China’s Hidden Gem – The Ili Valley

We didn’t know much about Ili before going there. We’d just heard it was nice and seen some nice pictures on the internet.

We didn’t see a single foreigner here, it’s so far from anywhere, located closer to Kazahkstan than to Xinjiang’s own capital, Urumqi. However, if you have the time, it’s well worth a visit.

Sandwiched between two huge mountain ranges, the Ili Valley is a lush green oasis that stretches for several hundred kilometres between them. Magnificent doesn’t do the place justice (although the entrance fee racket does put a downer on things). We spent two glorious days hiking here, in what is without doubt one of the most beautiful places we have visited in China. Just don’t ask us about the ‘hostel’, urghhhh.

narat-grasslands narat-grasslands-2 narat-grasslands-3 narat-panorama

Our next destination was Kuqa, a seven hour bus journey down the Highway 217 from Narat, through Bayanbalak and the Tian Shan Mountains. An incredible journey – sadly the pictures taken from our moving bus don’t do it justice!

ili-kuqa-bus-trip-tian-shan-mountains2 ili-kuqa-bus-trip-tian-shan-mountains ili-kuqa-bus-trip

Practical Information

To get here, you can either take a train to Yining from Urumqi, stay overnight in Yining and then take a bus to Narat (5 hours). Entrance is 175 RMB per person, the eastern side of the park is much nicer and quieter than the west side. where the tour buses go to. If you get on the green buses (NOT the big white tour buses at the entrance) they will take you towards the eastern side. There is plenty of opportunity for some nice hiking around here, but beware of the dogs!

There is a YHA hostel within the park  close to the east entrance. Be prepared to share your room with centipedes, beetles and spiders.

I assume you can also take a bus from Kuqa to Narat, but I’m not sure if foreigners are supposed to be issued tickets. Heading out, we took a bus from Narat to Kuqa, which leaves daily at 12:30 from Narat bus terminal.

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