Xinjiang Altay Mountain hinterlands
guided Roadtrip to far northwest china
An adventure to a land a little closer to the gods.
Take the road into the deep of Xinjiang province on an adventure featuring the epic open landscapes of Northern Xinjiang. Spend time in photogenic Kanas, Cocoa Suri Lake and Hemu Village. Visit the natural masterpieces of mountain lake Tianzan, Wucai Beach and the Urho Moguicheng desert ‘ghost town’ monoliths.
Inspiration in the great untouched Northwest of China – capture the landscape of Northern Xinjiang.
Urumqi Meet-up . Explore Urumqi's sights.
Meet-up Day in Urumqi.
Day one is meet up day. Arrive in the Western desert city of Urumqi, capitol of Xinjiang Province.
Explore Urumqi's sights..
Arrive early and explore the downtown area of this exotic city. Must-see landmarks include the Erdaoqiao bazaar markets. Another waypoint is the Xinjiang Museum (they have real mummies!).
Urumqi. Tianzan Mountain ‘Skypool’ Lake. Fukang City.
Urumqi. Tianzan Mountain ‘Skypool’ Lake.
Eat breakfast then set out.
Arrive at the Tianzan mountain reserve. Hop onto scenic park transport and ride to Tianzan mountain Tianchi, aka the ‘Skypool’.
The Tianzan Skypool scenic reserve centers on the alpine mirror mountain lake called Tianchi – aka Skypool’.
Dragon spruce forest fill the land between the lake and the mountains that embrace the lake. The lake was once called the “jade pool” for the color of its waters. The jade-water mirror reflects the colossal mountain on the far side of the lake – the World Natural Heritage peak – Bogda, of Dongtian Mountain. Chinese mythology rumors that this is where the “immortal mother” held her legendary banquet for the gods. Survey the scenery to feel why this place reminds people of the gods.
Fukang City check-in.
After a time, depart Tianzan Skypool. Arrive later at the hotel in Fukang City.
Arrive. Check in and rest.
Fukang. Highway 216 (Junggar Basin, Gurbantunggut Desert, Kelameili Ungulate Wildlife Reserve, Hazak tribe herdsmen land). Cocoa Suri Lake. The Number 3 Mine Pit. Keketuohai Town.
Danxiakou. Kangle Grasslands.
Finish breakfast then set out.
Leave Urumqi behind, riding into the Junggar Basin, northbound on Highway 216.
We cut through the Gurbantunggut Desert, passing through the Kelameili Ungulate (‘hoofed animal’) Wildlife Reserve on the way. See Mongolian gazelles, the Asiatic wild donkey, and if the universe is really on our side, the first-class, nationally protected Przewalski’s horse.
Eat a simple roadtrip lunch.
Continue North. The Hazak tribe herdsmen drove their herds along the roads between fields in this area. Driving through the wave of oncoming cattle is a novel experience. Hope our timing is right!
Cocoa Suri Lake. The Number 3 Mine Pit.
Afternoon. Set feet down on the wild duck and sweeping reed banks of Cocoa Suri lake to explore. From here, move to the mysterious old Number 3 Mine Pit for a visit.
Afterwards we check into a room at the township on the lakeside – a little place called Keketuohai Town. The evening is yours. Feel free to venture with travel companions out into the town in search of food and fun.
Keketuohai Town. Keketuohai National Geopark (Irtysh River, ‘Fortune Turtle Stone’ and ‘stone door’, Shenzhong ‘Godclock’ Mountain). Burqin
Keketuohai Town. Keketuohai National Geopark (Irtysh River, ‘Fortune Turtle Stone’ and ‘stone door’, Shenzhong ‘Godclock’ Mountain).
After breakfast head to the Keketuohai National Geopark for some fun.
Inside Keketuohai is the headstream of the Irtysh River - the only river in all of China that drains into the Arctic Ocean. Hop onto the sightseeing shuttle buggy. Trace along the riverside track in search of the park’s sights. Say hello to the curious ‘Fortune Turtle Stone’ and ‘stone door’, then feel the atmosphere change as you pass into new surrounds at the beautiful white birch forests. There’s also Keketuohai main attraction – the Shenzhong ‘Godclock’ Mountain.
Afterwards, go one level deeper. Step out on foot to hike along the Irtysh River, bound for the scenic vantage point of the river’s Grand Canyon waits ahead. Take photos and marvel at the colors that paint the giant split-stone walls of this wild river canyon. Lose yourself in enchanting Autumn scenery of the forest, Keketuohai lake and Irtysh River.
Road. Arrive in Burqin. River Levee Night Markets
Later, shuttle back to the entrance and leave the park. Eat lunch, then hit the road again. Ride East on a gravel road that follows the Irtysh, past ‘Beitun Little Town’, finally arriving in the county town of Burqin.
Check in at the hotel and rest up.
Burqin has what is known as the River Levee Night Markets, a great place to open your mind and taste buds to local foods. We recommend trying the barbecued fish!
Burqin. Kanas sightseeing. Guanyu ‘Fishwatch’ Pavilion lookout. Jiadengyu.
After breakfast, depart into the Altay mountain hinterlands to discover what they call “a place pure in the realm of men”, a “private garden of the gods” – the prefecture known as Kanas.
