Yurts near Lake Karakul, Xinjiang. Photo by Rhett A. Butler, 2006
Xinjiang, China’s largest and westernmost province, is one of the planet’s most remote and desolate regions. Covering more than one-sixth the country’s territory, Xinjiang borders Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The province is dominated by ethnic minorities, notably the Muslim Uyghurs who make up nearly half the 18-million population. Xinjiang’s ethnic mix reflects its historical importance as a central part of the Silk Road, a trading route used since ancient times to transport goods between East and West.
Formed geologically from the collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate, Xinjiang’s topographical diversity rivals that of its human population, with deserts, evergreen forests, and some of the world’s highest mountains. The province includes Earth’s most remote land point, lying in the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert some 1,645 miles from the nearest coastline.