When I think back to Xinjiang, what I remember most is the quality of the morning air. There was something about it – the cold, clear light and glacial blue skies. The smell of mountain ice mixed with desert sand, dust, fresh tandoor-baked bread, sweat and mutton fat from the kitchens, the richness of the green grass and dark soil, fresh expectations, the faraway chatter of students and chime of class bells.
All against the backdrop of ripening autumn leaves, purple flowers pushing up in spring, or the early day expectation of beating heat and a penetrating dry sun, finding cool shade in the hours to come.
Each city had something special about it – Turpan the cool shade of the oasis and biting desert chill; Aksu the grey-pink desert dawn against soviet-style apartment blocks; Keriya (Hotan) the grey-dune desert morning of a town encircled by endless dunes; the crackling of mutton far on a spittle, soft white flatbread made from a blackened oven and full fat yogurt followed by spicy tea; Kashgar the call of the minaret and a thousand clocked figures bustling about to set up wares on the street. But Urumqi, Urumqi had something special that I still can’t quite capture, describe.