The west of China is a vast area where Central Asia borders on East Asia. To the south is Tibet, dominated by the great Himalayan plateau, a distinctive cultural and geological region. Xinjiang to the north covers many different climactic zones, mountains, steppes and desert. Though most of the region is harsh dry wilderness so enormous is it that there are large areas of forests and lakes. The silk road, the ancient and legendary trade route passes through, with Kashgar an oasis town that was a way-station now at the head of the Karakorum Highway.
In the north are the remote Altai mountains, the ‘cradle of skiing’ with rock paintings near the Mongolian border offering the oldest known evidence of skiing. Qinghai straddles pastoral and agricultural zones with the highlands being the source of the three great rivers of China. Inner Mongolia offers a vision of steppe culture as well as breathtaking plains and deserts.
The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, commonly referred to as Xinjiang, is a Muslim majority region of north-western China. Historically populated by the ethnic minority Uighurs, the region can be understood as a corner of Central Asia under Chinese governance. Whilst Beijing has exerted considerable influence on the region the identity and culture of the Uighur’s remains strong. Known in the past as Turkestan, the region is traditionally closely linked to the peoples of its neighbours including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Bounded by the arid Kunlun mountains and Tibet to the south, the lush Altai mountains to the north and containing the vast Taklamakan desert, this is a relatively un-visited area ripe for adventure. There’s so much to see and discover here ranging the desolate deserts, endless swathes of high plateau, ancient caravanserais of the Silk Road and of course the local heartland of the region, Kashgar. Culture lovers will find much to interest them in Kashgar, an old trading town with a bustling Sunday livestock market, while those in search of great high altitude road trips can choose to head west on the Pamir Highway to Tajikistan or south on the Karakorum Highway to Pakistan.
Like Xinjiang, Tibet is another distinct region within China. When one enters Tibet it’s easy to feel to allure that has drawn in outsiders for millennia. With the colossal Tibetan Plateau dominating the region most villages and cities, such as Lhasa, are built around the perimeter of this high-altitude and mostly uninhabited region. Although visits to Tibet are strictly controlled by the Chinese government there’s a great to deal one can experience here, such as the countless Buddhist monasteries like the Potala Palace home of the successive Dalai Lamas and Namtso Lake, which is the highest salt water lake in the world at 4700m.
Stretching across the entire north central section of China, the province of Inner Mongolia is the ideal to place to experience a hybrid region where Mongolian and Chinese culture fuse together to form a unique identity. Despite it being closer to Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia’s environment, history and culture feels a little closer to Tibet’s with the main religion practiced is Lamaist Buddhism. Along with numerous monasteries to see and witnessing steppe culture, there’s also a mix of landscapes to explore such as the sprawling grasslands blending in and around numerous deserts like the Badain Jaran and Tengger.
Sandwiched in between Xinjiang, Tibet and Gansu (neighbouring Inner Mongolia), Qinghai is closely linked with Tibetan culture. A traditional source of horses for China, YuShu has an annual horse festival. Other aspects of traditional Tibetan life can be explored here. It’s also the location of the sources of three of China’s major rivers; Mekong, Yellow and Yangtze. The province takes its name from Qinghai lake, the largest lake in China.
Spanning 1650km across four countries, the Altai Mountain’s most southerly edge peters out into Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and its northern fringes overlook the great plains of Western Siberia and Kazakhstan. The central part of the range runs for over four hundred kilometers through China’s northern Xinjiang province. Altay City’s regional airport is the ideal starting point for excursions here. From there you can access Kanas Lake which is home to ethnic Tuvans and Kazakhs; the icy peak of Youyi Feng (4374m) bordering Mongolia; and over 200 glaciers which give rise to the mighty Irtysh River which weaves its way north into Russia before terminating in the Arctic Ocean. If you appreciate alpine vistas and are looking to discover a quiet corner in the world’s most populated country, then head on over to the Chinese Altai!
Visa required for most nationalities. Must be applied for in advance at Chinese Embassy/ Consulate.
Wide variety of temperatures and climates. Tropical, temperate, and plateau climates all present.
Three prong style system found in China and South Pacific (type I). Two prong USA style system (type A). European two prong style socket (type C).
Most guesthouses and hotels have adequate Wifi. In cities 4G works well. Not possible to use WhatsApp or Gmail.
Cuisine varies widely depending upon where you are in China. Rice is a staple largely in the south whilst wheat is a more common staple in the North. Dishes often feature meat. Spice levels vary.
Alcohol is permitted and is widely available
Mandarin and Cantonese. Multiple other regional languages and dialects also spoken.
Officially an atheist country. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are all recognised by the state
No special dress code.
SAFTEY & SECURITY
The FCO considers China to be a low risk region to travel.
ALTAI MOUNTAINS SKI TRIP
In January 2019, we organised a ski trip to the Altai Mountains in China for Jenn from Canada. The region is thought to be where skiing originated and ancient petroglyphs can be seen depicting skiers. This really is adventure travel at its best, an area largely unvisited by westerners.