Urumqi is the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the most 'inland' city in the world. With a population of two million gaily-dressed ethnic inhabitants, the city is likened to a piece of emerald embedded at the foot of the Tianshan Mountains. It lies in the lofty ice-capped Bogda Peak and vast Salt Lake in the east; in the rolling pine-covered Southern hill, a well-known scenic district, in the south; and in the alternating fields and sand dunes of Zunggar Basin in the northwest.
The temperature in Urumqi widely ranges between day and night as it belongs to the semi-arid continental climate of middle temperate zone. The climate is extremely arid due to long period of sunlight and bare precipitation. It has shorter spring and autumn; and longer winter and summer. May to October is the golden season for traveling to Urumqi, when flowers are in full bloom and the fruits, like melons, are ripe with its fragrance. Here we should indicate that there are two hours time difference between Xinjiang and Beijing. The local working time is usually from 09:30 or 10:00. You had better not start your travel plan before 08:00 in the morning since it is still dark at that time.
Tourist resources of Urumqi have its own advantages and distinctions, which are strategically important in the ancient Silk Road that assembles the cultures of both eastern and western countries. The most famous tourist spots among the numerous cultural relics and natural landscapes include the Heavenly Lake, the Southern Pastures, the Red Hill, the Southern Mosque, the Tartar Mosque, and the Xinjiang Regional Museum.
In recent years, the city of Urumqi has continuously developed its economy, industry, culture as well as tourism and transportation. More choices for accommodation and dining, ranging from luxury hotels to budget hostels and from western restaurants to the local food street have been established. Nightlife in Urumqi provides multiple-range of choices such as watching the ethnic sing-and-dance show, tasting native delicacies in the night market, or simply hanging out in bars. Coming to Urumqi will not let you return to your country empty-handed. Shopping in the International Grand Bazaar is a pleasant experience. Bargain hunting for handicraft souvenirs such as rugs, carpets, Uygur-style hats, knitted sweaters, ethnic costumes, hand-made embroideries and jade carvings, will definitely draw your intense interest.
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Although the earliest activities of humans in this region can be traced back to the Neolithic Age, Urumqi has not been as prosperous a city as Beijing or Xian, as a result of its remote geographic location. The ancient Jushi People were said to be the first inhabitants in this land, making a nomadic living on the north slope of the Tianshan Mountains.
Until the Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), the government stationed troops there to reclaim wasteland near to the city in order to ensure security for the Silk Road. In 640, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the first official prefecture was set up to administer the area on the north slope of the Tianshan Mountains, namely the Tingzhou State. During this period, Urumqi was called Luntai County which was under the control of the Tingzhou State with the other three counties. It was once a military stronghold for the Tang Dynasty to defend against their enemy.
The city's fortunes began to rise in the middle of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when the Emperor Qianlong stationed troops and constructed an earthen city in the south of what is now Urumqi. The first step of the city's building project was taken in 1758. In 1763 , the city was extended and its name was changed to Dihua. In 1772, a new city called Gongning was built to the west of Dihua and acted as the military center for all regions of Urumqi. During this period agriculture, business and manufacture had developed rapidly, which had, in turn, stimulated population growth. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, the government set up Gansu and Xinjiang Province in this region and appointed Dihua as its capital. As such, Dihua become the political center of the Xinjiang region from then on.
Nowadays, as the capital city of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Urumqi includes five districts and the Urumqi County. Because of its particular position, it is a transportation hub for linking the south and north area of the Tianshan Mountains as well as connecting Xinjiang and central China.
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The temperature in Urumqi fluctuates greatly between day and night. Urumqi is extremely dry due to its geographical location and continental climate. Spring and autumn are short while winter and summer are long. Remote as it is, the local inhabitants fondly call it 'Urumqi' which translates to mean graceful pasture.
Spring in Urumqi comes comparatively late. Usually the northern suburb of Urumqi has the first touch of spring in late March, the downtown area some two weeks later and the southern suburb ten days later again. Urumqi in summer is flowery and lush. Summer lasts typically for about 90 days in the northern suburb and about 60 days in the downtown area. Urumqi is an ideal place for a summer holiday when the average downtown temperature is about 23C (about 73.4F). From late August, autumn comes to Urumqi, a golden season of fruit harvests. In October you will experience fluctuations between day and night temperatures. The temperature of the long winter in Urumqi is around -15C (about 5F), but the scenery makes up for the cold at that time.
