The Chinese Lake District: Xinjiang

Those planning a holiday to China may understandably be thinking of the big metropolises of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, but inland in Xinjiang province there is a tranquil world of turquoise water which is China’s answer to England’s lake district.

The scenery – all pine forests and snow-topped hills – is breathtaking, and the entire region feels untouched by the bustle of modern life. The lakes are also the subject of ancient Chinese legend which is as fascinating as it is mysterious: Kanas Lake is said to be home to mythical monsters called hobzhk, meaning “changing” or “strange” in the local Tuvan language, which plug the depths of the water to stop it from emptying out.

Here are three of most stunningly beautiful lakes that should be on your itinerary if you are exploring the Xinjiang lakes.


Heavenly Lake

Not far from the capital Urumqi, this is perhaps the most well-known of the province’s lakes. It’s for good reason, too: a hike in the clean air atop the Peak of God is a wonderful rejuvenator, and you can enjoy a traditional experience staying overnight in a Kazakh yurt. Despite being very easy to reach on a short trip from the city, this lake still offers celestial peace and quiet out in this wonderful natural environment.

Kanas Lake

The widely-photographed Kanas Lake is one of the deepest in China at 190m and is actually a section of the crystal-clear, glacier-fed Kanas River. It is not the largest lake in terms of the area it covers, but it is packed with fantastic views. This is a haven for photographers, who travel from far and wide to capture the pure turquoise of the water. Visit during Spring or the Autumn for spectacular walking and hiking opportunities and majestic panoramas (this should also ensure that you steer clear of too much snow). Mountain peaks soar all around and you can look out for the infamous Kanas Lake Monster!

Karakul Lake

The name of this magnificent lake means “Black Lake” in the local language, but some say that the water here changes colour from purple to ethereal blue in a magical light-show. There are few tourists who venture to this secluded spot and the shores of the lake are wonderfully unspoilt. Take a stroll and watch the clouds stroke the tops of the snow-capped Muztag Mountain, or hop on horseback and embark on a trip around the edge of the lake – you can comfortably travel the full circumference of the lake on a trek. One of the gems of this area is a small village at the foot of the mountain with buildings made of mud and brick in traditional style. You can support the locals here by buying a handmade wool rug to remember your trip by and take home.


Not well-known by tourists but well worth making the detour to explore, the lakes of Xinjiang are a treasure of this north-western corner of China. The scenery will take your breath away and the clean air will do you the world of good.