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Journey to the Lake of Heaven

By Bruce Connolly | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-10-11 07:39

Journey to the Lake of Heaven

Bay with Kazakh tents. Lake of Heaven 1997. [Photo by Bruce Connolly/chinadaily.com.cn]

Despite considerable suburban industrialization, downtown was transforming into a modern, high-rise commercial center reflecting its geographically important trading connections. However, it was not the contemporary city that kept me fascinated but more the fact that Urumqi and its vicinity is home to 49 different ethnic groups, again reflecting its location at a crossroads between China and Central Asia. While the Uyghur are the largest of such nationalities, there are significant populations of Hui and Kazakhs, along with smaller groups of Kyrgyz, Uzbek and more.

South of downtown lies Erdaoqiao Bazaar, or market. With a history stretching over 130 years, it started as a transit hub for goods brought by camel or packhorse from across Xinjiang and neighboring countries. In 1982 it was remodeled into a single-storey commercial hall with over 600 stores selling an incredible range of local products - providing an opportunity to experience some of the ethnic culture and traditions of Xinjiang. Erdaoqiao for the traveler, the photographer and the writer offered colors, aromas, sights, sounds and music, all with the buzz of a vibrant bazaar. A major outlet for silk fabrics, carpets and dried fruits, along with craft specialties such as Hoton jade, distinctive jewel-encrusted knives, teapots, leather jackets and long black boots. Countless food stalls, stacked with large nan breads, were places to sit and have some snacks or drinks while watching the scene. People with a bewildering mix of languages or dialects wearing bright costumes and distinctive hats or headgear would walk past, some stopping to offer greetings, occasionally in English. I had many happy, indeed unforgettable, moments there. Amusingly there was an advert, :Drink Xinjiang Beer and make friends with the world"! That worked for me at Erdaoqiao! Although it continues to operate, in 2003 a vast International Bazaar, aimed more at tourists, opened nearby.

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