A roadside lake on the Karakoram Highway
At the end of my two-month summer break traversing China collecting new accents, I spent time travelling solo in Xinjiang. From the warm and welcoming oasis of Turpan, across the desert, to the snowy expanses and grasslands of the west, it is a land of epic proportions and disparate climates.
Turpan – Where you will find bowls brimming with sweet sultanas and raisins
Turpan – Visiting the Emin Minaret, the tallest minaret in China
It is also home to masterful hands adept at cooking lamb, be it buttery lamb pilaf, unbeatable lamb breads, smoking kebabs or the compulsory sheep's head soup. One source of such delights is the iconic Kashgar Sunday livestock market, which as the daughter of sheep farmers I was intrigued to attend.
Kashgar Sunday livestock market
The crowded lineup of goats, donkeys, bulls and yaks didn't disappoint, with the region's curious fat-tailed sheep winning the prize for most unusual entrant.
However, by far the most arresting sight of Xinjiang was the Karakoram Highway. Connecting China and Pakistan, the Karakoram Highway cuts a path through the snow-capped mountains born from the suture of Asia and India. Invited on a spontaneous road trip with new Chinese friends, we tackled the potholed road currently under reconstruction, my friends enlightening me with local slang along the way. The views out the window were so extraordinary they verged on the ridiculous.
We passed rocky peaks and mirror-like roadside lakes, whose waters at once seemingly touch both sand and snow. In Silk Road style, camels contested our road space when they were not busy sunning themselves on red hills. Having already been impressed by the striking breadth of China's great outdoors, seeing this region firsthand was another crucial step in comprehending just how vast this place is.
Backstreets of Kashgar near the Afāq Khoja Mausoleum