The 20 best places to visit in Xinjiang Autonomous Region
Completed in 1442 AD, in the city of Kashgar in the far west of the province is the Id Kah Mosque, from the Persian, 'Place Of Festivities'. The largest mosque in China, every Friday it houses nearly 10,000 worshippers.
20. Id Kah Mosque
Built in 1778 AD at the time of the Qing Dynasty, a short distance south east from the provincial capital, Ürümqi, in the city of Turfan is the Emin Minaret, built to honour a local Turpan general, Emin Khoja. Located along the ancient Silk Route, with a height of 44 metres (144 ft) it is the tallest minaret in China.
19. Emin Minaret
Completed as recently as 2002, in the provincial capital, Ürümqi, is the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar, the largest bazaar in the world. Arguably the most famous landmark in the city, the bazaar is a strange mix of Islamic architecture and culture, modern commerce, entertainment and tourism all rolled into one. The highlight for most visitors is the view from the sightseeing tower, with a height of 80 metres (262 ft) it offers great views over the whole bazaar.
18. Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar
In the far north of the province, between Burqin and Kaba along the Irtysh River is a place known as Wucaitan, translated as, 'Rainbow Beach', 'Five Coloured Hills' or 'Multi Coloured Bay'. Composed of dozens of colourful hills, the land form was created through wind and water erosion over thousands of years. With its mix of reds, yellows, greens and browns across this unusual and rocky terrain, it makes for one of the most alien landscapes in China.
17. Multi-Coloured Bay
Built in 2002, in the provincial capital, Ürümqi, is the Hongguanshan Ecological Park, beautifully located on the Hongguang Mountain. Created primarily for tourism, the enormous complex contains a zoo, vineyards, swimming pools and man made lakes. The highlight of the park is the intricately detailed Dafo Temple and the 41 metre (135 ft) high Buddha Statue, the largest in the province.
16. Hongguanshan Ecological Park
Completed in 1982 to cross the Karakoran Mountains between the south western border of China's Xinjiang Province and Pakistan's Gilgit Baltistan region is the Khunjerab Pass, reaching a peak elevation of 4,880 metres (16,010 ft) above sea level it is the highest point of the Karakoram Highway, and the highest paved international border crossing in the world. For visitors crossing the pass, remember that on the Pakistan side they drive on the left, and on the Chinese side they drive on the right.
15. Khunjerab Pass
South east from the provincial capital, Ürümqi, just east from the city of Turpan are the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, a complex of cave grottoes dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries. Located at the northern end of the Taklamakan Desert, high on the cliffs of the west Mutou Valley in a gorge of the Flaming Mountains, most of the 77 surviving rock cut caves date from the West Uyghur Kingdom between the 10th and 13th centuries. Most of the grottoes have been carved into rectangular shapes with rounded arch ceilings, often covered in hundreds of Buddha murals. Though the quality of the murals vary, some of these ancient paintings are considered masterpieces of religious art.
14. Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
In the north west of the province, to the north west of the provincial capital, Ürümqi, between the Altai Mountains and the Tian Shan is a place known as Wuerhe, nicknamed, 'Monster City' or 'The Ghost Town Of The World'. Shaped by powerful winds over thousands of years, the landscape is one of raised mounds that have taken the shape of temples, towers and homes, whilst others have taken the appearance of animals, making for a truly surreal terrain. Never inhabited, the name of the area has nothing to do with its appearance, instead its name derives from the extremely powerful howling wind that shrieks across the land on a daily basis.
In the east of the province, part of the greater Taklamakan Desert is the 23,000 square kilometre (8,880 square mile) Kumtag Desert National Park, a name that means, 'Sand Mountain'. This great arid land form, bounded by mountains is home to some of the largest sand dunes in the world.
12. Kumtag Desert National Park
In the far west of the province, in the mountains north west from the city of Kashgar is the Tuskuk Tagh, literally 'Hole Mountain', also called the 'Artux Heavenly Gate' or Shipton's Arch after being discovered by English mountaineer Eric Shipton. The tallest arch in the world, it measures a whopping 457 metres (1,499 ft) tall, making it a full 14 metres (46 ft) taller than the Empire State Building. Fantastic for hikers, the well marked trail takes around 1 hour each way and is considered relatively easy.
11. Shipton's Arch
South east from the provincial capital, Ürümqi, just east from the city of Turpan and crossing the Turpan Depression are a set of barren, eroded red sandstone hills known as the Flaming Mountains. Lying at the northern rim of the Taklamakan Desert, the mountains are approximately 100 kilometres (60 miles) in length, with their striking gullies and trenches of exposed red sandstone bedrock giving the mountains a flaming appearance at certain times of day. Being the hottest places in China, an enormous thermometer is on display adjacent to the mountains, frequently exceeding 50 °C (122 °F) throughout the summer months.
10. Flaming Mountains
South west from the provincial capital, Ürümqi, stretching around 300 kilometres (186 miles) through incredible terrain is Swan Lake, a huge area of wetland swamp made up of interconnected lakes, ponds, springs and streams. Between April and October these crystal clear lakes surrounded by verdant grasslands becomes home to thousands of swans before they migrate south.
