To be able to make it to Kanas Lake, is not easy. It need more than 18 hours by bus from Urumqi if you don’t stop anywhere along the road trip. We spent 2 days to arrive in Kanas Lake, stopping at Heavenly Lake / Tian Shan Tian Chi –> Fire Mountain / Huashaoshan -> Buerqin, the little Russian Town -> stay over at Jiadengyu -> Kanas. Kanas is considered the highlight of northern Xinjiang which offer the most breathtaking scenery in all of China.
Kanas Lake is located in a valley in the Altay Mountains, border with Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia. Day before I arrived in Kanas Lake, I have already noticed many Kazakhs, Mongolian and Russian influence around this region. You see Kazakhs yurt and their animals in Jiadengyu and the Russian style of housing in Buerqin.
We stayed over at Jiadengyu, which is the gateway to Kanas. Tourists usually stay over at Jiadengyu tourist base then start their early morning trip to Kanas Lake.
From Jiadengyu tourist base to Kanas Lake, there is another 35km but this is the nearest spot to Kanas Lake which offer accommodation. There is no accommodation in Kanas Lake in order to prevent pollution and damage to the nature reserves.
1. Queue for the Internal Bus
After we gotten our tickets, we have to queue and wait for the internal buses to go to the different locations in Kanas Lake. During summer, there are many groups of local tourists and the queue can get very long. We were lucky as we travelled during the entrance examination period for high school, so the crowds probably cut into half.
2. Your name & DOB is printed in the entrance ticket.
As usual, the security is tight here and you see security officers at the entrance of Kanas Lake. Your ticket also has your name and date of birth printed in it.
3. There are several stops in Kanas Lake. Plan your route.
The first stop we went was the Fish Observatory also known as the Fish Watching Pavilion because it is located on a hill. There are about 1000 over wooden steps for you to climb up to Fish Observatory. It is certainly worth the climb if you can manage the climb. On the top you will be rewarded with stunning views of Kanas Lake and the surrounding mountain.
4. Total of 1,111 steps to go up Fish observatory – Highlight
You can always stop in the middle of the climb, take a rest and connect to the nature. I strongly recommend anyone to go up, if not, at least half way. The Fish observatory is the highlight and I suggest to do this first when you reach Kanas Reserve.
5. Friendship Peak / 友谊峰
Check out the panoramic view of Kanas Lake and the Youyifeng (Friendship peak), which is the approximate landmark of the three point border of Russia, China and Mongolia.
6. Lake Monster / 水怪
Kanas Lake water is emerald-green and turquoise blue if you look down from the top. For centuries, locals have told tales of large mysterious creatures living in the lake and some local Chinese actually captured the video footage of the lake creatures. Recent study suggest these creatures could be Siberian giant trout, a species of fish in the salmon family found throughout northern Asia which can grow up to 156 cm in length!
7. Beware of Snakes
There are wooden path and cemented path for visitor to use, don’t step on the grass and there is also sign telling you “Beware of Snakes” but they translated as “Carefully Snakes” 🙂 That is the literally or direct translation.
8. Two more storey of wooden stairs up to the top of Fish Observatory
Fish Observatory is a small pavilion for visitor to go further up. There are another 2 story to climb up to the top of the pavilion. You can go up to check on the view from the top but it’s about the same. I don’t prefer the view inside the Fish Pavilion as I felt there is constraint from the wooden fence and they are quite high to prevent accident.
9. The Siberian Giant Trout/大红鱼 aka the Lake Monster
At the top of the Fish observatory, we found the Big Red Fish aka the lake monster. The Big Red Fish can weigh up to 70kg and feed on wild ducks and other fish species.
10. Fortune Telling
Don’t miss out the hundred years old turtle at the top, next to the snacks stall. Just have a look and don’t fall for the tourist trap.
11. The meaning of Kanas in Mongolian
Kanas, which means ‘rich and beauty, mysterious and enigmatical’ in Mongolian.
12. Oriental Switzerland
The scenery here can be as good as Switzerland and even better as this place offer minorities cultures which add into more flavor of your travel.
13. Kazakhs & The Swan
There are huge population of Kazakhs minority in Kanas Lake. Some people actually prefer to stay in the Kazakhs yurt but its cost more expensive and also condition is poor but certainly a total different experince. Check out the Kazakhs and the Swan legend told by our guide.
In ancient time, there was a great Kazakh leader name Kale Chahad who was deeply loved by his people. At one point, the great leader was seriously injuired in the war and walked alone the the Gobi Desert. He thougth he was going to die of thirst in the hot desert but suddenly a white female swan flew in the sky and took him to the lake and he was saved after he drank water from the lake. What a miracle water. At the same time, the white swan also turned into a beautiful girl and they got married and had 3 children. Therefore, the swan is a symbol of the Kazakhs. ( Check out my outfit, can you spot the swan?)
14. Food in Kanas Lake are Expensive.
There are several eating place in Kanas Lake and most of them are cater for big group of local Chinese. The food we had are mostly Xinjiang delicacy, such as Big Plate Chicken etc. Total of 10 dishes but I only managed to take few of them. Please be prepared the food served inside the reserve is very expensive.
Steam Bun is the Staple food here.
Stir Fry Winter Melon
China iconic childhood dish – Tomato Eggs
15. Do a Lake Cruise
The boat tour around the lake takes about an hour. It is highly recommended but beware of the lake monster. Don’t get too close to the window of the boat. The boat can sit up to 30 pax and in the middle of the lake, the captain will stop for half an hour and let all the passengers to move up to the top of the deck to check out the view. Old folks are not advise to climb up to the up to the deck as it can be quite shaky and you need some balancing skill.
16. Scent of pines
After you finish the boat tour, you can take a little rest at the glassland here and enjoy the scent of pines.
17. European Style houses & Logs of Cabin
Across the lakes, you fill some European style houses and logs of cabin. The lakeside is covered with lush grasses and trees, some trestles stretching to the middle of the lake.
18. Traditional Tuva Houses
We didn’t do our Tuva house visit here instead we went for the Hemu Village for our Tuva house visit. Hemu Village is the biggest Tuva village compare to Kanas and Baihaba and there are only 3 Tuvan village in China.
19. Two must see river bays in Kanas Lake
There are total of 6 bays for you to check them out, the two must see are Crouching Dragon Bay and Moon Bay along the river flowing into the Kanas Lake which offer very unique landscape.
20. The Holy Spring Water
Tourists put the money on top of the big rocks beside the holy spring water. Not sure it caused any pollution. Some tourists would drink or use the water to wash their face. I suggest not to drink it as our body may not use to some of the minerals here.
Final thoughts :
For me, Kanas Reserve is better than Switzerland alps, reason being over here you have the additional elements eg, the minorities culture such as Kazakhs & Mongolian who lives in Altay Mountains region. You need about 2 days to explore Kanas reserve. One thing I don’t enjoy is everything is very expensive and overly charges as compared to other part of China.
Weather in the Mountains is Unpredictable
It was in summer when I was here in Kanas Lake, the weather is unpredictable as it can be suddenly with no sun as it was covered by the dark cloud. A little drizzle out of sudden and then stop and bright sunshine again. When there is no sun, it can be very cold especially when you are doing the cruise in the lake. Always be prepared with a jacket and poncho disposable raincoat or umbrella.