Myth and majesty in China’s Xinjiang lake district

The lakes, forests and mountains of China’s far north are attracting tourists by the busload, but there’s still plenty of untouched wilderness to enjoy

Lake Kanas, in China’s Xinjiang province, is about as far from the east coast megacities as it’s possible to get without leaving the country. Sapphire waters flow through pine forests under mountains still capped with snow in June – it’s reminiscent of British Columbia. But now, in lands traditionally home to yurt-dwelling nomads, log cabins are being erected to house busloads of tourists. And where British Columbia has its Bigfoot sightings, Kanas is also home to mythical monsters: lake dwellers a bit like Chinese Nessies.

In the local language, Tuvan, these monsters are called hobzhk, which means “changing” or “strange”. Tuvan lore says they plug the bottom of the 189-metre-deep lake, preventing it from emptying out, a job so important that, 800 years ago, Genghis Khan assigned 126 soldiers to protect them. Grainy video footage aired on Xinjiang TV a few years ago showed huge black creatures breaking the lake’s surface.

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