9. Swan Lake
East of the provincial capital, Ürümqi, within the Tian Shan Forest Park is one of the provinces most popular, picturesque and accessible lakes, the Tianchi, meaning 'Heavenly Lake'. Within beautiful mountainous surrounds, this clear alpine lake makes for a great location, offering visitors views of the Bogda Shan, meaning 'Mountain Of God', with an elevation of 5,445 metres (17,864 ft) above sea level it is the highest mountain in the Bogda Shan Range.
8. Heavenly Lake
South west from the provincial capital, Ürümqi, in the Aksu region in northern Kuqa is the Tian Shan Kuqa Grand Canyon National Forest Park, also known as 'The Mystic Grand Canyon Of The Tianshan' or the 'Keziliya Valley' among many other names. Accessible by a narrow carved winding canyon path, visitors can explore deep into the dry red mountains. As well as the beautiful landscape, the surrounding area is home to a number of ancient treasures, most notably a number of mural covered caves and grottoes. The most well known of these are the Kizil Caves, the Kumtura Thousand Buddha Caves and the Kizilgaha Grottoes.
7. Kuqa Grand Canyon National Forest Park
In the south of the province, extending some 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) from the Pamir Mountains are the Kunlun Mountains, one of Asia's longest mountain chains. Forming the border between Tibet and Xinjiang Province, the Kunlum Mountains constitute the edge of the Tibetan Plateau south of the Tarim Basin. Its highest peak is the Kunlun Goddess, standing 7,167 metres (23,514 ft) above sea level. With very few roads across its entire length, the Kunlun Mountains are one of the least accessible and most remote locations on the planet.
6. Kunlun Mountains
Directly west from the provincial capital, Ürümqi, close to the border with Kazakhstan is the Santai Haizi, better known as the Sayram Lake, meaning 'Blessing'. Located on the edge of the Tian Shan Mountain Range within picturesque rugged surroundings, its elevation of 2,070 metres (6,791 ft) above sea level makes it the highest as well as largest alpine lake in the Autonomous Region Of Xinjiang.
5. Sayram Lake
In the north of the province, in the Altay region close to the border with Mongolia is the 777 square kilometre (300 square mile) Keketuohai National Park, also known as the 'Koktokay National Geopark', nicknamed the 'Chinese Yosemite'. Covering a landscape of valleys, rivers, forests and mountains, the park comprises four main scenic areas; Ilavmu Lake, Cocoa Sullivan Lake, the Fuyun Quake Remains and the most popular area, the Irtysh Grand Canyon. Its giant granite rocks, meandering streams and colourful seasonal forests have led many to compare it to California's beautiful Yosemite National Park, high praise indeed.
4. Keketuohai National Park
In the extreme west of the province, on the Pamir Plateau at the junction where the Pamir, Tian Shan and Kunlun Mountain ranges converge is is the 86 square kilometre (33 square mile) Muztag Ata Glacier Park, meaning 'Father Of The Iceberg', named after the 7,509 metre (24,636 ft) Mustagh Ata. This incredible area of steep rugged mountains, huge valleys and enormous high altitude glacier terrain is easily accessible from the 314 National Road, better known as the Karakoram Highway. The home of 10 major glaciers including the Qili Glacier, Kirk Glacier, Muztag Glacier and Kematule Glacier, it is regarded the most important glaciation area in the Tarim Basin.
Pictured is the Mustagh Ata and Lake Karakul, meaning 'Black Lake'. Despite the name the lake can appear dark green, azure and light blue depending on the time of day and the season. Also easily accessible from the 314 National Road, it has become a popular stop known for its near perfect reflection and its snowy mountain backdrops.
3. Muztag Ata Glacier Park
In the extreme north of the province, in the Altai Mountains where the borders of China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet is the Kanas Lake Scenic Area, incorporating glaciers, forests and mountains around the crescent shaped Kanas Lake, its name meaning 'Beautiful & Mysterious'. China's deepest freshwater lake, it is regarded to be the most beautiful in the Autonomous Region Of Xinjiang. Throughout history there had been sightings of large lake creatures, thought to be legends. That was until in 1985 when a professor and his students from the Xinjiang University observed enormous fish, measuring 10 to 15 metres (32 to 49 ft) in length.
2. Kanas Lake Scenic Area
Between the Pamir Mountains and the Altai Mountains, stretching some 2,900 kilometres (1,800 miles) along the Chinese border is the Tian Shan Mountain Range, a name that means 'Mountains Of Heaven', one of the longest ranges in Central Asia. From its highest peak, the Jengish Chokusu some 7,439 metres (24,406 ft) above sea level it drops to the Turpan Depression, sitting 154 metres (505 ft) below sea level. This vast landscape of high mountains, glaciers and deep valleys is among some of the most remote and incredible natural sights in the world. Such is the importance and pristine natural significance of the Tian Shan, the entire mountain range has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.