After an awesome stay in Dunhuang, we decided to leave Gansu Province and enter Xinjiang Province.
The bus ride (414km) was passing by the endless desert, there was no house, no people anywhere nearby. The only thing we saw were some wild camels and horses.
Our wonderful host in Dunhuang recommended us to take some milk-beers for the long bus ride. We didn’t quite know what to expect. But it was pretty ok. Super sweet and very refreshing.
Xinjiang is the Western-most province in China, a frontier province, next to other countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. In Xinjiang, you can experience the Central Asian culture, experience the smell of teahouse kebabs, go to bazaars and markets and hear the sound of prayers from the neighborhood mosques. Xinjiang is also part of the Silk Road and influenced my many ethnic minorities, such as the Han-Chinese, Uighurs, Kazhaks, Mongols and so on. In the north, you can also find several Russians.
In fact, one classmate from Xinjiang told me not to enter Xinjiang during that time, since our scheduled time is around the sad anniversary of some violent riots a few years ago. Riots between local Uighur-people, an ethnic minority in Xinjiang province and Han-Chinese, the biggest ethnic minority in China. There are always tensions between these two ethnic minorities and even I could feel them. However, as a foreigner, it’s safe to travel in the north of Xinjiang. I can’t speak about the South yet. But it’s still better to pay more attention to safety than usual.
As we entered via the long distance bus, we had to undergo countless security checks at countless checkpoints. Our passports were checked all the time and the military looked pretty vigilant. This is due to several terrorist attacks, that happened in the past.
As usual, I called several hotels in advance and it seemed like in our next destination, Hami (哈密), no hotel would accept any foreigners. I got a little nervous but suddenly one hotel agreed.
The check-in was very interesting. The door of the hotel was a security scanner like in the airports. Afterwards, the boss took a look into our backpacks. You suddenly are treated like a criminal when you enter the hotel.
About 20 minutes after check-in, the military entered our room and told us we can’t stay in that hotel, but they escorted us to another hotel.
We sat in the police car and didn’t know whether to feel worried or protected, sitting between lots of baseball bats, helmets, armor and protection shields.
It turned out to be good, they drove us to a super shabby, smelly, nasty hotel, the corridors and rooms smelled like ashtrays and I don’t want to talk about the toilets..
Well, fine still slightly better than sleeping on the streets, so we checked in.
The main reason of going to Hami was that it was a super convenient stop to our next destination. The city is famous in all China for its delicious melons (哈密瓜). They are said to be the sweetest melons you can find. And indeed, they’re lovely!
After dinner we felt like grabbing a beer, so we asked for the nearest bar, which is not too easy to find in a place where Muslims seem to be the majority. But we were successful and in the bar, we soon met a British guy called Thomas, who teached English in Hami for almost two years and who was obviously happy to meet some westerns in this remote city. We proceeded to a night club, where the Uighurs were dancing to oriental music, which was totally a great experience. We looked like aliens in this place!
The next morning, we went to the Hami Kings Mausoleum, a complex of tombs containing the nine generations of Hami Kings who ruled the region from 1697 to 1930. The green-tiled main tomb is of the seventh king Muhammed Bixir, with family members and government ministers housed in Mongolian-style buildings to the side.
If you pay, you can take photos on the throne, just like a king. The english translation was very interesting:
So it seems to be cheaper to take pictures without clothes. Well..
It was the season of the watermelons, so we took a 7kg watermelon from Hami to our next stop, Turpan (Turfan, 吐鲁番).