam.
Diversified lifestyles, diversified ethnic groups, diversified religious beliefs, diversified languages, diversified customs plus migrants with diversified origins have made Xinjiang a place of diversified charms.
In such a place like a kaleidoscope, fun is endless. And this has put Xinjiang in a very competitive position in regard of tourism development.
Many things in Xinjiang can be described with superlatives.
As well as boasting the largest area of all the municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions in China, it also has the longest border line, the largest prefecture, the largest county and the largest village.
2,250 kilometers away from the sea as the crow flies, Urumqi is the city furthest away from the ocean.
Ayding Lake lies 154 meters lower than sea level. It’s the lowest point in China’s land area and the second lowest spot in the world.
With an area of 980 square kilometers, Bostan Lake is China’s largest inland freshwater lake.
The longest inland river in China, Tarim River has a total length of 2,179 kilometers.
The 560-thousand-square-kilometer Tarim Basin is China’s biggest interior basin.
Taklimakan Desert, with a size of 330 thousand square kilometers, is Asia’s largest moving desert.
A total eleven of peaks are open to tourists in Xinjiang, which is more than any other administrative regions in China.
Xinjiang has the most resources of diversifolious poplar, dogbane, snow lotus, liquorice, asafetida, armeniaca and bizarre willow.
Xinjiang also has peerless wild orchards resources such as wild apples, wild apricots, wild hawthorns, wild walnuts, wild cherries, wild raspberries and wild seabuckthorns.
The over five thousand kilometers long karez is the best underground irrigating system ever.
There in Xinjiang are also the largest aerosiderite, the best jade, the finest long-staple cotton, the sweetest fruits, the biggest wind power station, the longest road in the desert, the most excellent horse, the oldest grotto, the grandest mosque, and the most majestic glacier.
Such a unique and resourceful environment is bound to bring to visitors extraordinary satisfaction.
For instance, Xinjiang is a paradise for explorers, with all kind of mysterious and perilous things for the courageous people to discover.
The air in towering mountains has less oxygen. The deserts can be synonym of terror. The gobies often leave travelers helpless. The Yardan landform can make a compass lost. Perilous things happen in the canyons. Even the seemly harmless prairies, can at least let you start to pity how small you are in front of Nature.
Nevertheless, high risk usually leads to high reward, and that is the very excitement of a discovery tour.
And it’s also the reason why all kinds of scientific research teams and explorers have been leaving their footprints in Xinjiang for the past century. Sven Hedin, Marc Aurel Stein, Albert von Le Coq and Paul Pelliot were all the Western explorers ever sought their fortunes in this mysterious land and gained fame and wealth by digging up tons of precious Chinese cultural relics. Half a century later, many Chinese scientists and explorers have also landed their feet there trying to recover Xinjiang’s past glory. Among them Huang Wenbi, Peng Jiamu and Yu Chunshun never came back and are respected and commemorating by the people. Nevertheless, constructive or not, the efforts of these pioneers do help reveal Xinjiang’s historical and geographical “secrets”, and thus make this vast and remote land known to the world, no longer just a large lump in the maps with a dull color but no mark.
Besides, all kinds of lakes are like a beautiful pearl necklace, making Xinjiang a catch for tourists.
The Tianchi, or “Heavenly Lake” is like a lake in heaven indeed.
The stunning scenery in Kanas Lake is nothing inferior to the world-famous landscape of Swiss.
Swan Lake is a blue diamond embedded in the endless green of Bayanbulak Grassland. Once you see it, you’ll never forget it for the rest of your life.
Sayram Lake is “a piece of emerald in the grassland”. It is also reputed as “a supernatural land in the west, a spiritual spot beyond the border”.
The “golden beach” and “silver beach” by Bostan Lake is as marvelous as the sea beach.
Tianhu Lake, hidden in the depth of mountains to the south of Dushanzi, is said to be like an oil-painting by Nature.
One can lie floating on the water surface of Salt Lake, reading a book, just like in the “Dead Sea”
The fish banquet at Wulungu Lake is particularly delicious.
The surface of Ayding Lake is lower than the sea level.
The “lake of sand” at Shanshan is located right by the desert.
Balikun Lake has witnessed the time-honored history of stationing troops to cultivate and guard the frontier areas.
The water of “Whale Lake” near Altun Mountain, tastes half salty and half sweet.
The huge Lop Nor is said to be a moving lake as well.
And the Manas Lake has been totally dried out. It’s possible that it’ll completely disappear from this planet in the near future.
