Mike's China by Mike Dixon - HTML preview
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The English name is an exact translation of the Chinese "Tien Shan". The mountains stretch for 1500 km (1000 miles) along the northern rim of the Taklimakan desert, from Urumqi in the east to Kashi in the west. They are as spectacular as the European Alps and very popular amongst Chinese skiers.
The Tien Shan are accessible from Urumqi and fleets of buses take tourists on day trips. You can join the crowds and travel on cable cars to scenic valleys with lakes and Chinese temples or you can wander down county lanes and explore Kazakh villages.
Many ethnic Kazakhs (another Turkic people) live in the Tien Shan. Some still lead a nomadic life, taking their flocks into the mountain pastures in spring and returning to the valleys in late autumn. The government has established winter campsites for them along the main roads. The sites are equipped with modern facilities and widely used.
The herds people still live in yurts, similar to those of the Mongolians to the north. These highly functional, demountable dwellings may be likened to huge baskets covered in watertight materials and insulated inside. In the past they were transported by ponies. Today, lorries are used. The yurts are snug, warm and fitted out with the essentials of modern living, including television sets.
It is a mistake to think of the herds people as poor. Some are but many families are prosperous. In a sense they are like ranchers who move around with their animals. Some have large herds and own property in the city.
Many Kazakhs live in Urumqi and work in offices and factories. In the weekends some like to head for the hills and live like grandma once did. A thriving industry has developed to cater for them. It supplies on-site yurts equipped with modern toilets, running water and electricity. Grandma would be envious.
I met one young entrepreneur and his mum. The guy is well over six-foot tall and towers over his diminutive mother. He speaks Kazakh, Mandarin, English and German. He translated for his proud mum who told us that she had been born in a yurt. Her son was born in hospital and attended school in Urumqi. In the space of five years he established a thriving yurt business and planned to buy a small bus for guided tours. There's a lot of business acumen in China and it's not confined to the Han Chinese.