Silk Road history, Uyghur heritage
and picturesque mountains
Further from the sea than any other major Chinese city, Ürümqi sits on a dividing line between mountains and desert. Its long history of commerce dates back to the city’s days as an outpost on the northern route of the Silk Road, an era chronicled at the Xinjiang Museum, which also contains mummified remains excavated from the desert. Ruined former trading towns can be found further east along the Silk Road at Turpan.
Regional foods and handicrafts are found at the Erdaoqiao Grand Bazaar, a focal point for Ürümqi’s indigenous Uyghur community. Locals pack out the area’s restaurants, ordering up steaming bowls of Xinjiang’s revered cuisine, such as zhuāfàn, the local take on pilau rice with mutton.
Since being connected to Lanzhou, and Beijing beyond, by high-speed rail, Ürümqi’s influences come increasingly from further east in China. The minarets of mosques and painted eaves of the Confucian Temple embody this urban environment’s cosmopolitan makeup. Locals shop for international brands at lively Tianshan Shopping Mall and New Asia Plaza, located in the sleek city centre near leafy People’s Park. Here, traditional pagodas and a lotus-studded boating lake are overlooked by glass and steel high-rise buildings.
With picturesque Tian Shan mountain range watching over the city, it’s a relatively short journey into loftier, more rural climes. Tianshan Tianchi National Park is home to the serene Heaven Lake, where snow-capped mountains, covered in alpine forest, plunge towards the calm water. Yurt encampments and public walkways dot the water’s edge and colourful boats ply the surface.