The best period for visiting Urumqi is from May to October when flowers are in full bloom and the melons and fruits smell sweet and are ripe for the picking. Dress warmly even when traveling in the hottest month (July and August) for the temperature differences between morning and night. Be sure to bring a sweater and trench coat in May, June, September and October. During the cold winter (November to March), you will need heavy winter wear.
Detailed information about the Average, Maximun and Minimum Temperatures and the rainfall in Urumqi.
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It is not an exaggeration to say that Urumqi is an expo center of Middle Asian delicacies. Some people think dining in a grand restaurant is a better way to enjoy the local delicacies. However, the fact is not like that. Sometimes, a small nameless snack bar can provide more splendid food. Of course, this situation demands your more patient exploration. Take Er Dao Qiao for an example. There are many snack bars in this place. Please don't despise them for the sake of their tempting snacks.
The Featured Food of Urumqi
Xinjiang Kebabs are chunks of mutton thread on skewers and roasted over charcoal. The kebabs are turned continually and basted frequently, and when they are almost done, salt, pepper paprika and cumin are sprinkled on them. Kebabs are crispy outside and tender inside, slightly salty and hot. They are not greasy and have no unpleasant smell. They are sold in the streets and bazaars throughout Xinjiang. The Yang Fan Kebabs at May the First night market is one of the most popular kebabs restaurants in Urumqi.
Nang is Uygurs' food. Uygurs cannot miss eating a Nang any day. Nang comes in more than 10 varieties. Nang is roasted in a special oven which is made of mud and earth otherwise the process is similar to cooking pancakes. The ingredients include wheat flour, corn flour or sorghum flour, with such seasoning as sesame seeds, onions, eggs, vegetable oil, butter, milk, salt and sugar. Nang in gold yellow is crispy and tasty. It is easily portable and it keeps well.
Roasted Stuffed Buns is another Uygurs' food very popular at festivals or wedding. The stuffing of the buns is a combination of chopped mutton, beef and sheep's-tail fat. Then add chopped onions, salt and cumin. Seal the stuffing in dough square, and put in an oven to roast for 10 - 20 minutes. The buns are thin-skinned, with tender meat stuffing and very delicious.
Xinjiang Noodles (Lamian) are hand-pulled noodles which are soft and even. They are dressed with fried mutton piece, onions, cooked tomatoes and chili peppers. Locals and visitors consume noodles with gusto.
Zhua Fan (Rice Eaten with Hands) is cooked with ingredients from fresh mutton, carrot, vegetable oil and rice. This food is soft, delicious and nutritious. It is consumed at the festivals, funerals and weddings of Uygurs and Uzbeks. People habitually pick the food from the tray by hand hence the name 'Rice Eaten with Hands'. Nowadays, people use chopsticks and spoons instead of fingers. We recommend the No.17 restaurant in May the First night market and Wuyuehua Restaurant opposite No. 17 in Hetian Jie for your Zhua Fan experience.
Other specialties worth mentioning are Milk Tea, Yoghourt Made of Mare's Milk, Rice-Filled Sausages, and Stewed Mutton Eaten by Hands, etc.
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Fruits and Melons
Xinjiang is not only recognized as being a station on the Silk Road, but is also known as the 'Home of Fruits and Melons' Changes in temperature from morning to evening, long hours of sunshine and careful irrigation all work together to give the fruits of Xingjian bright color and sweet pulp. There are hundreds of species of grapes, muskmelons, watermelons, apples, pears, apricots, peaches, pomegranates, cherries, figs, and walnuts, and large quantities of fruits and melons are transported to other parts of the country and abroad. To buy fruits and melons, you can simply go to the supermarkets or you can choose to go to a local agriculture market. The most famous market is the Bei Yuan Chun Market in No.7 Kelamayi Xi Lu where you can find the largest variety of fruits and other agriculture products and experience the warmth of the culture.
Xinjiang Carpets and Rugs are famous for their exquisite craftsmanship and brilliant artistic style. The design and color vividly reflect both national and regional features. They are all woven manually by the Uygur people, and are generally made of wool.
Atlas is a kind of silk fabric with fine intricate patterns that Uygur women like very much, and is renowned for its multiple and resplendent colors. Usually the colors include sharp contrasts such as viridis, sapphire, indigo, yellow, peach, orange, gold, mauve, black, white, etc. The patterns are well-knit and lifelike, representing the light and color of nature. Atlas silk is soft, flexible, beautiful in patterns and excellent in quality. It is used by the local people not only for costuming but also as an interior ornament.
