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2.110557 - CHINESE MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - XINJIANG: A Cultural Tour with Traditional Chinese Music (NTSC)
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Xinjiang – A Cultural Tour with Traditional Chinese Music


1. Kashgar Old City

Kashgar marks the end of China’s frontier, the very end of China. Jets and buses have replaced camels, for the most part, but Kashgar is the nexus of a Central Asian modern Silk Road.

The Old City of Kashgar is well known. Sprawling on both sides of Jiefang Lu in Kashgar are roads full of Uighur shops and narrow alleys lined with adobe houses out of some early twentieth-century picture-book. Standing on the roof terrace of any adobe house, you may hear the prayers “Allahu-Akbar” from the mosques in the distance. Pigeons wheel above your head, with blue pigeons the favourite of local people. Many local residents have their kitchen cupboards built on the roof terrace, where they also plant oleander, sunflowers, and figs.

The alleys in the Old City are very quiet. Once in a while pedlars pass by. The light and shade formed by the adobe houses and the alleys provides a perfect shelter from the sun-light, especially in hot summer, and suggests a picturesque wood engraving in black and white.

It is easy to get lost in the Old City. Remember the following tip: hexagonal bricks on the ground means “Road Ahead”; rectangular bricks on the ground means “No Through Road”.

The Old City is much smaller than it once was, but is still one of the most fascinating places in Xinjiang; tourism will probably preserve what is left. At the eastern end of Seman Road stands a ten metre high section of the former town walls, which are at least 500 years old.

Music: The Maiden of Daban / A Wa Er Gu Li


2. Heavenly Lake

Heavenly Lake (Tianchi Lake), a small but long, steely-blue lake situated below the spectacular 5,445 metres high “Peak of God”, is about 2,000 metres up in the Tian Shan mountain range. Scattered across the stunning spruce-covered slopes are Kazakh yurts and flocks of sheep. There are many tourists, yet there is plenty of space. It is possible to take a horse and ride up to the snow line, although this is not always appreciated.

Formed about a hundred thousand years ago, Heavenly Lake has an average depth of about 60 metres and covers a maximum area of 4.9 square kilometres. As peaks rise one above the other and the water and the sky blend into one colour, Heavenly Lake is imbued with tranquillity and serenity.

Historically Heavenly Lake used to be an untraversed area. From the Yuan Dynasty the place gradually became a retreat for Taoists. Up to the Qing Dynasty, Taoism reached its peak in the area. There were over ten temples and monasteries there. Now in the protected ecosystem of Heavenly Lake, there are more than two hundred types of plants, the major one of which is spruce. Wildlife includes snow leopard, snow cock, brown bear, and argali.

Music: Tashwayi


3. Abakh Khoja Tomb

Abakh Khoja Maziri, located on the north-eastern outskirts of Kashgar and covered in splendidly mismatched glazed tiles, is best known among Uighurs as the resting place of Abakh Khoja, one of Kashgar’s most popular rulers. It is said that among others interred here is Ikparhan, his grand-daughter. Known as Xiang Fei (Fragrant Concubine), she led the Uighurs in revolt, but was defeated in the end and became one of the Qianlong Emperor’s favourite concubines.

It is said that Emperor Qianlong had a beauty spot from Kashgar imitated in his palace grounds with a mosque, in order to ease Xiang Fei’s homesickness, but in vain. After her death, her remains were sent back and buried at the Abakh Khoja Tomb in Kashgar. Yet according to historical records, the remains of Xiang Fei were buried in Hebei Province after her death.

There are some other tombs scattered throughout Kashgar, but many of these are now adjacent to housing complexes. The only ones remaining are in a state of disrepair.

Night in Urumqi

Urumqi’s Silk Road history is impressive. Its Mongolian name, Urumqi, hints at a place of fertile pasture-land. Travellers may still expect to see one or two camels chewing contentedly, but they will be surprised when they find Urumqi a modern and relatively efficient city. At night the neon lights illuminate a city with a vibrant economy, of increasing importance in Central Asia. Apart from the provincial museum and nearby Tianchi, Urumqi is basically a practical centre, where all the necessary preparations can be made for various trips through Xinjiang, Central Asia or back into China.

Music: Muqam (excerpts)


4. Flaming Mountains

98 kilometres in length and 9 kilometres in width, the midday appearance of the Flaming Mountains is aptly compared to multi-coloured tongues of fire. The Flaming Mountains were immortalised in the Chinese classic Journey to the West as a mountainous inferno that the Tang Priest had to pass through. In the end Sun Wukong managed to obtain a magic fan and extinguished the blaze.

