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A memorable visit to Xinjiang

By Shikha Pandey | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-11-22 10:45

A glimpse of Urumqi, capital of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. [Photo provided by Shikha Pandey to chinadaily.com.cn]

Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in the western part of China was one of the most important places of trade and cultural connection on the ancient Silk Route. It is now serving as an important route for Belt and Road Initiative, connecting China with the countries in Central Asia and Middle East, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The three-week Sinologist visiting program organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China to Xinjiang was indeed a mesmerizing experience, and I was fortunate to represent India along with the other representatives from 21 countries. Xinjiang, which is being less explored and understood in terms of its culture and society, stands out to be different among all other provinces in China I have been so far.

The region is rich in a variety of resources, including its natural beauty, flora and fauna, fruits and crops, greenery, racial and ethnic diversity, and a robust culture and history that it has preserved over the course of many years. Understanding the current situation in Xinjiang comes with many aspects, and assessing what's going on in the region should be seen with different perspectives.

To begin with, one must first have an understanding of the growth taking place in China, which includes Xinjiang as well. Even though it is surrounded by mountains, basins and desert, Xinjiang boasts every advanced infrastructural facility that one would normally expect to see in the metro cities of China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Shenzhen, etc. The regional capital, Urumqi, features a variety of modern amenities, including skyscrapers, big malls, broad roads and flyovers, metro and bus stations, banks, universities, and multinational fast-food chains like McDonald's, KFC and Burger King.

When compared to China's more developed cities like Shanghai and Beijing, the cost of living in this city is noticeably more reasonable. It is possible to get by on less money spent on food and public transport without sacrificing the quality of either. There are also a lot of large public parks in the city where people may go to relax and take in the sights of the city.

A little girl happily poses for a picture. [Photo provided by Shikha Pandey to chinadaily.com.cn]

While exploring the streets during the day, one could come across the locals from the diverse ethnic background such as Han, Uygur, Hui, Kazak, Kirgiz ethnic groups and more. The locals seem to get curious to see a foreign face among the crowd, since not many foreigners are seen in the city compared to the other cities in China. On many occasions, while exploring the streets of Urumqi or Kashgar, I was being asked by many of the locals about my nationality or they themselves guessed whether I am an Indian. I could see their excitement getting doubled upon knowing that I am from India, since the influence of Bollywood is strong there and most of them know Shahrukh Khan and Amir Khan through the Bollywood movies. The kids I met on a street were happily taking selfies with me and a friend accompanying me.

It was very convenient to go around the places and communicate with the locals, since language wasn't a barrier for me. The night life in Urumqi is equally enthusiastic with a lot of street food to eat and clubs and pubs to visit, which runs till late night. I also ran across a few Indian medical students on the street going to have some street food. They told me that they have come from Bangalore, Delhi and Jaipur and are pursuing their medical studies from Xinjiang Medical University in Urumqi.

A local makes popular Xinjiang naan on the street of Urumqi. [Photo provided by Shikha Pandey to chinadaily.com.cn]

Xinjiang exhibits remarkable natural beauty and boasts a stunning and awe-inspiring terrain. The geographical location of Xinjiang has favored it in every aspect of displaying its beauty. The northern region of Xinjiang is encompassed by the Altai Mountains, characterized by their snowy peaks. Moving towards the central part, the landscape is defined by the Tianshan Mountains, also adorned with snow-capped summits, as well as the Turpan Basin, which holds the distinction of being the lowest point below sea level in China.

An old man is basking in the sun in autumn. [Photo provided by Shikha Pandey to chinadaily.com.cn]

In the southern part of Xinjiang, the Kunlun Mountains dominate the scenery, accompanied by the Tarim Basin, known as the driest region in Eurasia, and the Taklamakan Desert. I had the privilege of visiting the Tianshan Mountain and the Heavenly Lake, the Turpan City, the historical town of Jiaohe, Thousand Buddha Caves and the historic city of Kashgar, which holds significance as one of the key cities along the ancient silk route.

The snow-capped Tianshan Mountains. [Photo provided by Shikha Pandey to chinadaily.com.cn]
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