Full of rich history and unique ethnic character, folk handicrafts have a high place in today's exports of Xinjiang and can be found in the ethnic market. The Uygur-style hats, knitted sweaters, ethnic costumes, hand-made embroideries, jade carvings and carpets are all popular souvenirs bought by visitors.
Where to Buy
As the economic center, Urumqi plays a leading role in the autonomous region. During recent years, big shopping centers, department stores and supermarkets have started springing up all over the city. These large stores bring great convenience to the public as well as speed up the economic growth of the city.
To experience the life of the minority region, The International Grand Bazaar in Er Dao Qiao is an essential place to visit. It is a magnificent commercial architectural complex embodied with a strong flavor of Islam. It consists of a Banquet Hall, Gourmet Square, Sightseeing Tower, Open-air Stage and Islam Mosque, and encompasses a total space of 100,000 square meters. The Bazaar furnishes different kinds of goods made in Xinjiang as well as other neighboring countries, and offers all the ethnic food and souvenirs you would anticipate. Sometimes pleasant negotiation with venders is required.
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Heavenly Lake (Tian Chi)
In the middle of Bogda Peak, 110 km (68miles) east of Urumqi, nestles Heavenly Lake. Covering 4.9 square kilometers (1.89 square miles), this crescent-shaped lake deserves its name, Pearl of Heavenly Mountain (Tianshan Mountain). With melted snow as its source, Heavenly Lake enjoys crystal water.
In summer, the beautiful lake is an ideal cool resort. Boaters on the lake see the ever-changing silvery mountains soaring into the blue sky, their slopes highlighted with verdant pasture and flamboyant wild flowers. Fishing at dusk has its own special charm. A day in this fairyland promises restoration.
Heavenly Lake, a relic of the Quaternary Period Glacier and its surrounding geological relics, offers science lovers exploring opportunities.
Shanxi Great Mosque
Located in the northern end of Jianzhong Road in Urumqi, Shanxi Great Mosque is the biggest Islamic mosque in the city. Unlike other Islamic mosque in Urumqi, Shaanxi Great Mosque was built in Chinese traditional brick and wooden architecture style. First built in the reign of Emperor Guangxu in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the mosque can hold a thousand people to pray. The main hall is supported by 40 red wooden pillars. On the archway, there are exquisitely carved the words excerpted from Quran. The architectural style and the delicate carvings in the mosque are rare and wonderful.
South Pasture is located 60 kilometers away from Urumqi city which is about 2 hours drive. It is a vast natural area with fascinating scenery.
It's landscape stretches into the distance and is painted with flocks of sheep and horses and yaks grazing among the wild flowers. Deep in the lush valley, a waterfall gently drops down and integrates with the peaceful surroundings.
Located in the downtown of Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, the Southern Mosque is an important historic heritage site. This center of Moslem worship was built in 1919 and subsequently renovated on three different occasions. Covering an area of about one acre, the mosque accommodates 1,100 Moslems.
The most eye-catching architectural features on the property are found in the minaret; the bathing pool; the guest reception hall and most impressive and exquisite of all, the prayer hall. The roof the prayer hall is covered with a variety of glazed tiles and the ceiling is decorated with colorful patterns of flowers and plants. There are also 22 flying dragons carved on the ridge that add to the building's magnificence. The prayer hall has an inside section that can accommodate about 300 worshippers and an outside with a capacity of 500. The corridor walls separating the two sections are festooned with vividly painted screens of orchids, bamboos and water lilies.
Kanas Nature Reserve
Located in Burqin County of Altay City within the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and sharing borders with Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, Kanas Nature Reserve boasts a beautiful natural ecosystem formed by lakes, rivers, glaciers, forests, and grasslands.
Southern Pastures (West White Poplar Gully)
The word 'Urumqi' originally means 'Beautiful Pastures' in Mongolian. Fortunately in the suburb of the city of Urumqi there lies the Southern Pastures, a beautiful pasture the pastoral Kazakh inhabit and graze in summer.
Covering an area of 119 square kilometers (about 45 square miles), Southern Pastures, the natural large and famous summer resort, 75 kilometers (about 46 miles) away from the city, is located in the Southern Mountain, the area at the northern foot of Karawuquntag Mountain.
