Saturday, 28 October 2017

Silk Road: Tianshan Lake

Tianshan Lake with its water source, the Tianshan Mountains in the back
Most places in Xinjiang get their water source from Tianshan Mountains, and Tianshan Lake is one of them. The lake is 1,907 metres above sea level and is 4.9 square kilometres, and 105 metres deep at its deepest point.

For lunch we had traditional Hui ethnic minority food
We drove several hours to get here, and after going through the ticket turnstiles. we had to board another tour bus to drive several kilometres up a winding road where we saw water rushing down natural gullies.

The bus dropped us off at the base, where we could then either take a golf cart up to the lake or walk up about a kilometre and I did the latter, a steady incline up through a wooded area which was refreshing and cool.

When we reached the lake, we first went to have lunch in a nearby restaurant that served Hui ethnic minority food. The specialty features nine dishes on a large square platter including a tureen of soup and of course some rice.

A panoramic view of Tianshan Lake (minus the helicopter)
The food were delicious, some of them a bit spicy, others not, like stewed fish, roasted chicken, minced meat wrapped in tofu like rolls and sliced thinly, thin slices of beef and glutinous rice.

On a full stomach it was the perfect time to walk around part of the lake. It is quite crystal clear, a deep aquamarine blue colour, and the snow-capped mountains -- the Tianshan Mountains -- in the distance.

The runoff from the Tianshan Mountains rushing down
While we were there, a helicopter seemed to be doing some filming as it hovered over the lake creating lots of ripples, which isn't normally the case. It seemed to be filming a ferry that was completely empty, perhaps for a promotional video.

But I have to admit the view was pretty impressive and reminded us of Lake Louise in in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

The water that flows from Tianshan Mountains is very precious and the Uyghurs were very clever in figuring out how to use it effectively by creating an underwater canal system called karez in Uyghur that dates back to 103 BC. Without this water system, civilization in the area would not exist.

Karez were built to be able to send water at longer distances
Back thousands of years ago, the Uyghurs dug vertical wells for water. But they also built canals so that the wells were linked together horizontally and spread out as far as 5,000km.

They were able to figure out where to dig and how to ensure both ends would meet horizontally to carry water further from the water source. This in turn helped irrigate otherwise parched land to grow crops and also sustain people. As a result, this water system took several generations to build.

In total there were over 1,100 karez, but now only about 400 are functioning -- this will impact Turpan in terms of having enough water for everyone and climate change is also a big factor. What will happen when there is no more melting snow on the Tianshan Mountains? What will people do then?

Water rushing by from a karez as shown through the glass
It's a sad reality, which probably also explains why the water pressure in our hotel rooms were quite low and taking a shower took much longer than usual. But it is a good wake up call not to waste water, and that an impending drought could become a reality in Turpan and the surrounding areas.

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