The Grand Bazaar (also called Erdaoqiao in Chinese or the International Bazaar) is a place to get and look at regional products, and there are also imported products from nearby Russia and Mongolia and the new states to the west. It is a popular tourist destination and somewhat of a tourist trap. It is in the city’s Uighur district on the southern side of the city. That makes the place interesting. There is a big mosque there. To attract attention, people stage entertainment like tightrope walking, and you can try the local food. Try Uighur fruitcakes and dried fruits. There is also a building where people can have banquets while watching staged theaters or musical performances. Most of Urumqi is a regular Chinese city, but to see some regional culture and shop, the Grand Bazaar and the Uighur area around it is an interesting place to go.
If you have only a few hours to spend in Urumqi and want to get to know the region and its culture, this might be the best place to go in the city because it has a large mosque, a museum about the Silk Road and the region of Xinjiang, and a lot of Uighur businesses. Most tourists probably know about the riots in the summer last year. Before the riots, it is said that as many as 100,000 people shopped there each day. Just after the riots, a few hundred people visited the stores. Now, there are lots of guards and police watching and patrolling. Though riots are not reported, there are still pickpockets, so carry and watch your possessions carefully.
The Xinjiang Silk Road Museum (新疆丝绸之路博物馆) is easy to find since it is located adjacent to the Grand Bazaar at No. 160 Shengli Road. It is in a large European-style building that also has a shopping complex. You can learn about the history of the ancient Han and Tang Dynasty civilization along the Silk Road in Xinjiang and get acquainted with the customs of the people presently living in the vast region.
Nearby in Urumqi, there are three other museums. There are two other historical and cultural museums and a geological museum. The best museum is the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum (Qu Bowuguan, 自治区博物馆, 132 Xi Bei Lu). It has free admission and is next to the Sheraton Hotel. It has Caucasian mummies that date from about 400 AD to 2,000 BC that are thought be part of the biggest archeological discoveries of the past hundred years because they shed new light on the history of Eurasia. The other museum is called the Urumqi Museum (乌鲁木齐博物馆). It is located at South Nanhu Road 123 (南湖南路 123). The Xinjiang Geological and Mineral Museum is located at Youhao Road and is one of China’s largest geological museums. If you are interested in rocks, fossils, minerals and crystals or in understanding the geology and natural resources of Xinjiang, that is the place to go.
If you want to go on short excursions in the area of Urumqi to see ancient historical sites of the desert region, the mainly Uighur city of Turpan is only about three hours away. Around it are several major ancient sites including those that relate to the Caucasian Tocharians. In Turpan, you can experience Uighur culture and try the food and shop. Due to the ancient “karez” underground irrigation tunnels, Turpan’s agricultural production is famous in the region. To see Kazakhs, stay in yurts economically, eat Kazakh food and hike or ride horses, you can go to the South Pasture area on Nan Shan. You’ll see Kazakh shepherds and ranchers with herds and the Kazakh tourist industry.