Ürümqi’s close to two million residents live in a city that sprawls 20km across a fertile plain in the shadow of the Tiān Shān. High-rise apartments and tower blocks form a modern skyline that will soon dash any thoughts of spotting wandering camels and ancient caravanserais.
As a fast-growing Central Asian hub the city does business with traders from Běijīng to Baku and plays host to an exotic mix of people, including burly Kazakh and Russian ‘biznezmen’ from the former Soviet Union. Cyrillic signs and fragrant corner kebab stands add a Central Asian feel, though in reality over 75% of Ürümqi’s inhabitants are Han Chinese.
Ürümqi is not a historic city, but the provincial museum is excellent and there are some interesting Uighur districts. If you find yourself hanging around for a Kazakh or Kyrgyz visa, consider a side trip to Tiān Chí or Turpan, or possibly both.