Getting to Kanas Lake wasn’t easy. From Urumqi, we took a twelve-hour overnight sleeper train to Beitun, a small town seemingly in the middle of no-where, with a train station even more so, in the middle of no-where. The train line just ends, miles from anywhere.
From Beitun Train Station we hired a driver to take us to Kanas. There were public transport options available, but these were confusing and time-consuming. We were tired and wanted to get to Kanas as soon as possible. We paid our driver 550RMB for the four-five hour road trip to Kanas.
The scenery en-route was nothing short of magnificent. We were able to enjoy a surprisingly smooth journey as the road cut through spectacular grasslands on which Kazakh, Mongol and Tuvan nomads call home..
A few hours later, we arrived to Kanas. We strongly advise you stay inside the park. The entrance fee is steep, 250RMB per person or so, for one entrance, so once you leave, you can’t get back in. It’s a waste to stay one day, we recommend you stay in the park over-night, maybe two.
The surroundings are stupendous, the accommodation basic – but cosy and cheap. Finding a room is easy inside the park; you get on the tourist bus at the entrance, get off at the terminus some forty-odd minutes later, and walk towards the small single-storey wooden houses. You will be able to find a room for 40-50RMB a night.
Now, as for the actual park. Sandwiched between Kazahkstan, Russia and Mongolia this part of China is pretty much southern Siberia. It was the middle of July, but temperatures were cooler, much cooler than the rest of the country. Daytime highs struggled to climb above 20°C. It was chilly at times, and humidity felt as though it was at 0%, bliss. The weather was temperamental, and reminded us of the UK in its changeability. We found ourselves asking, “Is this really China?”, for the landscapes and even the blue sky were completely different to what we had grown accustomed to in the east.
Pine-trees lined the mountainsides and valley through which the Kanas River carved its way through the majestic alpine setting on its course to the Russian Arctic. There were a few domestic tourists, but not the masses we had experienced elsewhere in China. Their movements were predictable, they all came in on the tour bus, stopped at the three designated ‘scenic spots’, took some pictures and left. We walked along a nicely built path that clung to the rivers edge as it flowed through the valley, we had it wholly to ourselves. Beautiful scenery, clean air and complete tranquility – it’s rare to be able to enjoy all three of these at once in China.
I imagined there to be places like this in North America, but not China. Even the small number of buildings which had been built to cater for tourists were classily done, and generally kept in character with their surroundings – another rarity in modern China.
Kanas Lake National Park had become our favourite national park in China. It retained a charm, a picturesque landscape that remains relatively undeveloped and unspoiled. There are plenty of beautiful parks in China, some arguably more beautiful than this, but almost all of them have been ruined by commercial development and the thousands of domestic tourists that visit these places each day.
Kanas hasn’t got there, yet. Undoubtedly helped in part by its remote location and isolation. Long may that continue!