Xinjiang has just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding as an Autonomous Region. Known as a land of song and dance, Xinjiang is a dream place for romantic and adventurous travelers.
There is a saying in China that you do not know how large China is until you have been to Xinjiang. And there is a saying in Xinjiang that you do not know how beautiful the place is without going to Ili.
Travel Express Vol.68: Ili Valley
Ili Kazak region, in northwestern Xinjiang, is an important grain and oil producer as well as a center for husbandry in Xinjiang. It is about 60 kilometers east of the Kazakhstan border. It's also used to be an important town along the ancient Silk Road. Ili has many historic sites with a rich collection of relics. But another famous association of Yili is a song made famous by legendary musician Wang Luobin, who is called the Folk Song King of northwest. Kazak folk music seems to have found inspiration from their living-on-horseback lifestyle. Cheerful tones and bouncy "clop-alike" beat of Mayila, a typical kazak folk song became Mr. Wang's favorite and he made the girl, Mayila a household name in entire China.
Wang Luobing once acclaimed the Silk Road is not only opened by caravan but also accompanied by the folk music all along the way. Among these mountains and meadows that gave birth to Xinjiang folk music, Wang Luobin wondered for decades and found his own far-flung home, where the living and loving inspired the music that tells it just like it is.
So our journey in Xinjiang will be guided by this legendary musician Wang Luobin. In my determination to follow Mr. Wang's footstep and make this trip both scenic and musical, I mapped out my 1000 miles road trip in Yili only according to one musical compass¡ªMayila.
Besides music, kazak people always like poem and call it "the king of the language", to be in a place like this, it is not so difficult to write a idyll.
Xinjiang is associated with Silk Road and camel caravan so often that most of people pictured Xinjiang as a place of vast desert and Gobi, dotted with some oasis. Driving around Ili region will totally rectify that misconception.
Vast natural pasture here provides enough forage for livestock, and the lush forest offers endless quarry for experienced hunters. All the local Kazak people need to do is to move up or down the mountainous meadow according to the season in chasing after the warmth and forage.
Kazak hospitality lies in the blood. Once you step into a Kazak yurt, even uninvited, you are treated with warmth and courtesy as a respectable guest.
Because I am a guest from afar, I got the special treatment. I am firstly offered a cup of local diary drink, which is lightly fulminated by taste innocently alcohol-free. It is sweet and sour, but a pinch of sugar would not hurt.
If you are among those self-acclaimed hopeless in singing and dancing, drink a few bowls of it will help you catch up with the spirit of the locals.
Nomadic living means a constant change of locations in chase of warmth. Even in summer, it is cool and even chilly here at night, Kazak handcraft tends to serve the practical and aesthetic purposes at the same time.
In a place like this, people just want to be born with a pair of wings. Kazak people call their horse "the wings"
Kazak people are known for their open heart and straightforward character. Even between boys and girls, there is no subtle flirtation, more of, "if you like me, go and get me!"
Travel Express Vol.68: Ili Valley
[Photo Gallery] Absolute Xinjiang