Xinjiang (officially ' Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region; Uyghur： شىنجاڭ ; Chinese： 新疆维吾尔自治区 Xīnjiāng wéiwú'ěr zìzhìqū) is located in the North West of China, in the Mongolian Uplands. It is on the traditional Silk Road. The region has historically been populated by the Uighurs, a people more closely related to those in Central Asia than to the Han; however, in recent decades, the Chinese government has given money to attract Han to move to the region. Today the Han now form the majority of the population in the north while the west remains dominated by minority culture. Mandarin has become the primary language used in most major cities (although Uighur is still an official language in the region), which has resulted in a handful of ethnic clashes and tension in the area. The Uyghur people are reknowed for their honesty, kindness and open-mindedness towards outlanders. Kashgar, Khotan and Aksu are the prefectures with the highest percentages of Uyghur population.
The northwestern border region of Xinjiang, lauded variously as a land of song and dance, melons and fruits, precious stones, and carpets, is situated in the heart of the Eurasia Continent. Xinjiang was a key link on the Silk Road and a hub for east-west cultural exchanges in ancient times. The local folklore is rich and varied. The historical name of the region is East Turkestan.
The province is largely populated by Mainland ethnic minority groups, such as the Mongols, Kazaks, Kyrgyzs and Uighurs. Like Tibet, the demographic composition of the province has shifted over the past few decades. In 1949, Xinjiang's population was approximately 85% Uighur and 8% Han Chinese; today it is about 45% Uighur and 40% Han Chinese. This influx of Han Chinese has led to ethnic tension in the region that every few years culminates in violence. While you travel, you may take note of the fact that almost all cities with major Han and Uighur populations are segregated into distinct districts with little intermingling.
Already Kashgar is feeling the effects of the railway line completed in 1997. This town at the center of the silkroad is seeing its winding mud brick streets becoming gradually flattened in favour of Chinese-style streets typical of any other city in China.
Recommended reading for those interested includes Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang by James Millward and The Mummies of Urumqi by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Most great game literature also covers aspects of Xinjiang's history. Blogs covering current events in Xinjiang include The New Dominion, The Opposite End of China， and Far West China.
As everywhere in China, the official language is Mandarin. However, many other languages are spoken in Xinjiang. The most common is Uyghur, a Turkic language similar to Uzbek but written in Arabic script. The Uyghur language is co-official with Mandarin in Xinjiang, so most official signs in the province are bilingual in Uyghur and Chinese. Other languages include Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Mongol. Most of the ethnic minorities are bilingual in their minority language and Mandarin, so unless you approach the elderly, you will be fine speaking Mandarin to locals.
More than 50 cities in China have domestic direct flights to Xinjiang's provincial capital Urumqi, as have 14 cities internationally: Almaty, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Bishkek, Osh, Tashkent, Dushenbi, Istanbul, Baku, Dubai, Islamabad, Kabul, Kiev and Tbilisi. There are direct flights from Urumqi to prefectural centres like Kashgar, Khotan, Aksu, Koerla, Karamay, Altay, Yining (ghulja), Tacheng(chochak) and Hami(kumul).
Xinjiang is connected with the rest of China by Lanxin railway. Direct train runs from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, as well as most other cities. A trip from Beijing to Urumqi is scheduled to take slightly over 33 hours. There are also two international trains weekly to Kazakhstan
You can visit the best preserved ancient city Ruins around Turpan; study Uighur culture in Kashgar; enjoy amazing scenery of snow capped mountains on the Karakoram Highway; camel trekking into the desert near Hotan and live with nomadic people on the grassland in North Xinjiang
Lamb (羊肉 yángròu). Barbequed, grilled, fried, boiled, you name it, they eat it. Try it in baked dumplings (烤包子 kǎobāozi), on a shish kebab (串 chuànr,）or in certain places stuffed into naan called ròunáng （肉馕).
Naan. Naan (馕 náng) is one of the few genuine breads you can get in China. It comes in all sizes and will be sold on the street in every city - some plain, some with onion or spring onion added in. You can also ask them to warm it (加热 jiārè) for you if it gets cold (if your Mandarin is rusty, gesture at the oven - it really is much better warm).
Watermelons (西瓜 xīguā). Ubiquitous small round tasty watermelons, in some cities at every second street-corner. Watermelons from the oasis town of Hami (哈密瓜 Hāmì guā) are particularly renowned all over China.
Grapes (葡萄 pútáo) & Raisins (葡萄干 pútáogān). Particularly sweet because of the high amount of sunlight and low amount of water where they're grown, particularly in Turpan.
Walnuts (胡桃 hútáo). Another food the region is known for.
Wusu beer. Probably only 4% chinese beer, produced in Wusu city, Xinjiang. Red Wine. In a region known for grapes, you can also find some OK wine. At least, it is much, much better than the Great Wall wine found elsewhere in China - though not quite up to international standards. If you spend more than ¥50 you should get something that's better than red water.
Xinjiang is home to a lively bazaar culture where anything and everything is traded. But hordes of people crammed into confined spaces also present a prime opportunity for pickpockets, who often operate in teams and can be very efficient at what they do. Be very careful with your valuables when you are out and about. As a foreign traveller you are a prime target.
Be careful when paying with 100 yuan notes in smaller restaurants or shops. The owner may switch the note with a counterfeit one and claim that you gave him/her a fake note. You should also check your notes when you are returned your hotel deposit.
Xinjiang borders eight countries, making it ideal for exploring the surrounding countries. Korgas and Alashankou lead to Kazakhstan, the Torugart and Irkeshtam passes lead to Kyrgyzstan, the Kulma pass leads to Tajikistan, and the Karakorum Highway leads south to Pakistan ((currently closed!!)). You can get visas for Kazakstan and Kyrgystan in Urumqi.