Urumqi On Foot

18th September 2017

View from the pavilion on Hong Shan mountainAnd so it’s just the two of us again as we start the final week of our China trip. We did enjoy the Wild Frontiers tour and we were with a great group of people but some of our best experiences while travelling have been on our own (a week driving around Zimbabwe springs to mind). One of our preferred modes of exploring a city is on foot and that is exactly what we have lined up for today – or rather for this morning as our flight to Shanghai is mid-afternoon. The Sheraton is a mile or so out of the city centre and while we could probably work out how to use the buses it is a beautiful morning and so a walk is good.

Xinjiang Retional MuseumBesides, the Xinjiang Regional Museum – Urumqi’s top rated attraction, with its exhibition of Silk Road artefacts – is close by the hotel. Sadly, today is Monday (given that we went to the Sunday market yesterday) and in China museums close on a Monday. We can vouch for it looking good from the outside though! We don’t really have anything that you’d claim in court was a plan but on the far side of the main road there is a hill with a large pagoda on it. MapsWithMe – our preferred mapping service given that there is no Google maps, or other Google services in China – says that this is Hong Shan (Red Mountain) park and that there are plenty of paths to explore.

No takers for any of the boatsThat’s good enough for us. To get to it though, we have to cross the expressway and to do that we have to walk pretty much into town. It’s OK, we have our fitness bands on and so the steps all count! Whilst the roads are busy, the pavements aren’t and it is good to be away from the bustle and crowds that we have at some of the Silk Road attractions. On the way to the park, we pass by a defunct cable car station (with weeds growing under the unused gondolas) and look longingly at the cables heading up the hill. I think that if it had been running we’d have been tempted!

Gardens in the pavilionWhen we get to the park entrance (a bit tucked away down a path and past a police station) we find that it is set up for tourists with rowing boats and what look to be oversized rubber rings with outboard motors for hire on a boating pond and open-sided, cheesy tourist buses to take you up the hill. The boats and the lake are all well and good for photography but there is no way that we are going to lower ourselves by taking the cheesy bus up the hill. Our choice is then either a meandering path or a multiple flights of stairs heading straight up. Given that we managed the rope-ladder assisted climb up the sand dunes at Crescent Lake we weren’t going to duck these stairs.

Individual scenes painted in the roof of the walkwayAt the top is a pavilion encircled by a richly decorated covered walkway. Whilst entry to the park is free, there is a charge for the pavilion and tempted by the colours of the pavilion and the surrounding flower garden we head in. This was a good call as inside the pavilion there is an exhibition on the history of (modern) Urumqi but there are also some fantastic views back down the hill and across the city where we’ve just come from.

Sharp elbows needed at Zhen Long pagodaWe’re not quite yet at the top of the hill where we can see a red brick pagoda, so that has to be the next stop. Later research determines that this is the 9 storey Zhen Long pagoda – though some websites seem to claim that the pavilion (not the pagoda) is the Zhen Long. Whatever, it is busy – at least as many people as at the pavilion and in much less space and on uneven rocky ground. As ever in China, there is no concept of taking your turn waiting for a photo by the pagoda. You just have to get stuck in, stand your ground and wait for the opportune moment. We never did find out the name or the purpose of the cast iron chest though.

Ancient(ish) and modernBy now, we’re way past our 10,000 step target – and we have to retrace our path back to the hotel in order to collect our bags and get a taxi to the airport. We feel we have made good use of our time in Urumqi though it would have been better still if we could have got in to the Xinjiang museum. This is the last of our internal flights in China and they have all worked out – despite my nervousness around using China Travel Depot to book the flights and the horror stories you hear of China Eastern Airlines scheduling more flights than they actually intend to run and they cancelling the least booked flights at short notice. Anyway, we got some bargains (business class Urumqi to Shanghai for less than standard economy fare) and all our flights worked.

Disappointed only to do 350km/h!As we do our research as to how to get from Shanghai airport into town, there is some excitement as Janet tells me that we need to catch a maglev train and that it runs at 430km/h! Sadly, it only runs at this speed during peak hours and we had to content ourselves with blasting along at 350km/h. At the outskirts of town we have to change onto a normal metro line (the ticket systems seem to be identical in all the metros in China) and then we pop out in the middle of town (right by a brightly lit Apple store). We’re definitely back in the 21st century in a big city now. Can we cope with the culture shock?

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