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Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Travel Guide

Provincial capital: Urumqi

Population: 18 millions

Geological location: Situated in the northwest China, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was known in China as the Western Territory in ancient times. Its 1.66 million sq km represent about one-sixth of the total territory of the country, making it the largest of China's regions and provinces. Xinjiang shares 5,600 km of frontier with Mongolia in the northeast, then Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the west, and then Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in the southwest.

Map of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region

Climate: While Xinjiang enjoys between 2,500 to 3,000 hours of sunshine each year, the amount of annual precipitation for the entire region averages a mere 150 milliliters (ml), and thus the air is quite dry.

Tourism resources: Xinjiang is also known far and wide for its magnificent scenic vistas and enchanting spectacles of the nature. The region, the driest area in China, is home to China's longest inland river, the lowest depression in terms of elevation, most expansive desert, and both the warmest and coldest areas in the country.

Tourists visiting Xinjiang have the unique opportunity to visit one of the world's most spectacular and divergent regions which features unique rock and sand formations naturally sculpted over the millennia by erosion, ancient grottos, stone forests, desert mirages, mysterious echoing sand dunes and a treasure trove of flora and fauna.

The divergence has given rise to the saying that Xinjiang is home to an area where "the four seasons coexist simultaneously in the same valley, and the gamut of weather conditions can be found in an area on larger than 100 square miles". While mountains and hills cover some 44 percent of the total land in Xinjiang, the region is also home to numerous inland rivers, alpine lakes, hot springs and glaciers. The mountain peaks offer breathtaking vistas of deserts, oases, lakes, basins and snow-covered ranges stretching as far as the eye can see, while the grasslands below are teeming with thriving herds of livestock grazing amongst the brilliantly colored flora.

While Xinjiang is famous for the ancient Silk Road, it is also home to 256 ancient cultural sites, tombs, ruins, Buddhist caves, stone sculptures and numerous contemporary monuments, some 154 of the sites are under state protection. In recent years, the region has opened 22 nature reserves for the protection of flora and fauna. The discovery of petroglyphs in Altay and dinosaur fossils has aroused the interests of experts, scholars and tourists alike.

Xinjiang is not only known as the land of fruits and melons, but also as the home to music and dance. When visiting Turpan one can either watch or join in singing and dancing the "maixilaipu" with friendly Uygurs. While sitting under trellises laden with grapes and enjoying the sweet fragrance of grapes, melons and various other fruits wafting through the air, one is most often entertained by Uygurs singing rousing folk songs to the accompaniment of a three-stringed dotar.

Transportation to and from Xinjiang is fairly developed and mainly focuses on Urumqi as the major hub for traffic to the region. Flights to and from Urumqi are the most convenient method of accessing the region.

By Air: From Urumqi, daily domestic connections to Beijing, Guangzhou and other major cities are available as well as daily connections to Kashgar. Some international flights (not all daily) to Moscow and Islamabad, are also available.

By Train: This is the best way to travel east into the rest of China. To and from Urumqi, you'll find direct trains to Beijing, Shanghai, Lanzhou, Xi'an and Chengdu. Express trains to take a few days. Trains to and from Beijing take around 44 hours, and to and from Shanghai takes around 48 hours. We strongly recommend taking hard or soft sleeper trains. Anyone on a budget who tries taking a train to Urumqi with a hard seat will quickly discover that the extra few RMB spent on a sleeper ticket are good value for money.

By Bus: The best way to get around in Xinjiang is by bus as the highway system is relatively good. In most of Xinjiang, foreigners are charged artificially jacked up foreigner prices which can be as much as 200% of the original. If you purchase tickets at the bus stations, then you may be charged a more reasonable 'official' price.

If you don't plan to join a tour group in Urumqi, transport around the region can be awkward. Public buses are infrequent and it is sometimes worth considering hiring a car or a jeep to tour about the area if your budget will stretch to it.