Urumqi is a city of several million people, on the Silk Road, in China's
Far West. In winter, temperatures plummet to well below zero. In
summer they rise into the forties (Celsius). Cars are made there and it's
a major agricultural centre.
At night, freight trains speed from Urumqi towards the coast taking farming
produce to Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. The extreme temperatures and
abundant water supply, from the neighbouring Tien Shan Mountains, are ideal
for the production of fruit and vegetables. Prosperous farming communities
have lived in the region for thousands of years.
My main reason for going to Urumqi was to visit the museum that houses
the famous "Urumqi mummies": also known as the "Caucasian mummies"
They were excavated in desert oases along the Silk Road to the east.
Some of the mummies have been dated to four thousand years ago and
have European features. They were protected from decay by the intensely
dry conditions in which they were buried and are in a remarkable state of
preservation. I was greatly impressed by the high standard of dying and
weaving evident in their well-tailored, four-thousand-year-old clothes.
DNA studies have recently shown that the so-called "Caucasians" were not
Europeans who strayed from home . They were Central Asians who carried
the genes of people to their east and west, just as their descendants do today.
Urumqi is a town of many ethnic groups . The region (Sinkiang) was
formerly part of the Soviet Union. Stalin gave it to China when Mao Zedong
and the communists gained power. At that time, the bulk of the population
was Uighur, a Moslem people who speak a language related to Turkish.
Since then, large numbers of Han Chinese have settled in Urumqi . Their
part of the city is similar to the cities of eastern China. For the tourist, the