Silk Road 1 – Urumqi; Xinjiang, Far west China

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Silk Road China May 2016
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To celebrate Dilshad’s birthday, we decided to do a trip to the ancient Silk Road of Western China. After a few days in Shanghai for a Beauty and Skincare Show, we took a high-speed traffic-weaving taxi ride to the Pudong airport.

Learnt a lot of things in these last few days in China. For example, I was completely lost without Google as it is my default search engine.

Important Information
China Govt blocks Google, FB, YouTube and other sites as they see fit. So be prepared for a GoogleLess World!

So I could not only not use Google search engine, but I could also not use any related google products like Gmail. Imagine no emails. I did subscribe to a VPN service to tunnel through to servers outside China, but the service was slow, and not always reliable.  I suspect that China internet gateways figure out VPN services and block them also, hence the low reliability. I ended up using Yahoo as my default search engine in China. Emails (Gmail) suffered though.

We had booked a China Southern Airlines flight from Pudong Airport in Shanghai to Urumqi (pronounced Urumuchee) in Xinjiang province. Check-in was a 40 mins lineup; which we later realized we could have avoided by trying their few self serve kiosks. Need to use them for next internal flight in China.

Use Self Serve Kiosks to avoid Rush

Waited close to the departure gate; about half an hour before the flight, we noticed that the departure gate was empty. Worried, we asked the staff there (very little English) as to when the flight would be boarded. Were informed that the incoming plane had been diverted to Xian (another city) due to fog in Shanghai area.  They had no idea when the incoming plane would arrive, so we were being accommodated in a hotel nearby. There was 1 other passenger who was with us, so 3 of us were taken to another area outside airport, where the rest of the passengers had moved to earlier, waiting for the bus to the airport. We boarded the bus, and after a long announcement in Chinese ( we asked for translation, and fortunately, the airline official spoke some English); we were informed that we would get dinner at the hotel, a room, and the flight would take off at 2AM.

So after a 30 minute drive, the shuttle buses dropped us off at the Xiang Teng Yuan Hotel, our passports and boarding passes were taken in exchange for a room key. Went for dinner which was a typical chinese buffet.

Dilshad’s birthday dinner was with a bunch of other Chinese stranded passengers, none of whom spoke English L. Happy Birthday Dilshad

silk road Chinese buffet Dilshad birthday Xiang Teng Yuan HotelDilshad’s Birthday Dinner with complete strangers and no English speakers

Xiang Teng Yuan HotelOur hotel for Dilshad’s birthday 

Went off to the room, No cockroaches in sight, so not bad. It was like a 2.5 – 3 star hotel; instead of our waiting 5 star Sheraton hotel in Urumqi. Went to sleep as it was now 8:30PM, and we were infirmed we would be woken up for the shuttle. The bed was hard, but slept well.

At 12 midnight, loud knocking on the door; so we figured it was time for our shuttle back to the airport. Went downstairs, and boarded the shuttle bus; which took us back to the airport. After clearing security etc once again, we were bussed to the plane. Boarded the China Southern airline flight finally. Flight took off at 2AM as we had been informed, and we were served dinner again at 3AM (midnight snack / breakfast)

silk-road-1-image03Boarding China Southern Airlines plane to Urumqi at 2AM

The flight was about 5hrs long; you quickly figure out that China is a huge country. Landed at 7AM Beijing time; China has only 1 time zone in the whole country, however, Xinjiang province where the indigenous people are the Uyghur Muslim majority prefer their own local time zone ; which is 2hrs behind Beijing time.

Info Interesting to live in a place that has 2 competing time zones :).

Tian Mountains Silk Road UrumqiTian Shan mountains just before arrival at Urumqi early morning

The Uyghur’s are a Turkic people that is a mix of people that traded up and down the Silk Road. They are a mix of Turkic, Persian, Mongols, and central “stans” all mixed up (Tajiks, Kazaks, Khyrgiz, Uzbeks) ; used to be Buddhists after conversion by some Kashmiri royalty had married Uyghur princesses; and then later converted to Islam.

At the airport, the airport shuttle was not open (too early in the morning); a Chinese family who spoke some English asked if we needed help, as we looked lost.  Showed them where we needed to go and they very kindly offered to give us a ride in their car; wow. People here are definitely very nice.

Silk Road Family Urumqi English SpeakingNice family that gave us a ride from the airport to our hotel

At the Sheraton hotel, explained that our flight was delayed and so we missed spending the previous night in Urumqi, and since we were taking the train to Turpan later that evening, we needed the room for the day. They were very accommodating, and gave us free breakfast.

