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Kanas Lake Nature Reserve/China

Introducing Kanas Lake Nature Reserve

Travellers rave about the splendid alpine scenery at R&R-perfect Kanas Lake, a long finger of a lake found in the southernmost reaches of the Siberian taiga ecosystem. The forests, dominated by spruce, birch, elm and Siberian larch, are spectacular in autumn; semi-nomadic Kazakhs love to meet travellers.

Many come hoping to see a cameo by the Kanas Lake Monster (it deserves a more poetic moniker), a mythical beast – yes, yes, China’s Nessie – that has long figured in stories around yurt campfires to scare the little ’uns. Apparently he/she reappeared in 2005 and again in 2006, bringing tons of journalists and conspiracy hounds (puzzled Chinese scientists insist it’s just a big school of salmon-like fish).

Big changes are coming. The government is simultaneously trying to draw oodles more tourists here – it’s swarming already in summer – and do it with less of a footprint. All lodging and restaurants are slated to be removed from the area and rebuilt elsewhere, probably at Tuva, 18km away.

A great day-hike is to the lookout point, Guanyu Pavilion; Guānyú Tíng; 2030m). It’s a long, ambling walk from the village (tons of steps); from the top are superb panoramas of the lake, Friendship Peak and the nearby grasslands. It’s possible to return to the village via a circuitous scenic route down the eastern slope by following the dirt road, a loop that takes a lazy five hours. If you’re short on time, a bus (Y30 return) drives to the Guanyu Pavilion steps from outside the village.

There are similar landscapes in the neighbouring valley of Hemu Kanas (Hémù Hānàsī) and the Bai Kaba (Báihābā) village. You may be able to hire a taxi from Kanas Lake to the village (Y150) or if hiring a taxi from Bù’ěrjīn to Kanas Lake, you may be able to negotiate a detour on the way.

Eighteen kilometres past the entrance to the reserve (Hānàsī Hú Zìrán Bǎohùqū; admission Y100) is a Tuva village, which now serves as the tourist centre. The area is only accessible from mid-May to mid- October, with ice and snow making transport difficult the rest of the year.