(reblog from 2016 for archiving) Back to Xinjiang

First posted on TVG in China, 2016. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

The far west of China, Xinjiang.

Scorching in the summer; Arctic in the winter; desert to the north and south; lush green grass lands between; towering mountains all around: It is an impossibly diverse place, and that’s just it’s geography.



above is what a frozen desert looks like. This trip I only saw the countryside from a train window, so I’m  bit limited in photos showing the stunning scenery of the region.


As my train drew closer to the Province’s capital, Urumqi, Tianshan, the heavenly mountains came more clearly into view.

I used to have a view of this mountain range from my flat window. It was something special to see them again.

I used to live here, and my main reason for coming back was to see my old friends. Because of this, I was based in two cities the whole time and didn’t manage to get out into the region’s beautiful countryside.

The -20 degrees C temperature (warm for this time of year) also helped put off any desire to get out into the mountains.

Luckily, if not as beautiful as outside, inside the cities have plenty of interesting bits and pieces. Admittedly Urumqi is now mainly just a generic modern Chinese city, but it has it’s parts which are still unique.


That’s generic modern Urumqi. Enough of that.

The interesting side of Urumqi comes from the influence of the minority groups in the city… actually you could argue that the generic modern bits are the influence of the now majority Han Chinese, but…

…Xinjiang is one of the regions China considers and ‘autonomous region’, meaning the local government here is slightly increased powers.  The predominant minority group in the province are the Uighurs, and as such, Xinjiang is the Uighur autonomous region.

These days however the majority of the city’s population are not Uighurs, but rather Han Chinese. Down on the south side of the city, there is a much stronger Uighur feel to the city.

The Uighurs are a Muslim minority (as are some of the other minority groups in the region), and because of this some characteristics of Urumqi are the large number of mosques, people in Muslim clothing and halal meat stalls.


You probably also noticed that the signs appear to in Arabic as well as Chinese.

That’s half true – Uighurs use a modified Arabic script to write the Uighur language. As well as that, I spotted a few examples where Chinese language was actually being written in Arabic script. Since seeing it, I’ve heard that some Hui people (another Chinese Muslim minority) sometimes write Chinese with Arabic script.

In fact, aside from mosques, Uighur parts of cities generally have a strong central Asian feel anyway. After a while it becomes clear that Xinjiang essentially is the easternmost part of Central asia – it is after all home to Kazakh, Uzbek and Tajik people as well as Uighurs and Han.

One of the most famous buildings in the city is the grand bazaar, and although now unfortunately just a really naff tourist trap inside, the outside building is still quite impressive. It’s also full of Central Asia feel.


Yes, someone did decide to build a carrefour in it. China…

So, aside from China putting supermarkets in old buildings, I think I mentioned the place gets pretty cold. It’s normal to go below -30 in the winter, and I’ve felt it reach 40 in the summer.

Pretty big contrast from back in the UK where if it’s below 20 degrees C people call it too cold, and above 21, too hot.

Below is what cold looks like.


Another thing which I found very interesting on this trip was something I’d missed when I lived there…and I have no idea how I missed.

There is a ridiculous amount of propaganda in Xinjiang. I won’t go into detail about what, because it’s not good for me to do so.

But what I will say is, almost every bare space at walking level had a propaganda poster – that is way more than Beijing.


用中国的力量,成就你我的梦想-“Use China’s strength to achieve our dream”


A never ending wall of propaganda posters.

You might well ask what makes the minority groups of Xinjiang actually minority groups. Although the question itself is possibly a bit controversial, in short the area is very ethnically diverse. Most Uighurs clearly do not look like Han Chinese, their culture is very different, and a large number of them do not consider themselves Chinese.

There is a lot of unrest in the region due to tensions between Han Chinese and minority groups, but I think it’s best that I don’t go into detail here.

I will however share with you some pictures of the people on the south side of town.IMG_3368IMG_3364

Xinjiang food is also fantastic – it’s my favourite in the whole of China. I don’t have many pictures, mainly because I usually want to eat Xinjiang food when it’s in front of me. I do have this one of 抓饭, or Pollo to give the Uighur name. IMG_3366

Traditionally eaten with your hands, pollo is considered to be the base dish of Uighur cuisine. Other local specialties include pulled noodles, naan bread and anything with lamb.

And just to finish, I said right at the start that my main reason for coming back to Xinjiang was to see my old friends. Here’s a picture of one of my best friends in Xinjiang and his family.


I miss you guys; I’ll see you again in the future.



