Urumqi, often included on Silk Road tours of far western China, is a modern city that wasn't actually part of the ancient silk trade. Urumqi (pronounced uh-RUM-chee) is an Islamic city inhabited by a variety of people speaking various Turkic languages (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, Tadjiks, Sibo). The boring Soviet-style architecture is forgotten once you begin to interact with the interesting people. Urumqi is located 1,500 mi/2,400 km west of Beijing.

The city itself doesn't have many sights, but visit the Xinjiang Museum and the bazaar. The surrounding areas are scenic, particularly on the way to Tianchi (the Lake of Heaven), which is 60 mi/100 km southeast of Urumqi. A trip into the desert, past sapphire-colored water, snowcapped mountains and Kazakh yurts (felt tents), takes you to wonderful hiking trails in the surrounding valleys. We also enjoyed visiting with the Kazakhs who live on the grasslands outside of Urumqi.

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