Compare this with the Uighur version, in which a hero slays a dragon living within the mountains (its blood, hence, is the colouring) and slices it into eight pieces each of which represents a valley here.

It is possible to clamber around in places and steps now lead up, but only in the early morning. A fan is essential.

Emin Minaret

Emin Hoja, a Turpan general, founded this splendid mosque and minaret in 1777, which is also known as Su Gong Minaret. 37 metres in height, the minaret remains the largest of its kind in Xinjiang area. It has 15 simple brick motifs including flowers and waves, which leap from the structure. The azure sky and lush green of the grape fields outside provide a wondrous photo backdrop. Visitors can climb to the mosque’s roof, but cannot enter the minaret.

Karez Well

The Karez is a very distinctive irrigation system in the arid areas in Turpan, Xinjiang.

The Karez is usually composed of vertical wells, underground channel, channel on the ground, and waterlogging dam. The construction of an underground channel was the hardest and most dangerous work. To excavate and ventilate the channel, a vertical well was dug every 20–30 metres apart along the path of the channel. The waterlogging dam is indeed a kind of reservoir to regulate the irrigation.

The city of Turpan owes its existence to these vital wells and channels, some of which were constructed over 2,000 years ago. There are over a thousand wells, and the total length of the channels runs to an incredible 5,000 kilometres, longer than that of Yangtze River or Huang River. All constructed by hand without modern machinery or building materials, Karez is regarded together with the Great Wall and the Grand Canal as one of the “three greatest ancient projects in China”.

Ancient City of Jiaohe

Jiaohe was established by the Chinese as a garrison town during the Han Dynasty. Also named Yarkhoto, Jiaohe is one of the world’s largest, oldest, and best-preserved ancient cities. About 10 kilometres west of Turpan, the Jiaohe Ruins stand on a loess plateau bound by two small rivers.

If you decide to visit only one desert city in Xinjiang, make it this one: the buildings of Jiaohe Ruins are more obvious than those of Gaochang Ruins, and you can walk through the old streets and along the old roads. A main street cuts through the city; at the northern end is a large monastery with Buddhist figures still visible.

Music: The Moonless Sky


5. Geographical Centre of Asia

Ya Xin, the Geographical Centre of Asia, is located at Yong Feng Township, Urumqi County, Xinjiang Province, about 30 kilometres from Urumqi City.

This is a village called “Bao Jia Cao Zi”. Over a dozen families are scattered there, making a living tending sheep. One day in the summer of 1992, people from the Xinjiang Geography Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences came and interrupted the tranquillity of this small village. They staked off a site for the Geographical Centre of the Continent of Asia—87° 19’ 32” E, 43° 40’ 37” N.

Now, an 18-metre-tall A-shaped tower has replaced that simple and crude marker—A stands for Asia. The construction of Ya Xin Park, which is estimated to cost over 100 million yuan, is still under way.

Wind Power Plant in Daban City

If you leave Urumqi City and drive west for about 49 kilometres, you will get close to the famous Chaiwobao Lake, which now belongs to Daban City. A gorgeous view of the endless windmills is afforded from the side of the road. This is the largest wind power plant in Asia, which is a joint venture between China and Holland. Right now, there are over 200 windmills at the plant, which has an annual capacity of 100,000 kilowatts of electricity. The blue sky, the Bogeda Mountain in the distance, and hundreds of windmills form a beautiful photo backdrop.

Music: Turpan Grapes are Ripe


6. Id Kah Mosque

At Kashgar the yellow-tiled Id Kah Mosque dates from 1442. It is said that it used to be above a cemetery on the outskirts of town, but now it is the heart of the city, and not just geographically. The mosque is so huge that its courtyard and gardens can hold 20,000 people during the annual Kurban Bayram celebrations.

Non-Muslims may enter the mosque but Fridays are usually impossible. Local women are rarely seen inside but western women are usually ignored if they are modestly dressed (arms and legs covered and a scarf on the head); this applies to men as well (no shorts and T-shirts). Discretion should be used in taking photos. Shoes should be removed before entering carpeted areas.