If you’re interested in finding more information about Xinjiang, I can recommend the fantastic blog “FarwestChina”-No one shows off how stunning Xinjiang is better than there!


(reblog from 2016 for archiving) China by train – a month trip to the West, the South, and back.

First posted on TVG in China, 2016. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

For the last month, I’ve been on the road – or more accurately, the train track – out of Beijing, over to the far West of China, and down to the far south. The next few posts are concerning each place in turn, but firstly this is a short overview for the following blogs.

Leaving Beijing on the 27th December, I boarded the train to Xinjiang, China’s western frontier, and formerly my home for a year. 32 hours later (it was a quick train) I was back.

I was mainly back there to see old friends rather than travel; friends who are like family.

That said, the west is in many ways one of the most beautiful parts of China, varying dramatically from scorching (or freezing in winter) deserts, towering mountains, and lush green grasslands.


I woke up to this in the morning of my train to Urumqi. As Xinjiang is three times the size of France, despite having arrived in the province by the morning, the train hadn’t arrived in the capital until the evening – even though Urumqi is only the centre of the province.

What you’re looking at, is what a desert looks like when covered in snow. That there is the Gobi, one of the largest deserts in the world.

Many might not think of cold and desert in the same sentence, but in the winter that’s exactly what the Gobi becomes.

Urumqi, where I spent most of my time this trip, is surrounded by mountains.


Hard to get a good photo out of a train window, but the mountains nearby Urumqi are stunning. They make up part of 天山, tianshan, or the heavenly mountains. This range spans the majority of the province, splitting the Gobi from the Taklamakan desert.  It might not look like it from those brown looking peaks, but in the spring, hidden in the mountains, the region turns lush green, a belt of nature splitting two huge swathes of arid land.

I risk going into too much detail over Xinjiang in this intended overview post, so I’ll just describe a few more photos then move on.


Xinjiang is home to a number of minority groups, some of which use Arabic script to write their languages. Because of this, you see a lot of Arabic script on the buildings. For anyone who knows Arabic, you’ll notice straight away that it is a slightly modified version.


Many of the people in the region are Muslims, and much of the architecture reflects that.


I think I said that it’s quite cold over there in winter.


Here’s a good example of Arabic script and Chinese characters on the same signs. I’ve always thought that when they’re put next to each other, Arabic script does end up looking more elegant than the sometimes blocky 汉字.

I’ll write about Xinjiang in more detail in the next post, but for now, let’s move onto Xi’an

Xi’an is the city known for the terracotta warriors, a sight worth seeing, but not seen by me on this trip. I’ve been here before, and didn’t intend to see the ancient guards again (they’re not surprisingly pretty expensive).

I was mainly using the city as a good base to head further south, but there are some bits of the city worth exploring more than once!

Perhaps the symbols of the city itself are the drum and bell towers in the centre.


Next to the Drum tower is my favourite part of town, the Muslim district. It’s unfortunately a bit too touristy, but it does have a good atmosphere, especially in the evening. When it get’s dark, barbeques fire up, and a huge selection of street food appears.



The other main attraction in, or more accurately around, the city is the city wall. Although it’s not the genuine ancient wall it’s claimed to be, it is still impressive. It encircles the whole of the city centre.


My next stop was Changsha, the home city of Mao Zedong, or at least, the city where he studied after he left his village of Shaoshan.

I had intended to only stay here for a day, using is a base to see Zhangjiajie – the inspiration for the mountains in ‘Avatar’- and the old village Fenghuang. My plans changed however, and I ended up staying in Changsha for the whole time of my stay in Hunan province.  It just means I have to come back to Hunan at some point.

The biggest sight in the city, and big is the right word, is a giant statue of Mao’s face on the Orange Isle, a park in the middle of the Xiang river which runs through the city.


To put into perspective how big this statue was, I could see it very clearly from my hostel, which was a very very long walk from the park.

My aim of going to Hunan was always to get out into nature for a while, and although this made being stuck in a city a bit of a loss, there was a mountain in the city. Yuelu Shan is a little bit of peace in the middle of Hunan’s capital.


It was too foggy at the top for a view, so I had to be content with the forests, beautiful as they were, running up to the top of the peak.

After Changsha was my main stop on the trip; Hong Kong.

I have to say straight away, Hong Kong is fantastic. The thing I was looking forward to most was simply getting away from the mainland for a bit – it can be stressful here – but it was so much more than that.


and now, I’m back in Beijing. Part of me wants to hop over to Japan or Taiwan, but flights mean big costs.

Look out for the more detailed posts on each town soon!