The western province of Xinjiang in China is very much a part Central Asia rather than East Asia. Known in the past as Turkestan, the region is traditionally more 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. The Altai is said to be the ‘cradle of skiing’ with the oldest known evidence of skiing found on rock paintings near the Mongolian border. Lack of ski promotion and infrastructure has meant the ski trails are mainly utilised by farmers herding cattle and Untamed Borders guests. For culture lovers and road trippers Kashgar, the old trading town with its bustling Sunday livestock market is a must. The jumping off point for a drive down the Karakorum Highway into Pakistan or west along the Pamir highway to Tajikistan. Two of the world’s great high altitude road trips.
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 is better considered and understood as another corner of Central Asia but one under Chinese governance. Whilst Beijing has exerted considerable influence on the region the identity and culture of the Uighur’s still remains strong as ever and there’s so much to see and discover here ranging from the Taklimakan Desert, endless swathes of high plateau, ancient caravanserais of the Silk Road and of course the local heartland of the region, Kashgar.
Similar to 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 monstrous 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 strongly controlled by the Chinese government there’s still 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 given 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 home to many cultures including Han, Mongol, Muslim and Tibetan. It’s also the location of the sources of three of China’s major rivers; Mekong, Yellow and Yangtze.
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 all excursions. 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.