Saturday, September 27, 2008

Meili Snow Mountains

One of Life's most awesomest experiences - watching dawn light falling onto the 13 peaks of Meili Snow Mountains.

The Meili Snow Mountains (梅里雪山 ), or the Prince Mountains is a range of mountains situated in the northeast region of Diqing county in Yunnan China. It's main peak, Kawa Karpo, is one of the holiest mountains of Tibetan Buddhism. Like Mt Kailash, thousands of pilgrims would undergo a kora (circumambulation) round the mountain. While "only" 6740m, Kawa Karpo has not been ascended.

Flanking Kawa Karpo on both sides, there are 12 other snow capped peaks. Every morning, when the sky is clear, the rising sun's rays will fall onto these peaks, bringing the mountains on fire. The prime location to view this spectacular phenomena is a village/town of FeiLaiSi. Transport can be arranged in the town of Deqin, and guesthouses are plenty in FeiLaiSi. It is said that clear days are a rarity here, so I stayed 2 nights to maximise the chances of viewing. And I got 2 days of clear weather!

And so, I managed to enjoy one of Life's most awesomest experiences, twice. :)

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Hemu is a delightful village situated in the northern regions of Xinjiang China. Set amidst forests of birch & poplars, the village bursts into fields of yellow and orange during autumn and draws many Chinese photographers all over.

The village is accessed mainly via private vehicle or trekking. There is a very popular 2-day trek from Hemu to Kanas (or vice versa), another even more popular Chinese retreat. The main draw of Kanas is Kanas lake, which is turning out to be too touristy for my liking. However, the trek is fabulous, and while most travellers do the trek on a horse (a horse trek), those who wants flexibility for photography should do their trek on foot. The trek passes through beautiful valleys of the Altai mountains, and the typical overnight stays are in local yurts, hosted by nomadic Kazaks. The most common overnight location would be near Black Lake, and even in autumn, the place would often snow, so appropriate clothings should be prepared.

Hemu village itself comprises mostly of Kazaks. In the height of autum season, every morning before the sun rises, hordes of photographers would make their way up a hill which overlooks the village. Early morning mists would cover the village, and when the sun rises, it dissipates the mists and casts its rays onto the wooden houses of the village. Sandwiched between the golden forestry, it's a scene that will easily bewitch anyone, let alone photographers!

While there are many local (Chinese) photographers/tourists/travellers, foreigners are still almost non-existent there. Whichever the state the village will eventually become, I am glad I managed to see its current beauty.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Kashgar, or Kashi in Chinese, is an important city along the silk roads during the days of old. Inevitably, today, it is now one of the major stops for tourists/backpackers travelling the Silk Road route. However, most people on a tour package would only have a day or two here, which is a shame really, as I think here is place which you should savour at a slower pace.

Two widely known attractions in Kashgar would be its Sunday Market and Abakh Khoja's Tomb. The latter, one of the holiest place in Xinjiang, houses the remains of Abakh Khoja, who was a powerful ruler of Kashgar, and the leader of the White Hat Sect of Islam. However, it is his grand-daughter, who was also entombed here (as was 71 other relatives/descendants), that has gained more fame than him today. She is supposed to be the Fragrance Concubine of the Qing emperor QianLong, and so most people know this attraction as Xiang Fei Mu (tomb)!

As for the Sunday Market, it is indeed an eye opener for many. However, certain parts of the market have succumbed to the tourist boom, and there is now a huge mall-like structure that houses scores of stalls selling the same stuff. Better to stick to the stalls outside, where you see all kinds of foodstuff and services being marketed. In particular, the livestock market should not be missed. Apparently, it has been moved further away and separated from the main market (possibly for hygiene reasons?). But it sure is far more interesting, as you can literally see the locals selecting/haggling over sheep, horses, cows and the like! Definitely one of the highlights of Kashgar!

The other highlight for me, is a walk into the Old Town of Kashgar. Here, away from the bustle of commerce and other tourists, you can see the real daily life of the locals. What's more, if you wander around at the right time, you can catch a glimpse of the children going/leaving school, and they are a delight to capture! They just love to have their pictures taken (and shown to them)! I could spend a day walking around just like that!

It certainly helps that Kashgar is also the start/end point of the Karakoram Highway, which attracts lots of travellers. But even if it's not, this city is worth a visit in its own right.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Karakuli Lake

The journey through the Karakoram Highway into Xinjiang China typically ends at Kashgar, a fascinating city to visit in its own right. But in between that and Tashkurgan, the border town of China and Pakistan, lies a gem of exquisite beauty that simply deserves recommendation.

Karakuli Lake, a highland lake at 3600m, sits below the majestic grandeur of the Pamir range. The reflections of the ice-covered peaks of Mt Khongur and Muztagh Ata on the lake itself is certainly one of the highlights of the visit. Treks can be done round the lake, and even to the base of Muztagh Ata itself. However, due to the altitude, make sure you are properly acclimatised.

Around the lake itself, small pockets of Khirghiz living in their yurts can provide for an interesting night stay in Karakuli Lake. However, the ugly side of tourism has emerged as the Chinese government seems to be building a fence and some "resort" round the lake and charging for entrance fees! My stay outside the fenced area, with a Khirghiz family was alot more authentic I feel. But of course, you'll have to live with its basic facilities, which means no heater in the cold night, and enduring nature's calling if its gets too cold outside. It actually snowed in the night even though it was late summer/early autumn!

Transport to Karakuli can be easily arranged in Kashgar, with many travel agents providing the service. If coming from Pakistan/Tashkurgan, the bus from Tashkurgan to Kashgar passes by Karakuli lake, and you can easily get the driver to alight you here. Again, highly recommended for me!