Although Xinjiang is located far away from the oceans, it boasts a surprising large number of lakes of a variety of kinds: fresh water lakes, salt water lakes, plateau lakes, plain lakes, inland lakes, exorheic lakes, dried-out “dead” lakes, and newly-built artificial lakes.
The charms of Xinjiang’s lakes are not just confined to their natural beauty. It’s combination of sociological, historical, geographical, ecological and scientific values. It will be a pity if you just stop after seeing the outside.
Another major fun of traveling in Xinjiang is to enjoy the ice and snow.
Thanks to the long cold winters with a considerable amount of snowfalls plus the distinctive mountainous landform, in the areas with the altitude of two to three thousand meters, the skiing season can last as long as six months. Xinjiang is an ideal place for developing ice and snow sports and tourism.
For example, many places in Tianshan Mountain have remarkable scenery and are only 50 to 60 kilometers away from major cities. They’re good choices for getting some fun with ice and snow.
All in all, Xinjiang is blessed with a full set of tourism resources and can provide a variety of characteristic travel routes.
Here are some of the recommendable themes of a tour in Xinjiang: the Silk Road, Exploration in the Desert, Grassland Charms, a Deep Look into Cultures, Historical Remains, Waterside Fun, Grotesque Scenery, Plateau Appeal, Life in a Farm, Scientific Trip, Ice and Snow, Mountain Climbing, Hiking, Self-driving, River Drifting, Photography Lovers, Hunting, and Shopping.
For desert lovers, Shanshan can be a convenient choice, where the sand land is right there by the streets. The hinterland near Kunlun Mountain is an option for those who want to go afar, as they can see the rare “desert on a plateau”. If you prefer hugeness, please go to the Taklimakan. There you can drive along the road across the desert for a whole day seeing nothing but sand. If you have a thing with delicacy, the “Resonating Dune” in Hami can be exactly what you need.
For prairie lovers, quite a few scenic areas are available. But the most exciting is that you buy two horses, take your sweetheart and spend a year together in the grasslands deep into Altay Mountain and Tianshan Mountain.
Lake lovers have a bunch of choices – sailing on a boat in Tianchi Lake, viewing the fish in Kanas Lake, watching the birds at Swan Lake, appreciating the reeds at Wulungu Lake, tasting the fish at Sayram Lake, swimming in Bostan Lake, taking a peaceful break atop Altun Mountain by side of the plateau lake, researching whether the lake is moving in Lop Nor, feeling what it’s like to be below sea level at Aiding Lake, checking out how the environment has been improved at Aibi Lake, or trying how great the buoyancy force is in “Salt Lake”.
For mountain climbers, the snow-capped peaks of Kunlun Mountain, Tianshan Mountain and Altay Mountain are tempting challenges.
If your hobby is hiking, there are not only ancient passages at Xiate, Wusun, Cheshi, Wugu and Huagu, but also modern paths at Langta, Bogda, Keketuohai (Koktokay) and Baerluke. They are all classic hiking routes.
Animal lovers can greet the swans in Bayanbulak Nature Reserve, or visit the wild horses in Kalamali Nature Reserve, or help protect the high-land animals in Altun Mountain Nature Reserve against the threats of poachers.
Silk Road buffs can get what they want in those ancient towns of Turpan, Loulan, Hetian, Kuche and Kashi.
If you just want to touch old cities, Jiaohe, Gaochang, Luntai, Milan, Niya, Dandanwulike and the “stone city” on the Pamirs are where you will be satisfied. And there is also the old county seat of Tekesi. The structure of the town looks exactly like a map of the Ba Gua, or “Eight Diagrams”. This miraculous place has been enlisted by the Guinness.
When the frescos in Dunhuang are not contenting enough, you can go to Turpan and Kezier. Turpan is where the Western Culture met the Eastern Culture. Kezier boasts plenty of grottoes whose cultural value is no inferior to those in more famous Dunhuang.
Looking for ethnic minority features, you are given multiple options: dancing with the Uygur people, listening to Kazak music, joining the Mongolians’ Nadam Fair, screaming at Darwaz tightrope walking, letting the flute music by the Tajiks touch the bottom of your heart, or being a guest on a wedding when a Tartar man is married into his bride’s family.
Have you ever dreamed of traveling around Xinjiang in a car? It’s a brilliant idea. You can feel the same as those in Dakar Grand Prix motor race when you drive across gobies and deserts with no trace of human presence.
You should not call yourself a professional traveler without having a tour in Xinjiang. Xinjiang is a must-go destination for everyone who understands the ultimate meaning of traveling.