Sunday, May 26, 2024

My trip to Xinjiang: Part One - Kanas Lake


 Not Joseph Rock related, but I have just returned from an interesting trip to Xinjiang. It was a fairly random, last minute spur of the moment decision to go there, propelled by insanely cheap airfares currently being offered on Trip.com - A$500 return from Sydney to Urumqi via Zhengzhou, on Tianjin Airlines.

My main goal was to visit the north of the province, to see the scenery around Kanas Lake on China's border with Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia. I managed this quite easily with an overnight train ride to Beitun from Urumqi, through scrub-covered, arid plains, which reminded me of the Australian outback. 

From the scrappy town of Beitun I took a shared taxi costing Y150 over more 'desert' and then into green hills to the tourist hub of Jiadengyu. This is situated 30km from the lake and has something of a ski village vibe and the buildings have a European styling. This is where most visitors stay, because the hotels are affordable and there's a shuttle bus that operates at regular intervals to take you to the Lake Kanas  park entrance. Entry is about Y230, which includes the bus fare, and you get half price admission if you visit the next day.


The scenery around Kanas Lake was magnificent, explaining why it is such a popular attraction and feature of so many photo galleries. The rolling green hills and birch forests make you think you might be in Alaska or Scandinavia. The local people are mostly Khazak ethnicity and they practice dairy farming.

This was just a recce visit, so I did the main tourists things - such as taking the shuttle bus up to the Guanyutai ride walk, where a stroll up the hill on a boardwalk takes you to a pavilion with epic views of the lake.  Most Chinese visitors on a day visit do the 10 minute bus/walk trip down to the boat wharf and take photos of the amazingly clear waters with the snow capped mountains as a backdrop. During the summer months its possible to take a boat ride on the lake, but in May the lake was still partially covered with ice, so the boats weren't running.

You can easily escape the crowds by walking off the marked tracks and just follow the edge of the lake. There are some signs warning about this being a 'beast infested area' [pictures of bears, wolves], but I didn't encounter any on my hour-long walk beside the lake. In fact I didn't encounter a single other person - it was very quiet and solitary - The Hills Are Live with the Sound of ... not much.


I followed this up with an equally pleasant 3.5km walk back from the boat wharf along the boardwalk trail that follows the Kanas river back to the bus depot, via a quaint wooden bridge. Again, hardly anyone about once you leave the tourist hub.

On my second day I took another bus to the border village of Baihaba, where you can peer over the barbed wire fence into the hills of Kazakhstan. The guidebooks say this area is closed to foreigners, but I had no problems getting the necessary permit from the police office just next to the bus ticket office at the Kanas Lake tourism centre. It's a pleasant trip through rolling hills and forests, and to be honest there isn't much to do in the village, which has just a couple of shops and restaurants. You can stroll among all the log cabin style buildings down to the border fence, and try not to attract the attention of the guards in the watch tower behind you. The border is very heavily sealed off by fences and under surveillance, so don't think about wandering over to have a look in Khazakhstan!


The shuttle bus ride back to Jiadengyu is a scenic trip in itself, and takes about 40 minutes. At the tourist village there is a 'food court' outdoor plaza where you can try many variations on the local specialty of barbecued meat. This is dairy country so there is plenty of beef and yoghurt on offer.


I only had a few days at Kanas Lake but I would definitely consider coming back to do some camping, cycling and packrafting. While there are many Chinese tourists, they tend to stick to the official coach route itineraries. I didn't see any independent travellers or foreign tourists during my visit. There were also no police or security restrictions or hassles, which I had been expecting in Xinjiang - these were more obvoius when I went down south to Kashgar [see next post].



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