Ten things to do in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region before you get to Kashgar

1. Try the food- Pilaf, handmade noodles, all the mutton.  So much dried fruit you won’t know what to do with yourself and the best pomegranate juice on the planet.

2.The ruins of ancient city of Jiao He in the Yarnaz Valley outside of Turpan- WHY DON”T WE LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT CHINA?*  I cannot get over exactly how much I do not know about the country where I have lived for the last three years. These ruins are larger and better preserved than Pompeii. Let me pause for effect.   We wandered through this 2000  year fortress city Eventually the river that protected the city dried up and the people were conquered.  Or absorbed.  I guess it all depends on your perspective.



3. Heavenly Lake- So I thought that I was going to die. This lake is about 2000 meters above sea level.  The rest of the parched area of Turpan is is around sea level so the climb is pretty dramatic. You also have to take a shuttle bus (it is a full sized bus) the last hour up the mountains.  This an evil twisted road that the driver’s hurtle up and down always a second from disaster.  The view at the top makes the insane ride worth it.

4. Karex Irrigation System- a 2000 year design that you can see from the air is basically the only reason that the city of Turpan exists.  There are over 3000 miles of tunnels carrying water still.  The lifeblood of the city.

5. Emin Minaret- This mosques looks so different from any others on the trip.  Is is rounded and made of sun dried bricks.

6. Erdaoqiao Market or International Bazaar-  You can buy anything under the sun.  But if you are planning on flying out of Urumqi leave the Uygur knifes.  You can’t bring it even in your checked luggage.  This region of China has the largest harvest of lavender outside of Provence.  I ended up with a ton of dried lavender and some essential oil.  There is also an essential oil made from desert rose.  Yup, I bought that,too.

7. Drive from Turpan to Urumqi- There is a vastness to the desert landscapes that make them timeless.  You can’t help wondering who has been there before you.

8. Uyghur Music- there are little stalls everywhere to buy instruments.  Some of them are beautiful works of art. 

9. The Bezeklik Caves- You can find these in the Flaming Mountains. I am actually serious.  You aren’t being sent on a quest to Mordor.  The mountains are actually called the Flaming Mountains. These are not as impressive as the MoGao Caves.  Most of the murals were destroyed by Muslim Red Guards in the 60’s or stolen away to a museum in Berlin where they were destroyed by allied bombing.  But the drive and the setting are enough.

10. Silk in Khotan-  You can actually watch silk being made.  They don’t sugar coat it and you should steel yourself to the sight of thousands of dead caterpillars.  I may have just been being overly sensitive.  It is loud and hot and you will totally be in the way.  I dare you not to buy something.

*answer: I suppose that the western bias against admitting that anyone else came up with anything despite all the evidence is the reason for this.