(continued from part 1) I arrived in Black Lake by horse, this was my home for the night, in a traditional yurt with a small group of Chinese tourists and some local Kazahks including a horseman called Hu-An, who sang and danced a little bit for us during dinner (I had prepared my own food of plain dried fruits, nuts and cereal bar). After dinner we all started drinking Xinjiang alcohol which was made of corn, it was very tasty and I really enjoyed it.
– the alcohol we had looked like this
After walking for 6 hours from Black Lake I arrived at Kanas village where I spent two full days getting to know the place all on foot. One of the benefit from trekking is that no guards were around for point checking and I didn’t have to pay the ticket (I can’t remember how much it was, around CNY 200) getting into Kanas Lake.
Here, I met some very friendly local Kazakhs,Tuvans and Miao Chinese. I noticed how most of the Han chinese who immigrated here (many from previous generations moved here by government incentives) were more focused on business prospects, even though everyone in this area depend their living on tourism as well.
A very small ethnic minority group I had no knowledge of were the Tuvan people– ancient hunters and nomads that could be traced back to the Tang Dynasty. They have gone through control by China (independence from China in 1912), and in 1944 Tuva was included into Soviet Russia. Today Tuvans live in Xinjiang (total population of around 2500 mainly in Kanas, Hemu and Baihaba villages), outer Mongolia and Republic of Tuva. They have their own unique language, history, and music. I met a young Tuvan boy in Kanas who showed me the fascinating Khoomei (Tuvan throat singing) and his hometown in Burqin in a small village called “snakes village” by the locals. There were many snakes in the grasslands when he was growing up, but they all disappeared after time from the housing development by the Chinese government to attract more tourists. He said his family’s home may also be moved away soon.
One of the most well known Tuvan songs that I fell in love with is Aa-shuu-dekei-oo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QysxkYkRsYw) by the group Huun-huur-tu who gained worldwide popularity. “Aa-shuu-dekei-oo” actually doesn’t mean anything, it’s just scat singing. The song is about fast horses, a pretty girl, and the free people of Tuva.
Sadly the ancient Tuvan skills are in danger of extinction as modernity approaches and the government imposing rules failing to integrate the mixed cultures of ethnic minorities with the Chinese. Like various social medias, WordPress is also blocked in China.
Along the walks in empty grasslands I noticed some construction sites in process, sponsored by the government of course, of fake touristic attractions that resemble the ancient buildings and mongolian yurts, all to develop further tourism and profit.
Finally, it’s the combination of beautiful landscape, mountains, diversity of warm people and constant pursuit for freedom that made this trip very special to me. The Uyghur, Kazakh, and Tuvan people are definitely the most open-minded and tolerant people I have met in my life, despite little knowledge and exposure they have to the outside world.
One day, I would love to go back and visit the southern area of Xinjiang.
Thank you for the special locals who made this experience so memorable for me: Gai-la, Nandeng, 加那尓, Melikizat.
Interesting insights into the old traditions of Kazakh and Tuva people of China:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2582812/This-REAL-way-ski-Amazing-pictures-original-skiiers-using-one-pole-horse-hide-skis-career-Chinese-mountain.html (contains beautiful photos by Norwegian photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen)
Analysis of current situation of Tuva people in China: https://www.tuva.asia/journal/issue_21/6984-hou.html
A paper on Kazahks in China about immigration and their strong cultural identity:
Human rights watch: