Destinations Magazine

Urumqi: China's Far West City!

By Josephharrison1990 @JTAH_1990
With my first day in Urumqi so full packed I had to leave one element out of the first post, braving a freak rain and thunderstorm I tried my best to discover more during the first night. After returning from Kashgar, the two days that I spent in the city fared to be mental for a reason that was out of my control. Out of the crazy I saw some unforgettable sights! Go, U!
Urumqi: China's Far West City!My first day spent in Urumqi was the gift that just kept giving, with my afternoon completed with the things I had wanted to achieve I needed a rest! Fresh from my short breather I bounced back, with a two hour time difference compared with Beijing I took my time. Making my way down to Urumqi's Erdaoqiao International Food Street had to be done, the following day would see me leave the city for Kashgar! The heavens opened good and proper as the majestic orange skies presented Urumqi with a gargantuan thunderstorm, it was spectacular to witness! Arriving at the food street after the rain had eased gave me views that I wasn't expecting to see. It took a few moments or so for the stalls to resume their business after the downpour, within about ten minutes orders were flying out of the stands as the mix of locals and tourists enjoyed the local Xinjiang foods. U, I already knew that I wanted some tasty lamb kebabs! 
Recovery from the rain was quick, the volunteers scurried around with bin liners to clear the rubbish from the tables. I found somewhere to sit, the rain dared to start once again but it was only a small shower. Feeling thirsty after my long day, I wanted to try some of the local beer and with a draft beer stall it was a done deal! The whole street looked very new but it was just what I was expecting to see, I loved hearing the different Chinese and Uyghur languages as people enjoyed their evening, a contrast in cultures once again. Throughout my first day in Urumqi, it had been manic but I was able to relax with my beer and delicious foods within that Xinjiang style food street! Did I want to try any Kashi Water Ice Cream? No, I would be on the night train the next day to that place, I wanted everything to be as authentic as possible! Content with the days offerings I started the walk back to my hotel, the streets were so quiet and if truth be told I felt so safe. That day concluded!
Urumqi: China's Far West City!Rising bright and early the following day I put my best foot forward, finding myself at Urumqi's own Hongshan Park to find its famous red pagoda. I didn't know anything about that park but I was willing to walk up the steep hill to find the red pagoda. Leaving my hotel early doors, I flagged a taxi bound for Hongshan Park, the constant use of Didi taxis in Beijing had me feeling as if I was back in Wuhan, I just don't flag taxis in the capital! The security check was relaxed and the parks entrance stood still, that impressed me much because I loathe crowds. As I neared the top of the peak, a lovely vista of a growing city fronted me with a series of striking mountains as Urumqi's backdrop! Catching the first glimpses of the pagoda gave me another lovely view of the city and its mountainous backdrop, would I be climbing those steps to the top? No chance, URC! Admiring the view from a space where I felt comfortable was the ticket!
With my imminent departure to Kashgar that afternoon, I kept up the pace after I had caught a glimpse of Urumqi's Red Hill and Zheng Long Ta. Walking back to my hotel was just the thing, the city was waking up because it followed its own local time zone rather than Beijing's standard time. Finding a great place for lunch was a winner, chowing down on some lovely local Uyghur food satisfied those cravings during my Xinjiang holiday. Checked out of my hotel it was time to head for Urumqi's Railway Station for my overnight train to Kashgar, I wasn't ready for that train station! Getting my passport and tickets ready for another check, the train station security staff were baffled by my Chinese visa and British passport, thankfully I had some Chinese language skills to explain my legitimacy in China. I had a lot of time to kill but that gave me the perfect opportunity people watch, soaking in that new culture and language once again it was still amazing to be in China!
Urumqi: China's Far West City!Touching down from Kashgar allowed me to spend two days in Urumqi before my Turpan sector. I had booked a seriously cheap hotel that gave me some serious drama, more about that in a few moments. Leaving for Urumqi's Heavenly Lake brought up no issues, having a little sleep in the car was necessary. Getting past the security check I was narked by the procedures but the whole rigmarole to reach the banks of the Heavenly Lake was worth every piece of madness! The weather held out, only some cloud presented itself but it was cool enough for it not to be cold. I gazed into the distance, finding  my own secret gateway to paradise. The water lay still, the mountains shimmered with a green sheen, I was not bothered by the selfie sticks and the tour groups because the magnificent lake put me in a heavenly state of mind. I appreciated the view, sitting amongst the greenery whilst the hoards of tourists acted the fool! Go on!
Renting a private car and driver to take me from my hotel to the lake had to be done, I wasn't messing with any tourist buses. Being Xinjiang the heightened security checks posed more of a headache for me as an independent foreign traveler in a region of China that hasn't truly opened to foreign tourism, the fee for the car was well spent considering the nature of the place. Thanks to China's easy functioning apps and a good travel expert friend, it was all good! Rules and passports aside the landscape that surrounded the Heavenly Lake transported me to another world, the lush green pastures and mountainous scenery fooled me as if I was in Turkey. When all was said and done, the mornings visit to Urumqi's most beautiful landmark left me feeling very accomplished indeed! I wasn't going to miss those tourists but I would be missing those gorgeous Tianshan Mountains for sure! Acting like a boss I got myself a new hotel room, it was almost a disaster but I was savvy enough to sort it!
Urumqi: China's Far West City!Fed up with having no running water and the general dankness of that awful budget hotel I snatched a full refund, consulting my go-to hotel booking app I managed to book another room and get myself into a taxi within no time. Arriving at my new hotel I was faced with some serious discrimination, something wasn't right because people were checking in and rooms were available! Calling my hotel booking company up, I stated they had a duty of care since I had a confirmed room within their booking system. I knew the situation before the hotel manager could spin any more fabricated chat, within five minutes the company had found me a nearby hotel that accepted foreigners, closed mouths don't get fed! The final hotel choice of that day was ten times better than my original abode, running water was found so I could relax! I wasn't going to let my drama impact on the evenings exploration time in URC! Get it together!
Feeling refreshed and blessed, I made it back to the city's Tianshan District for some Samsa and a haircut. I was in desperate need of a refresh, food came first because the day hadn't left me with anytime to eat. Embracing the buzzing Uyghur center within Urumqi's Heping Road once again gave me life, children were playing out in the street and the infusion of foods could be smelt in the air. I devoured some tasty Samsa, they were like lamb pasties and they tasted gorgeous! Finding a Uyghur barbershop across the road allowed me to get my fresh cut for a bargain price compared with bargain soaring prices for a new do! That day had been bonkers, from the idyllic scenery of the Heavenly Lake to then being rejected from my rebooked hotel, things all ended well! Feeling content with my cut I revisited the food street for a less rainy view, grabbing a drink or two it was time for bed. Urumqi had served two unique days in its entirety during my summer holiday, oh it was complete madness!
Unbelievable Urumqi!
Joseph Harrison 

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