Departing the vibrance of Xi’an’s embrace and charisma, it was time to step out of the illustrious ancient capital and hop aboard for a 30-hour train ride to Ürümqi in the northwest province of Xinjiang.

Change was very apparent as Daniel Pannemann, Taylor Nawrocki, Barney Page, Vladik Scholz, James Capps, Patrik Wallner, Tommy Zhao, Mike O’Meally and I found ourselves trundling through a new and somewhat frozen and barren region. Laughs were shared as the high spirits and goodwill wafted through their cabins all the way to Xinjiang’s most populous city.

Immediately we met with sub-zero temperatures on arriving in Ürümqi, and we found ourselves amidst a cultural clash of Han Chinese and the Uyghur, the traditional settlers of the region.

Chinese riot police were stationed on most corners hiding behind barricades, armed to the teeth with weaponry, attack dogs and an abundance of armoury, waiting for another event like the one in 2013 that left several hundred Han Chinese dead.

Heads were hung upon busy street corners. Violence was rife, there were no illusions, somehow most residents of the city remained optimistic among all the tension.