China’s Urumqi: A Beautiful Gem on the Ancient Silk Road

The beautiful Chinese city of Urumqi is known as the capital of the nation’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which sits in the northwest region of the country below the Tianshan Mountains. The prairie city is home to about two million residents and is an important and historic stop on the ancient Silk Road. It’s a sunny city with not much precipitation to speak of. The springs and falls are relatively short while the summers and winters are known to last quite a bit longer.

Because of this, the most popular time to visit is between May and October. Urumqi has numerous attractions to go along with the area’s natural beauty. Some of the most popular and famous of these natural and cultural locations are the Southern Pastures, Heavenly Lake, the Southern Mosque, Red Hill, the Xinjiang Regional Museum, and the Tartar Mosque.

China’s Urumqi(photo by MizieB)

There are plenty of options when it comes to dining and accommodation. You’ll find low-priced hostels as well as luxury hotels and local street vendors along with top-class restaurants. The nightlife in Urumqi is pretty vibrant with more choices. There are traditional song-and-dance shows, pubs, nightclubs, and night markets to explore.

If you’re into shopping, you’ll find Urumqi offers just about everything you can imagine at the International Grand Bazaar. You can hunt for numerous bargains including arts and crafts, carpets, rugs, hats, traditional Chinese costumes, knotted sweaters, jade carvings and hand-made embroideries. Because of its history and location, Urumqi offers the best of western and eastern cultures.

When visiting, you’ll want to make sure you head over to Red Hill. This fantastic site features shrines, pagodas, and some beautiful emerald greenery. The hill gets its name from the color of the rocks, which are a reddish-brown shade. There are several historic sites here including the Temple of the Great Buddha which was constricted during the Qing Dynasty which ran between 1644 and 1911. The temples make the hill a popular holy place for worshipers. However, many of the old buildings have been destroyed, but what’s left is quite fascinating.

If you head to the west side of the Urumqi River, you’ll find the People’s Park. Years ago, it was filled with lakes and marshland which were surrounded by an ancient forest. Today, it’s a very scenic park with plenty of tree shade. There’s also a lake which is ideal for row boating.

If you’d like to learn about the local history, culture, and traditions, you can find a lot of information at the Xinjiang Regional Museum, which opened back in 1953. There are numerous archaeological treasures on display as well as historical local relics belonging to the Silk Road. You’ll find exhibits such as pottery, silk, porcelain, household utensils, musical instruments, hunting tools, clothing, weapons, terra-cotta figures, and scriptures. Also, there are some ancient mummies which were discovered in the nearby desert land.

However, the most famous site in the Urumqi region is probably Tianchi Lake, which is known as Heavenly Lake. This was a popular stop with local travelers from the dry Xinjiang deserts and from the county’s granite cities. The lake sits below beautiful snow-capped mountains. The lake is just over 11,000 feet long, close to 5,000 feet wide and sits about 6500 feet above sea level. You’ll find the scenery here to be absolutely stunning. A boat ride and hike along the lakeshore is highly recommended.

Southern Pasture sits at the foot of Karawuquntag Mountain, which is about 45 miles south of the city of Urumqi. The West White Poplar Gully is especially picturesque as it passes through waterfalls, snow capped mountains, wildflowers, and dragon-spruce trees. A horseback ride here is a highlight. If you’d like to check out some of the religious sites there are 263 mosques in town. The most famous of these are the Qinghai Mosque, Southern Mosque, Shaanxi Mosque, and Tartar Mosque.

For more fabulous sights, make sure you visit the Kanas Nature Reserve, which offers a wonderful natural ecosystem which is formed by numerous rivers, glaciers, lakes, grasslands, and forest.

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