Bazaar in Kashgar

The Sunday Market is definitely a feature of Kashgar. At sunrise, the otherwise somnolent town is invaded by hordes of bleating and whinnying animals, along with an army of friendly shepherds, traders, farmers, artisans, nomads and itinerants, as well as the curious, and what seems like an equal number of tourists furiously clicking shutters, overwhelmed by the sheer lovely madness that is this market. The market is open daily and a little less crowded on weekdays. This is the place where you will find carpets, clothing and boots, hats and Uighur knives.

Southeast of the city is the Livestock Market, with an equal livestock-to-people ratio.

Kashgar’s Sunday Market can get fairly touristy, but don’t be discouraged, there are plenty of other lesser-known markets to visit. For starters, try the Sunday market at Hotan, the Monday market in Upal, the Tuesday market in Charbagh or the Friday market in Kuqa.

Music: Half Moon Rising / The Tarim River


7. Rainbow City

Rainbow City used to be an unknown destination, regarded as a “place of death”. It was said that nobody ever came out ot that place alive. What a mysterious world!

In the early 1980s Rainbow City was discovered by oil prospectors and soon became a well-known tourist place in China.

Walking into Rainbow City is like entering a dreamland. Different, strange colours dazzle and overwhelm the senses from all sides. The hills, small or large, are all painted in these odd combinations of colours, which present optical illusions that are beyond imagination. Everywhere in Rainbow City, there are picturesque scenes such as oil paintings by masters.

As a master-work of nature, Rainbow City is made up of dozens of colourful hills. To appreciate this it is necessary to spend one night there, as the scenes at Rainbow City have distinctive flavours in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.

Music: Why are Flowers so Red?


8. Lake Sayram

120 kilometres north of Yining, the vast Lake Sayram is an excellent place from which to explore Tian Mountain. Owing to its height above sea-level (2,071 metres), Lake Sayram is also called “Lake on the Ridge”. As one of the most beautiful lakes in Xinjian, Lake Sayram is especially colourful during June and July, when alpine flowers blanket the ground. But after the first snow in winter the azure of Lake Sayram becomes frozen, and the lake looks just like a piece of sapphire surrounded by snowy mountains.

There are four small islands in Lake Sayram, and on the largest of these there is an old temple. It is not hard to reach the more untouched mountainous areas, and it is possible to stay there for a day’s hiking. For a wider exploration of the place, a tent is recommended. There is some food available, but the choice is limited and prices expensive. It is better to take what is needed with one.

Buses from Yining to Lake Sayram take about three hours. All buses between Urumqi and Yining pass by Lake Sayram and it is easy to stand by the road and wave one down.

As the lake area is the furthest place reached by the current of air from the Atlantic, Lake Sayram is also called “the last tear-drop of the Atlantic”.

Hami Devil City

Legend has it that Hami Devil City is the place where devils dwell. When the wind blows, whines and cries can be heard. Ghosts may eat up the sheep that intrude from time to time. Legend also has it that two big jars of gold were buried underground in Hami Devil City. Local people on horseback might be desperate gold diggers. At Hami Devil City even mirages are not hard to see.

Occupying an area of about 3,000 square kilometres, Hami Devil City consists of dozens of devil cities of different sizes. In one day only a very small part can be seen. A much larger devil city may stand there just out of sight.

Brown tinged with grey is the basic colour of Hami Devil City. The wind has sculptured these devil cities over centuries. Various shapes, figures, animals, plants, buildings, rivers and mountains, are so vivid that one must marvel at the power of nature.

Music: Wish


9. Hemu Village

Hemu Village is the most northern village in the West of China. It is the most famous Tuvinian village where Tuvinian traditions are preserved. As the biggest and most remote Tuvinian village, Hemu Village has a population of over 1,800, and most of the people are Mongolian or Kazakh. With an area of 3,040 square kilometres, Hemu Village boasts distinctive log cabins, scattered over the hills and plateaux.

Hemu Village is in a fine and untouched landscape. Azure sky, white clouds, snow-capped mountains, primeval forests and plateaux, horses and sheep, rivers and log cabins… all these offer a wonderful experience.

Primitive log cabins have become the symbol of the Tuvinian village. Almost half of each log cabin is buried under earth so as to resist the severe cold lasting for almost six months every year.

Music: Give Me a Rose / Folk Music


10. Kanas Lake

Travellers rave about the splendid alpine scenery at Kanas Lake, a long finger of a lake found in the reaches of the Siberian taiga ecosystem. The forests, occupied by spruce, birch, elm and Siberian larch, are spectacular in autumn; semi-nomadic Kazakhs love to meet travellers.