The magnificent Tartar Mosque, located at the south end of the Jiefang Road of Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Atonomous Region, was built by the local Tartar people in 1897 entirely from donations. The mosque is the center for peaceful Islamic activities in Urumqi City. Covering over 3,000 square meters (0.74 acre), the community worship hall alone is over 800 square meters (0.2 acre) and accomodates people by the thousands. As expected, the decor is elaborate with exquisite porches, carvings, and paintings all throughout.
Tartar Mosque is one of the very few mosques open to visitors. All visitors need to gain approval to enter the mosque.
Located in the southwestern side of the junction of Qinghaisi Lane and the south Heping Road, Qinghai Mosque was originally called Xining Mosque, built from the donation of Qinghai Hui people in 1868. Covering an area of 1,232 square yards, it is a brick and wood structure building which is mainly composed of the main hall and gatehouse. Overhauled in 1918 and 1947, it is endowed with strong Islamic flavor and can hold over 500 people to worship.
Located on the east side in the middle of Jianzhong Road, Hezhou Mosque was first built in the late 19th century and rebuilt in 1988. The mosque is featured with the updated style. The main hall is a brick and wood structure architecture and covers an area of 572 square yards. On the ridge of it stand a glittering green dome, and the four corners of it prick up another four smaller domes. The whole building presents an imposing and solemn atmosphere.
Red Hill (Hong Shan)
Red Hill is a symbol of Urumqi, owing to its uniqueness. The body of the mountain, made up of aubergine rock, has a reddish brown color, hence, the name Red Hill. The hill is 1.5km (0.93miles) long and 1km (0.62miles) wide from east to west.
Less than 1km away, Yamalike Hill stands facing Red Hill. Legend has it that in ancient times a red dragon fled from Heavenly Lake and the Heavenly Empress caught him and sliced him in two with her sword. Later on, a hill was formed by each half of the dragon. The western hill is Yamalike Hill and the eastern one is Red Hill. The sword turned into the Urumqi River. Oddly enough, topographic pictures tell us the two hills were once one and were separated into two parts due to stratum rupture.
Xinjiang Regional Museum
Situated in Xibei Lu, in Urumqi City, the Xinjiang Regional Museum is a large integrated museum and centre for the collection and study of cultural relics in Xinjiang.
The museum, which was built in 1953, has an exhibition hall that covers an area of about 7,800 square meters (approx. 9,328 square yards). The building is in a Uigur style, the internal decor having strong ethnic features.
In total there are over 50,000 items in the collection. These not only represent the ethnic lifestyle and humanity of the region but also illustrate its revolutionary spirit. With such an abundance of items on display, the exhibition is widely acknowledged for its comprehensive and informative nature both at home and abroad.
The exhibition relating to folk customs includes costumes, tools and every day necessities. Together they vividly illustrate for us the dress, lifestyle, religion, marriage customs, festivals and other aspects of the colorful life of the 12 minorities that live in Xinjiang.
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Urumqi International Airport is one of the most important airports in western China. It is a passageway connecting China and Middle Asia, West Asia, Europe and Africa. If given a bird's eye view of the entire construction, it resembles an elegant flying swan. The buildings consist of an International Waiting Hall, a National Waiting Hall and two VIP Lounges. Restaurants, shops, broadcast center and information counters within the airport offer you many conveniences.
Urumqi is linked by rail to six major Chinese cities, including Xian, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Zhengzhou and Lanzhou. Due to the great distances, we strongly advise you to take hard or soft sleeper berth. Train services also connect Urumqi with other main cities in Xinjiang, such as Korla, Aksu, Kuitun, and Liuyuan. An international railway line from Urumqi to Almaty, Kazakhstan is available. The train station is in the southwest part of the city. It will cost you CNY10 to take a taxi from the city center to the station. Public Bus No.2, 8, 10, 16, 20, 36, 44, 50 and 58 can take passengers to the railway station. There are ticket offices situate in Huanghe Lu and No.3 in Jianshe Lu. Remember to buy tickets at least three days in advance.
By Long-distance Bus
Long-distance buses go to most cities in Xinjiang every day. There are also special tourist lines to Heavenly Lake (120 kilometers), Southern Pastures (75kilometers), Turpan (200kilometers), Shihezi (150kilometers), etc.
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