After breakfast, we went to the Xinjiang Region Museum, which was actually an excellent excellent museum; with a great capture/showcasing of the history of all the people of Xinjiang, their cultures, clothing, customs, religion, population etc (Uighurs, Mongols, Hui, Tajiks; Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tartars, Kirgiz, and of course, Chinese Han). This is a very impressive museum, not to be missed if you are in this area.

Xinjiang Regional Museum AmazingVery impressive Xinjiang Regional Museum

About Tajik ethnic groupXinjiang Museum; section about Tajik ethnic group that lives in Xinjiang, with semi-clear reference to Ismaili religious affiliation.

Then took off to the old Uyghur town area (bazaar); which was very lively with lots of Uyghur families out and about; food stands, restaurants, shops etc. Spent the afternoon here , sampled all the local Uyghur food dishes, and plenty of fruit (melon’s of all kinds).  Wanted to visit the nice mosques in this area, but they were all closed; open only at prayer times. We later learned that this was a Chinese Govt law that prevented the mosque for being used for nothing other than prayers, and the Imams are appointed by the Govt. Then took off for the train station for the train ride to Turfan.

Below are pictures on ethnic Uyghur old town Urumqi

Lamb Kebabs Halal Silk RoadLamb Kebabs everywhere in old town Urumqi; everything is halal

Uyghurs friendly old townVery friendly Uyghurs in old town

Uyghurs MosqueHui mosque; was closed unfortunately. Only open at prayer time

Nuts and dried fruits in Silk RoadLots of Nuts and dried fruits in this region

Silk Road Local Crepe with vegetablesLocal Crepe with vegetables and hot sauce

Silk Road Local StoreLocal stores

Silk Road NaanLots of Naan

Silk Road Egg Dish Local FoodAn Egg based dish

Silk Road Fruit waalas ShopFruit walla


Fresh Naan Uyghur Silk RoadMore Nan; fresh from the tandoor

Mutton Pilau Fresh Uyghur Silk RoadPolo (mutton Pilau) is very popular

Watermelons Uyghur Silk RoadWatermelons grow like weeds here

Silk Road Local Uyghur KidsBeautiful Uyghur kids

Uyghur Locals having Food Business together Silk RoadBusiness, Social, Family, snacking, all at the same time

Out For Sunday Stroll Uyghur Silk RoadUyhgur families out for a Sunday stroll in the old town

Local Handmade Ice cream Uyghur Silk RoadLocals enjoying Handmade Ice cream

Uyghur Silk Road Fashion High Fashion Uyghur style

Uyghur Silk Road Babies and beautiful peopleCant resist taking pictures of these beautiful Uyghur people and their babies


Baitulla Mosque Silk Road Waiting for the Baitulla Mosque to open for mid-day prayer

silk-road-1-image26Family time


silk-road-1-image28Snack time at local café for Laghman (noodles, broth, bread, vegetables), and tea

silk-road-1-image29Locals enjoying Laghman too

silk-road-1-image30Family outing

Important Information
China Govt blocks Google, FB, YouTube and other sites as they see fit
China Govt blocks Google, FB, YouTube and other sites

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This entry was posted in Asia, China, Silk Road China May 2016

6 thoughts on “Silk Road 1 – Urumqi; Xinjiang, Far west China

  • Karen Woo June 30, 2022 at 2:19 am Reply

    Hi Ali and Dilshad,

    Thank you for coming to visit the National Museum today, 30 June 2022, and for the privilege of showing you both around. It was great exchange of ideas of fellow travelers, and thank you for sharing your travelog. The silkroad trips that you have made are great!!

    Happy traveling and sharing.

    Best regards,
    Karen Woo

    • Ali Karim June 30, 2022 at 5:26 am Reply

      Hi Karen,

      It was so nice to have met you and so nice of you to spend time showing us the Museum; it was a wonderful trip; we really appreciate your help and expertise.

      After the National Museum, we visited the Islamic Arts Museum and that was amazing as well.

      We are so fortunate.

      So glad you enjoyed the blogs

  • Ventry Fargus September 26, 2017 at 11:20 am Reply

    Thanks for the blog article. Want more 🙂

  • Harrison August 8, 2017 at 3:44 pm Reply

    I really appreciate this post. I’ve been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You’ve made my day! Thanks again

    • Ali Karim August 10, 2017 at 10:31 am Reply

      Thanks Harrison; glad you enjoyed by travelog

  • Lucinda Pebworth May 10, 2017 at 8:44 pm Reply

    I’m really impressed with your writing skills and
    also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you
    customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice
    quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays.

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