Located in Bu’erjin County of Altai Prefecture in northern Xinjiang, the Kanas Lake is one of top five most beautiful lakes in China, and is called the “Switzerland of the Orient” and the “heaven for photographers”. In the Mongolian language, “Kanas” means beautiful, rich and mysterious, which perfectly capture the essence of the place.
Situated at an altitude of over 1,374 meters above the sea level, the picturesque Kanas Lake is surrounded by virgin forests and pristine grasslands. The 44.78-square-kilometer lake is shaped like a bean pod, with its deepest point measuring 196 meters. Known as “Color-changing Lake”, the Kanas Lake is famous for its changing colors. The color of the water changes several times in a day, from dark green to sky blue, then to gray and white. The reason of the lake color change is that the seasonal variation causes the mineral composition change of lake water; and different color of the plant around is reflected in the lake.
Kanas Lake is famous for its natural beauty and discreet charm. But it is also known for the mysterious water monster, which, many believe, has killed horses drinking water from the lake or resting near its banks. There are several versions of what the monster looks like. Some say it is the last of the dinosaurs, while a few claim its head resembles that of a giant dog. Others ascribe the water monster to huge red fish called hucho taimen, which have big sharp teeth. Many people said they have captured the water monster on their still and video cameras, albeit just part of it. But none of the images is clear and convincing enough to prove the existence of the monster. Myth or reality, the creature does not stop people from enjoying the heavenly beauty of the lake. In fact, the opposite is true – people in droves visit the lake, with more brave hearts seeking to unravel the truth.
Besides the famous legends about “Kanas Monster”, the spectacle of “Buddha Halo Shining over Sea of Clouds” adds another air of mystery to the lake. After heavy rains in the early morning, you can appreciate the sunrise while standing in the Fish-viewing Pavilion on the top of a peak. During sunrises, clouds and mist curl high up over the Kanas Lake. Sometimes, you can encounter the great spectacle of Buddha Halo, like that of Emei Mountain, with reflections of the pavilion and human figures in the halo.
At the northernmost end of the Kanas Lake, you will find lots of withered trees along the lakeside. Carried by strong wind or waves into the lake, these dead trees strangely flow against the current to the lake’s north end and pile up in the upper reaches. With the elapse of time, a thousand-meter-long bank of dead trees came into being, forming a rare spectacle.
The Wolong Bay (or Crouching Dragon Bay) is another big attraction in the Kanas Lake area. The bay, on the Kanas River with its serpentine shoreline, resembles a Chinese dragon, hence the name.
Just one kilometer north of the Wolong Bay along the Kanas River is the Moon Bay, which gets its name from its moon-like shape. It is like a pearl enhancing the mysterious beauty of the Kanas River. The Moon Bay’s umbilical tie with the river prompts it to change its color along with that of the river. There are two small shoals on the right bank of the Moon Bay, which look like a pair of footprints. Since the bay is named after the moon, local people believe the two footprints belong to the fairy maiden Chang’e, who is said to live on the moon.
Sharing the border with Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, Kanas is not only home to virgin forests surrounded by pristine grasslands and many rare species of mammals and birds, but also home to the Tuva (Tuwa) people, who are a small ethnic minority group of Mongolian descent. While in Kanas do not forget to visit the Tuva Village as the Kanas Lake area is the only place in China where the Tuva people live. And the Tuva Village is one of the six most beautiful ancient villages in China, and the village with the most beautiful autumn scenery.
The Tuva people mainly live in three villages – Horm (Hemu) Village, Baihaba Village and Kanas Village – around the Kanas Lake, where they have preserved their lifestyle and traditions, including their houses which are built of wood, adding the Swiss ambiance to the place.
The best time to visit Kanas Lake is in June when the grass is green and flowers bloom, and in September when it presents a picturesque landscape of forests in a riot of colors with gold, red, blue and green. September is also the best time to take pictures.