Urumqi is the capital city of Xinjiang province in China. This autonomous region has received negative media publicity due to separatists carrying out bomb attacks and instigating riots in recent years, but during our stay in the city we felt perfectly safe as there was a strong police presence.
We had originally wanted to visit the Tien Shan mountains for some natural scenery, but the day trip was too expensive and the weather was not good. Instead we went to the international grand bazaar located in the Uighur-populated part of the city. It’s very beautiful with the Middle Eastern inspired architecture. There were many stalls selling silk, cashmere products and spices, dried fruits. It feels like the Istanbul bazaar, except that the interior was too modern and artificial, as if it was purposely built for tourists. We had lunch at a local restaurant serving lamb skewers and lamb meat rice. It was delicious and there were many Uighurs dining inside, so it proved that the food is good.
After lunch, we chanced upon a busy back alley with shops, cafes and provision stores. The street was filled with Uighurs only and the products were much cheaper than the international bazaar. In our opinion, this is the real, authentic bazaar. Seeing some people eating some watermelon on the street, we also bought a huge slice (3Y) and ate it with other people standing in a circle. The watermelon was juicy and thirst-quenching. One can also purchase hami melon (cantaloupe) from other vendors.
Other places to visit in Urumqi include People’s Park (人民公园) and Red Hill (红山公园)。At the former, it is a large park in the middle of the city which offeres some respite from the business of the city. There was also a group of old folks dancing to Uighur music in front of a Chinese pavilion, further exemplifying the cohesiveness of the city. Families with children in tow, old folks exercising at the fitness corner and men playing Chinese chess were some sights in People’s Park.
For Red Hill, the main attraction is the panoramic view of the city after a short walk of 15 minutes from the entrance to the viewpoint. For those who are lazing to walk, you can also take a buggy ride (chargeable) to the top. The city skyline was nothing to rave about, just an array of skyscrapers and on a clear day, you can see some rocky mountains in the distance.