Our journey was tailored such that we had more homestays than hotel stays. It’s definitely not for those who need clean toilets and bed sheets. Frankly speaking, you can do it on your own without a tour.
We’re independent travelers (since 2007) who, as a rule, don’t generally sign on to packaged tours. But like all rules, this one is made to be broken. It’s easy for many to forget that most of the world’s population doesn’t have the luxury of spending months on end meandering from country to country. As a Singaporean you’re lucky if you can get away for a full two-week stretch. December 2012 would be hard to replicate.
So compared to my previous 21 days of traveling last December (which I have yet to blog, insya’allah soon), the trip to Xinjiang was much shorter. Our days were cut short due to our work commitments. So instead of taking night trains to and fro, we took quite a number of domestic flights.
Alhamdulillah, the journey went smoothly. We did it with a local tour operator, ORT, who customized our journey base on our budget and preference. Yes, it was an organized tour. With my 65 year old dad traveling with us, we could not afford to get lost and compromise his health. We managed to maximize our meager allotment of vacation days as we were whisked to all the major sites and have our transportation waiting for us when we’re done. And yes, it is still the best experience we’ve ever had anywhere. We came back with our minds and cameras full of memories.
The only glitch to the trip was the Urumqi Airport was not Muslim friendly, especially to Hijab ladies. On our back to Singapore via Urumqi, we spent a good hour trying to check in our flights because the airport staff was uncooperative. We nearly missed our flight. Future muslim/hijab travelers, please take note that you would be told to take off your hijab. Please be mentally prepared so that you can better reasoned with the airport staff. I spent quite some time arguing with the airport officers which was draining.
A tip to hijab sisters who are travelling here: when told to take off your hijab when passing security, act blur first. Then when the officials touch your hijab, remind them that you are a muslim and show them your hijab photograph in your passport. They will then notice your Singapore passport but still want to act blur and ask to double confirm where you are from in Chinese. Reply only in a firm voice in English that you are a Singaporean and if they insist in asking you to take off your hijab in public, you will definitely complain. Don’t forget to keep calm and say a little du’a in your heart. Insya’allah, all will be fine. As long as you are firm, they would relent and bring you to a room to inspect you in private. They wouldn’t want to cause problems with the government of another country, especially Singapore. Unfortunately, this does not work with the local muslims. They have to take off their hijab during security in the open. There is a dressing curb for Muslim women in Xinjiang. The locals who put on the hijabs are discriminated. Thus, donning a hijab here takes a lot of faith. Yes, the ethnic tensions here is very real. But please, let me assure you that the place is safe for all muslims to visit. Don’t let this piece of information hinder your intention to visit this place. I personally felt triumphant after dealing with them. They need to know that the hijab is not a symbol of terrorism. There are many peace loving muslims in the world who just love to travel.
That was the only glitch to our otherwise wonderful trip. The airport incident was not ORT’s fault because we did not engage their services on the last day. Let me qualify, we are no seasoned travelers. This post is not to show off. Apologies if one reads it that way. We love to travel and we hope to share our love for travel with our loved ones. I hope my photos and some nuggets of what we went through would evoke a similar desire to travel here. After all, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” – Mark Twain. Ma’asalama till the next day to day post.