Next up: Altai Mountains, Kanas Lake, Ulungur Lake, Sarbulaq Ranch.

This aerial view of the Altai Mountains somehow reminds me of the Casterly Rock in Game of Thrones.

Don’t the trees look like sentries?

Who knows if there’s also a gold mine underneath.

This hole that seems to go straight to the centre of the earth is the Number 3 Koktokay Mine.

It’s actually 150 metres deep. 76 different types of precious metals are mined here. Some of them might even be more valuable than gold.

Altai means “gold” in Mongolian. There used to be over 50,000 gold diggers who came to the mountains.

Now the mountains are home to mostly livestock farmers and their precious animals.

A bridge for livestock.

Off-piste skiing, anyone?

The Kanas Lake.

It goes as deep as 190 metres.

Unlike Nessie who lives in Loch Ness and hasn’t made a public appearance for years, the monsters who live in Kanas Lake are real and come up for air occasionally, giving the visitors a “pleasant” surprise.

Not that. That’s just a horse.

Stories are told of horses who come for a drink of water, and are dragged into the bottom of the lake.

One theory is that the monsters are just giant Siberian tamen.

They can grow up to two metres long. National Geographic calls them the Mongolian Terror Trout.

In comparison, the Ulungur Lake looks much more peaceful.

It’s one of the two most important fishing lakes in Xinjiang.

Pond smelt.

These tiny silver fishes live for up to a year, but they breed like rabbits.

At sunset, while most fishes call it a day and retire to the bottom of the lake, pond smelts go up to the surface.

To eat, and to lay eggs.

All the fishermen have to do is to find a right spot on the lake, lay down the net, and wait for the pond smelts to hop in.

They taste like cucumber.

(Kirby, put down your hand. Yes we’re having deep-fried pond smelt tonight.)

Our dinner is on that boat.

But pond smelts are small, and not everyone is a fan of fish.

Hence our next stop.

Herdsmen urge their sheep and cattle forward, heading for the summer ranch 300 km away.

Leading the way is usually a woman, with several camels carrying their luggage.

Men bring up the rear, making sure no one wanders off.

Every year, they have to move the cattle at least four times, going wherever the grass is the juiciest.

It’s amazing how they manage to guide several hundred head of cattle over hundreds of kilometres. The Kazakhs people might make the best chaperone at kids’ spring trips.

The Kalajun Prairies.

Over ten million head of cattle spend their June on summer ranches like this.

After they are fattened up, they have to move again as winter approaches.


Responsible for the ample rainfall on the prairies is the Asian spruce, native to the Tian Shan mountains.

Their roots spread wide and far. Each tree can store up to 2.5 tonnes of water.

But enough about trees. We’re here for lamb kebabs and roasted whole lambs and deep-fried pond smelts.

By the way, there’s another advantage of a helicopter tour instead of a road trip—you won’t have to deal with road hogs like this:


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