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Travelogue of Yining Swan Lake, Xinjiang

A trip to the Swan Lake of Yining County, Xinjiang province offers amazing opportunity to see, observe, feed and film 122 mute swans.

After Winter Solstice (Dec 22, 2013), I and my friend Kevin packed to the far-flung Yining County in Xinjiang to see over 122 mute swans. Except for daily essentials, I also brought my down jacket, a pair of sport shoes with good grip, to fight against the coldness and slippery grounds respectively. Temperature can drop to minus 16 degrees here at this time of year.
swan lake yining county xinjiang-absolutechinatours

It is surprisingly to know that Xinjiang, a frontier province brims with colorful ethnic lifestyles, thriving wildlife and mesmerizing natural beauty, still remains off the radar of tourists by far. This maybe a blessing in disguise, for nature lover, outdoor fan and bird watching aficionado like me can have it all to myself.
swan lake yining county xinjiang

Back to the topic, what dragged us out of our air-conditioned apartments in Hangzhou, is the otherworldly scene of over 122 swans gliding along a misty winter lake. BTW, it turned out to be an indelible experience.

Yining County, with Jélilyüzi(吉里于孜) as its seat, is accessible with flight. After getting off the plane, we took a taxi to the Swan Lake in Yining County, also known as Yining Swan Nature Reserve(伊宁县天鹅栖息地保护区).
swan lake yining county xinjiang
We arrived at Yining county in the night and stayed in Yili Qinghua International Hotel in Yining County. The next morning, we got up early to visit the lake. Swirls of creamy white mist were floating over the lake. Silence reigned. A tranquil lake fringed by frost-bound forest, glistens and sparkles in front of us. A fairyland on earth it is. Emerging from the mist are pairs of white swans, which are by no way shy or disturbed by the presence of us.
swan lake yining county xinjiang

Since ancient times, swans have been warmly applauded in China, and they are synonymous with faithful love, integrity, beauty and grace. The Yining County local government is no exception. They set aside money to take care of those lovely feathered creatures. Local villagers also send Chinese cabbages to help swans to tide over the harsh winter. Thanks to their kindness, swans here are not afraid of people. An intimate bond between them and humanity is evident.
swan lake yining county xinjiang
We can capture them no more than 1.5 meters away.

Thanks to the ever-bubbling hot spring, Yining Swan Lake never freezes even during the worst winter. Since the late 1990s, this lake has become a winter resort for mute swans, whose population expands from few dozens to over 122. “Time your visit from October to April, and you will see them.” One local told us.
swan lake yining county xinjiang
When paired up, swans remain faithful all their lives. When one dies, out of aging or accident, the other will live an absolute solitary life forever.
swan lake yining county xinjiang

One defining trait of mute swans is their red beaks. They can grow up to 23kg, veritably the heaviest bird which can fly.

After watching the swans, we went to Ulungur Lake(乌伦古湖), which is located in Fuhai County, Xinjiang province to join the winter fishing festival. This festival involves colorful cultural activities such as fishing competition, fish worship ritual, ethnic singing& dancing as well as outdoor sports including slate-riding, hiking, cycling, camping, flying kites and photography contest.
ulungur lake xinjiang fishing festival

Like other lakes in Xinjiang, Ulungur Lake freezes since early November. December to March marks the fishing period.

In such cold winter, with the ice measuring from one to several meters deep, it is especially challenging to catch fish. With frozen eyebrows and mustaches, those ridiculous-looking fishermen engaged in this centuries-old trade and totally forgot about coldness and fatigue. Seeing their fruitful catch, they smiled broadly.

In the afternoon, we were transferred to downtown Urumqi. We had meal and a good rest in the hotel. After that, we went to the Urumqi Square to see countless ice sculptures, which rival Harbin’s. Red Hill also displays marvelous ice sculptures, but we felt too tired to visit it.

During our conversation with the locals, we came to know that Xinjiang boats hundreds of ski venues, and it hits as top three ski sites in China. We chose Tianshan International Ski Resort, the biggest in Xinjiang and one of the best in Asia. With height difference of the ski track reaching over 1,200meters, this resort is eligible to hold world-class ski competition. Notice 155 days out a year agree with ski activities here.

We hired a cab to Tianshan International Ski Resort, which is 60km away. One hour is needed during the trip. Tianshan International Ski Resort is bigger than I pictured. It cradles at the foot of four soaring snow peaks elevated over 3,000m.
xinjiang tianshan international ski resort

It is spacious and well-equipped. At the widest point, it measures over 600 meters across. It has a reception hall which can hold over 500 visitors comfortably. Over 20 yurts litter around, offering authentic nomadic lifestyle to visitors.

We had a meal in the cafeteria and sampled classic Xinjiang delicacies such as mutton kebabs, Shouzhua yangrou ( a boiled mutton that you can eat with your hands) and yogurt. For budget-minded visitors, this cafeteria also provides reasonably-priced dishes such as fried rice and noodles.

After that, we indulged in the ski, as well as dozens of activities including ice diving, fancy ski, motorcycle content above ice, horse-pulled sled and horse racing, for over 3 hours, till energy failed us.

Gallery of Swan Lake in Yining County, Xinjiang

swan lake yining county xinjiang
swan lake yining county xinjiang
swan lake yining county xinjiang
swan lake yining county xinjiang
swan lake yining county xinjiang
swan lake yining county xinjiang
swan lake yining county xinjiang
swan lake yining county xinjiang
Author: Sophia   Posted on Jan 13, 2014
Yuanyang Travel Tips
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