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Cover Stories Series 2013> Against Terrorism in Xinjiang> Archive
UPDATED: August 24, 2012 NO.35 AUGUST 30, 2012
Happiness on Horseback
Kazaks find a better life as tourism booms in Kanas
By Bai Shi


WRANGLER'S LIFE: Yirmik (right) and his youngest brother ride horses on the foothills of the Altay Mountains on July 29, on the way to a campground for tourists (BAI SHI) 

When people travel to the Kanas tourist area in the summer time— the most bustling tourism season for the Altay Mountains in the north of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region—they will often find herds of cows and sheep idly grazing on the vast prairie along the road. Not far from the herds, Kazaks gallop on horseback and yell excitedly. Kazaks in Altay have maintained a lighthearted nomadic life for hundreds of years.

However, today's Kazaks are not limited to herding. They have engaged in tourism and enjoy a better life as Kanas attracts more and more tourists from home and abroad every year.

Yirmik, 22, is a Kazak herdsman in Burqin County. He is the second son in a big family and now lives with his parents, an elder brother and the youngest brother. The rest of his eight siblings have jobs in the county.

"In June, when summer comes, we would move from our residency in the county seat to Jiadengyu, a rallying point for tourists on the road leading to the Kanas scenic spot. We camp on the grassland and graze the herds on a nearby hill," Yirmik told Beijing Review.

Yirmik's family, along with hundreds of other families, offers lodging and food to tourists who come to the campground to experience traditional Kazak life. By day, he usually rides his motorcycle through the small town, inviting tourists to visit his camp.

"We have two yurts in the campground. One is for my family; the other is used to receive tourists. My elder brother and his wife make traditional Kazak food for tourists," Yirmik said.

Yirmik raises two horses, which he rents to tourists for 100 yuan ($15.75) per hour. "My youngest brother Ushtar also helps me manage the business, if I am too busy. He is a high school student. We Kazaks learn riding at age of 7 or 8, so we are all skilled riders," Yirmik said.

With tourism booming in Kanas for its scenic landscape and traditional lifestyle after 2007, local people are gradually sharing the prosperity and realizing the potential of tourism.

"In 2009, my parents decided to join with other villagers to engage in tourism-related businesses. We rent yurts and horses to visitors. Today, there are about 140 households offering a variety of services to tourists in this campground," Yirmik said. "Each yurt can lodge 10 people, making 300 yuan ($47.25) in total a day. In addition to other income, my family can earn nearly 40,000 yuan ($6,300) from tourism during summer.

However, Yirmik has his own dream. "Herding is a part of my life but it's not everything. I want to go out of the mountains to start my own business," he said. "Last year, I opened a garment shop in the county seat, but three months later I closed it because of poor performance. Nevertheless, I will fulfill my dream if I have an opportunity in the future."

Yirmik seems a little anxious about his future. He looks forward to earning enough money to marry his girlfriend who moved to China from Kazakhstan several years ago. "I love her. I am making efforts to earn more money for us. A wedding usually costs at least 60,000 yuan ($9,449) for a family."

In October, Kazak herdsmen retreat from the mountains before the terrible winter in Xinjiang sets in. Like others, Yirmik's family lives in a house that the local government built for them. Their house is equipped with home appliances, including a TV set, a refrigerator and a washing machine, and has a telephone and Internet connection.

In recent years, the local government has taken measures to help Kazak herdsmen settle down and improve their livelihood. With fast growing income, local residents can look forward to a better tomorrow.

Email us at: baishi@bjreview.com

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