Before we went to Xinjiang, we were warned by everyone we knew that we were venturing  into dangerous territory. Well, we certainly were. If you so decide to follow our footsteps and embark on journey to the west, here are some tips that you might find useful:

1) Don’t eat the fruits

Because they’re so sweet, you can never get used to fruits from other parts of the world (not even Japan) ever again. The fruits here are sweeter than their counterparts from the rest of the world because of the arid climate which results in more sugar deposits. To give you an idea of how yummy the fruits are, we had grapes and cantaloupes everyday, at every meal.

2) Don’t talk to the Uyghurs

Uyghurs are the indigenous population of Xinjiang. Try not to talk to them because you’ll be so enamoured by their sharp features and striking good looks thanks to their Turkish and Central European heritage, you’ll never want to leave their company (look at how adorable the children are!). Don’t even get me started on how friendly and personable they are. Contrary to popular belief that they are hostile and unfriendly, we were greeted with warm smiles and showered with nothing but kindness  throughout our stay in Xinjiang.

3) Don’t try the lamb

The lamb is tender and well marinated with a complex mix of spices. If tastes so amazing, I assure you you’ll never see lamb in the same light or taste lamb that is this good ever again.

4) Don’t visit the ruins

Why? It’s going to be hard to find similar spots anywhere else in the world. Photography enthusiasts and history buffs will be blown away by the enigmatic beauty and rich historical background of beautiful ruins such as Jiaohe Ruins and Gaochang Ruins. The best thing about these places is that they are not touristy at all, which means that you have all the time in the world to soak in the splendour of your surroundings.

Gaochang was once the biggest city in Xinjiang and served as an important commercial and cultural center on the northern edge of the Silk Road. It was also an important religious center. Fans of the novel Journey To The West may also recall that this was where Buddhist monk Xuanzang spent several years teaching Buddhism while he was on his way to India.

Jiaohe Ruins is another important UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Silk Road. Slightly less than 2000 years old, the city was home to 7000 residents before it was destroyed when Genghis Khan led an invasion in the 13th century. This to me, is the Pompeii of the East. Beautiful isn’t it?

5) Don’t dress like a Uyghur

I wore traditional Uyghur dresses to some of the places of attraction. These dresses are instant conversation-starters and drew many compliments from the friendly Uyghur community – a great way to break the ice if you ask me.

However, if you think dressing up like a Uyghur will help you to fit in, especially when you’re taking domestic flights to another city in Xinjiang or other Chinese cities, you can’t be more wrong. I absolutely adore their traditional dresses and decided to wear one of them on board a flight from Kashgar to Urumqi. Thanks to the way I was dressed (and probably due to my supposedly non-Chinese and more Uyghur appearance), I was subjected to much a stricter security screening process as I was viewed as a security threat. The female security officer, who was a Uyghur by the way, singled me out and reached her hands into my undergarments, in the hope of finding perhaps a knife or a bomb attached to my body. The minute I muttered a few words in English (probably expletives), she stopped searching and exclaimed aloud “She is not a Uyghur” in Chinese to her colleague.

That sums up my first-hand experience of discrimination against Uyghurs by Uyghurs.

Now, if you haven’t already realised by now, tip no. 5 is  the only “do not do this” tip that you should abide by.

Xinjiang is such a charming destination and definitely one of my favourite places on the map thus far. It breaks my heart to know that the Uyghurs are treated as strangers in their own land, but let’s save the rest of that story for another day.