This is scenery you have to see to imagine. The color palate has been flipped on the landscape. Sunburst and auburn yellow, green, an azure blue sky with puffy, cotton-white clouds. Towering steel-gray mountains capped with snow form a jagged chain on the horizon, adding a hard, contrasting edge to the landscape.
Kanas Transit Station. Kanas Lake. Guanyu ‘Fishwatch’ Pavilion lookout.
Arrive at the Kanas transit station, switch to local sightseeing transport and ride down to Kanas Lake. Step off here. The lake has a boardwalk from which you can enjoy the burning gold Autumn leaf color visuals that line its edge and cast their color on the water.
From down on the water, go up. Hike 1,086 steps to a height of 2030 meters above sea level. Here, more than 600 meters above the lake water, is the Guanyu ‘Fishwatch’ Pavilion lookout. The ideal spot for a panoramic view of the lake and its surrounds. The tower pavilion tower itself is an attraction too!
Arrive in Jiadengyu.
In the afternoon we ride into the town of Jiadengyu, check in and get settled for the night.
Note that this is the Altay Hinterlands, temperature difference between night and day is relatively extreme. Never fear - we’ll have you out of the elements by nightfall.
Kanas River ‘Three Bends’ light hike. Hemu Village free-roam sightseeing.
Kanas River ‘Three Bends’ light hike.
Wake up early on Day 06.
Head out into the hinterlands again, this time to experience the famous ‘Three Bends’ of the Kanas River (the Deity Bend, Moon Bend and Dragon’s Berth Bend, respectively.) Step onto the banks of this milky blue mirror. Run your fingers and toes through the water.
We recommend drinking in the scenery along the ‘essential Sanwan’ route (including Moon Bend and Dragon’s Berth Bend, a relaxing trek that’s mostly downhill and only 3km long). The riverside boardwalk provides a comfortable path into some of the best Autumn scenery Kanas has to offer. Of course, if you don’t want to hike you can stick with the sightseeing shuttle and explore hop-on hop-off style.
After the Three Bends scenic zone re-board transport. Be ferried through picturesque scenery to arrive in “the gods’ hidden acre” – the tiny isolated community of Hemu village.
Hemu Village free-roam sightseeing.
Arrive. Eat lunch. Get checked in, then get prepared to free roam. Meet with a guide that knowns the city well - follow him/her for a while to learn what’s where, then go free.
Discover the homes, barns, fields and hill of Hemu first-hand and on your own terms. You have the option to rent a horse and ride to Meili Peak, where you can find the tent home community of the last of a small ethnic tribe – the Tuvans. Another potential destination is the lookout tower in the hills above the village.
Hemu Village sunrise. Hemu free explore. Wucai Beach. Back to Burqin.
Hemu Village sunrise. Hemu free explore.
Day 7 is a lifetime opportunity.
Photography enthusiasts can rise early and head to the Guanjing Lookout for a sunrise to that will warm your daydreams for years.
From your spot on the hill, watch as the morning sun spills over the surrounding mountain ring and golden light washes over the Mukeden huts of the village, the fields, then into the pine and white birch forests on the opposite hills. Add in white breakfast smoke from the chimneys and you’ve got a scene that inspires.
After breakfasting, Hemu free-roaming continues.
Stroll the village riverbanks. Search out nature in the birch forests. Alternatively, find a noiseless, sunny courtyard and just sit, sip tea, soak up the sun, read a book and chill in this village at the end of the world.
Wucai Beach. Back to Burqin.
Later on, get your bags, meet back up with the group and take a seat on the coach.
From Hemu, we go to Wuse Beach, or what in Chinese has been named the “most beautiful beach under heaven.”
The fascinating Danxia landforms color the banks of the Irtysh River with cherry purple, rust-orange, and turquoise grey-blue. The landscape beyond the river stretches green onto the horizon. In the light of the setting sun, with the sound of the gurgling, gushing water, it’s especially easy to lose yourself here.
Arrive at the hotel in Burqin in the early evening.
In the evening, head out with your companions back out to explore more of the River Levee Night Markets. Don’t leave any regrets – it will likely be many years before you get the chance to return to this little town, if at all!
Burqin. Moguicheng ‘Ghost Town’ Yardangs. Return to Urumqi.
Burqin. Moguicheng ‘Ghost Town’ Yardang Landforms.
On Day 8 we have a lot of ground to cover to get to Urho.
Everyone will need to get up and hit the road early (we may eat breakfast on the road.) Ride until we reach it – the place chosen by ‘Chinese National Geology’ magazine for China’s “Top 3 Yardang” - the earth monoliths of desert the ‘ghost town’ - Moguicheng in Urho.
Science explains Yardang as rock carved into shapes by thousands upon thousands of years of wind erosion, but these odd landforms seem strange and other-worldly. The sudden sand swirl seem summoned, and some attribute this to the faces are figures that can be seen in the desert rocks.
Return to Urumqi.
Leave the ghost town behind and make tracks for Urumqi, a bed and a good night’s sleep.
tour end in urumqi.
The tour concludes. Exchange wishes and goodbyes.
Until we have the pleasure of adventuring again, this is farewell!