Many travellers come in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Kanas Lake monster, a mythical beast that has long figured in stories around yurt campfires. The monster reappeared in 2005 and again in 2006, bringing many journalists, but Chinese scientists insist it is just a big school of salmon-like fish.

Great changes are taking place. The government is simultaneously trying to draw more and more tourists here and yet leave less of a footprint, though the area is swarming already in summer.

A great day hike is to the lookout point, Guanyu Pavilion. It is a long, ambling walk from the village (lots of steps); from the top gorgeous panoramas of the lake can be seen. Friendship Peak and the nearby grasslands. There is a similar landscape in the neighbouring valley of Hemu Kanas.

Eighteen kilometres past the entrance to the reserve is a Tuva village, which is now serving as the tourist centre. The area is only accessible from mid-May to mid-October, with ice and snow making transport difficult the rest of the year.

Music: Spring of Tianshan


11. Grape Valley

Grape Valley is located at the western end of Flaming Mountains, about eight kilometres long and two kilometres wide. In the valley brooks babble and vineyards stretch one after another. Uighur cottages are scattered among the vineyards. Different kinds of fruit hang on the trees. All these conjure up a typical pastoral scene in north-western China. In August grapes are ripe in the valley, and it becomes the busiest season of each year. Tourists can savour not only the fresh grapes, but enjoy the sight of beautiful local dances as well.

In recent years Grape Valley has undergone many changes in its large-scale comprehensive development, and has become a 4A-grade national scenic spot. Now in Turpan, there is a new Grape Valley where most of the newly-developed commercial projects are concentrated. Tour guides will mostly take visitors to the new Grape Valley, but for a taste of the traditional flavours of Turpan grapes, it is better to visit old Grape Valley, where rusticity and simplicity still remain.

Music: Black-Eyed Girl


12. Bayanbulak Swan Lake

Swan Lake is situated at Bayin Village in the centre of the Bayanbulak Grassland. About thirty kilometres in length and ten kilometres in width, this plateau lake boasts surrounding snow-capped mountains and snow-covered forests as its natural barrier. Springs and streams flow continuously into Swan Lake. The fertile soil makes it an ideal breeding place for swans and other waterfowl. When the snow and ice melt in spring, groups of swans will fly to Swan Lake from India and southern parts of Africa, and spend the best time of year at this beautiful place for breeding. When the weather grows cold around the start of autumn, the swans leave Swan Lake reluctantly.

Swan Lake is the largest among the seven lakes in Bayanbulak. At this largest swan habitat in China, there are over 10,000 swans and over ten kinds of other rare birds. It is indeed the “Birds’ Paradise”.

Local Mongolian herdsmen regard swans as “holy birds”. Tourists are advised against disturbing them. Watching swans from the viewing areas at this National Nature Reserve is recommended.

Music: In Memory of a Comrade in Arms


13. Southern Pastures

Southern Pastures refers to the part of Tian Mountain that is to the south of Urumqi. The snow-capped peak, glaciers, waterfalls, snow-covered forest and grassland all contribute to the beautiful scenery in this area. On a bright day rocks and snow-capped mountains can be seen all tinged green under the azure sky. It is a wonderful summer resort as well as a perfect ski resort in winter.

There are over ten valleys in this area. Easy of access, each valley has its own distinctive features with a distance of about 50–70 kilometres from Urumqi. The development of tourism can be seen everywhere, which has left its mark on this beautiful scenery.

Glacier No. 1

Tian Mountain is known as the “Kingdom of Glaciers”. There are all together 9,128 different types of glaciers, which form the largest modern glacier area in China. Glacier No. 1 is located upstrream of Urumqi River on the Tianger Mountain, 3,800–4,000 metres above sea-level and 120 kilometres south-west of Urumqi. With a history of four million years, Glacier No. 1 is 2.4 kilometres long, 500 metres wide on average, and covers an area of 1.9 square kilometres.

Glacier No. 1 is the nearest glacier to a city in the world. Around it there are about 150 modern glaciers typical of glacier land-form and sediment. The ancient glacial warp is so well preserved that they have become known as “living glacier fossils”. As the landscape is characteristic of glacier alluvium deposits, this area is the best place in China to research into modern glaciers and ancient glacial warp.

Between mid-May and early November, when snow and ice melt, it is a fantastic experience to take 216 State Highway to visit Glacier No. 1 from Urumqi, as the scenery along 216 State Highway is beyond description.

Music: Our Xinjiang is a Good Place / Almihan

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