There is no point in denying it; on this blog we love Xinjiang a lot and we have often written about it. This Chinese region links two very different civilizations: proper China and Central Asia. Xinjiang is perhaps one of the most evocative places around the world, for its History – of here the Silk Road passed – and for its being crossroad of peoples and cultures. Xinjiang is a region not so simple to travel in, but able to uncover a multitude of surprises to everyone adventuring in its discovery. On the routes of ancient caravans and treasure seekers, a land that will enter directly in your soul, overcoming it.
Xinjiang is essentially divided in two parts: the Northern, roughly the Dzungaria, and the Tarim Basin, inside which we can found one of most famous and feared deserts of the planet: the Taklamakan. These are two very different areas; Dzungaria, with its forests and lakes, is stretched up towards the Altai Mountains, wedged between Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the Tarim Basin is instead marked by a prevailing desert landscape, surrounded by mountain ranges as the Thian Shan to the north, the Pamirs to the west and the Kunlun to the south. This is an area remote and desolate but deeply suggestive.
Natural environments make Xinjiang a unique destination for visitors; we can find five National Parks dotting the Autonomous Region: Bosten and Sayram around the Tianchi Lakes, the one in the Kumtag Desert and the Lopren Chunzai. However, to do unequalled this region is the human environment, whit its numerous minorities and its traditions recalling directly the Silk Road. Here peoples live in typically Central Asians harsh climates, characterized by extremely rigid winters and scorching summers. It’s really a place not suitable for everyone.
Legends tell in the Taklamakan you can heard demons screaming, during terrible sandstorms that here have buried entire empires in the past. This desert is certainly one of the most fascinating aspects of Xinjiang. The Taklamakan circumnavigation is an unforgettable experience. You can start from Turpan, historically the gateway to the region, continuing then in direction of Kuqa and its grottoes housing some unrivalled Buddha’s representations. After this, once in Kashgar you can also reach the Pakistan through the Karakoram Highway, a hazardous-charm-road.
From Kashgar you can close the ring around the Taklamakan as well, along the route of the south side of the desert, an even more remote and timeless trip. Here you can visit Hotan, a town famous for its precious jade, pass other small city and arrive in Qiemo, from where the perhaps most beautiful way crossing the Taklamakan starts; a road smaller and closer to the dunes than others and finishing in Korla, a very nice city. From Qiemo you can decide to leave for Golmud in Qinghai as well, a long and difficult journey.
Situated at an angle of the desert, Korla is the capital of the Bayangolin Prefecture, an area of Mongolian ethnicity and ideal place to recover an urban dimension after the immersion deep in the Xinjiang. Korla has a superb museum and you can visit the evocative “Iron Door Pass” just outside the town. Korla is well-connected to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang and modern city linking together the different parts of the Autonomous Region. Also of note, here again, the presence of a unforgettable museum dedicated to the twelve minority of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is this and much more. You should think to the ghost towns of Jiaohe e Gaochan near Turpan, or the legendary Lou Lan that only can be visited after obtaining expensive authorisations. The History of Xinjiang has seen clashes between nomads and settlers, cultures proceeding on a camel along the caravan routes, Islam displacing Buddhism and the existence of even older communities. Visiting Xinjiang means to get soaked in the flow of time, where tradition and modernity contradict each other, where Uyghurs and Hans attempt to cohabit. Xinjiang is life, true life.