Wednesday, September 1, 2010

China's Wild, Wild West

In the last year living in Beijing, I’ve been to the Forbidden City and Summer Palace four times. I’ve traversed the Great Wall three times. And I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve walked from one end of Tiananmen Square to another. Even when traveling on business or personal trips to Shanghai, I’ve found myself in the same places numerous times, the Expo (three times) and the Shanghai World Financial Center (twice) to name a few.

Needless to say, I needed a change of scenery, not to mention a nice trip away from the people mountain, people sea.

Friends suggested I take a vacation to China’s south, to Guilin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region or Kunming in Yunnan to gaze upon the geography and see some of China’s minority groups. A cruise down the Yangtze would be a nice option, too. But despite not having visited most of the cultural relics of China’s eastern provinces, my eyes were turned westward – to Xinjiang.

Way out west, friends who had visited the region told me, was picture perfect mountain ranges and a landscape imaginable only in dreams. There were the non-Han Chinese, Uyghr minority group and their Muslim traditions. And there was the food –oh, the food – that I’d come to eat on a weekly basis at Uyghr restaurants around Beijing. It would essentially be like visiting a different country entirely, they’d said, one full of majestic sights, adventures and excitement. And there would be NO large crowds of tourists.

I booked my flight after hearing those words.

For 11 days (from August 13-23), my girlfriend, Layla, and I would be traveling around the autonomous region by plane, bus, cab and camel.

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