2013: Exploratory Trip to Xinjiang Province in China

2013 promises to be an exciting year with multiple Workshops and Expeditions to the Polar regions; including Iceland, Antarctica, Svalbard, Greenland and the Arctic. To those of you who may be accompanying me to one or more of these wonderful locations I am very much looking forward to travelling with you and shooting together. As has been tradition here on my blog I will soon put together a post with more detail on exactly what is in store for 2013; but it is going to be a lot of fun and I am seriously looking forward to it.  In the meantime, I am announcing that after months of research I have decided to also travel next year to the remote and sparsely populated Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China. Xinjiang is located in the extreme north west of China and borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and covers an area over 1.6 million square kilometers. This is a personal trip I am taking with a good friend and fellow professional photographer (Antony Watson) and is in essence an investigation expedition that I am hoping will lead to a future workshop into this very remote and rarely visited  (and even less rarely photographed) part of North Western China.

I have been researching a possible trip to this remote region of China for well over a year now and had hit quite a lot of snags (not the least of which was the language barrier) and more than a few roadblocks that had almost forced me to give up. Local infrastructure is very light in this remote province and the logistics are incredibly difficult to arrange to ensure the best photographic opportunities. Information about these areas from a photographer’s perspective is very thin and in many cases simply unavailable. Thankfully, I have been able to partner with both an experienced Chinese travel agent and a well respected local land operator that has the experience I was looking for and who is providing 4-wheel drive vehicles and resident guides with the critical local knowledge I need to accommodate photographers. After much discussion and planning we have been able to put together a thirteen day / twelve night itinerary that takes us into some of the most remote and spectacular parts of provincial China; many of which have rarely if ever been photographed by a dedicated photography expedition. Indeed, some of the areas we will visit in the Gobi desert have likely never been photographed.

We will be flying into Shanghai in early May where we will catch a connecting flight to Ürümqi; which is the capital city of Xinjiang. Ürümqi whose name means beautiful pasture in the Mongolian language is the largest city in the western most region of China and is the starting point for this investigative expedition.

Just some of the places we will be visiting during this thirteen-day trip include the Tian Shan mountain ranges; which span some 2,800 kilometers and offer amazing snow capped mountain vistas with much of the lower mountains covered with green pines and cypress. Crystal clear lakes reflect the mountains early in the morning and should make for outstanding photography. We will visit the Wuerhe Ghost City where centuries of howling winds have eroded and weathered the multi-faceted rock formations into eerie and unusual shapes that are known for creating ghostly light at sunset. There are thousands of gorges and crisscross gullies winding through the multitude of colored rock formations. This scarcely visited area provides a unique opportunity to photograph the amazing rock formations and we plan to shoot here at both sunrise and sunset when the light will be at its best. We will also head into and photograph the mighty Gobi desert. The Gobi desert spans half a million square miles and is the fifth largest desert in the world. It is most notable for being part of the Mongol Empire and the Silk Road. Primarily consisting of exposed bare rock formations (rather than sand like most deserts) the Gobi desert should provide literally limitless opportunities for landscape and wilderness photography.

This photograph was taken by  Chen Zhao and was licensed under the creative commons on the 11th December 2009 and shows the Tian Shan mountain range with Khan Tengri (6995 m) in the center.We will travel to Hemu and photograph the birch tree forests, the Hemu river and the Hemu grasslands. Special access has been arranged for us to visit a small remote village populated by scattered wooden framed houses built by the Tuva Mongols; believed to be descendants of the troops of Genghis Khan. Whilst in the grasslands we hope to encounter the rare red deer as well as other wildlife.

When we have finished in Hemu we will travel to Kanasi whose name means ‘rich and mysterious beauty’ in Mongolian. This area promises to be one of the most alluring parts of Northern Xinjiang. We will visit the Kanasi Nature Reserve, which is home to Kanas Lake.  The lake fills from the Kanasi river which originates from the Kanasi glacier in the Altay Mountains. Kanasi lake is 4500 feet above sea level and covers an area of 28 square miles so the opportunities for photography should be limitless. The lake is perhaps best known for its amazing turquoise color in spring and autumn. We will spend a couple of days in this area before we head to Burqin along the Ergsi River and then Karamay. We hope to see and photograph wild horses along the way as well as the spectacular natural landscape.

Finally we will photograph The Devil City which encompasses hills and valleys and is perhaps best known for its yardang landscape.  The term “yardangs” comes from the Uygur language, meaning “steep hill”, and now it refers to a landform of wind-eroded hollows, mounds and unusual formations. The name ‘The Devil City’ comes from the eerie and strange sound the wind makes in spring and autumn as it whistles through the rock formations. From here we will head back to Ürümqi and catch a flight to Beijing before returning home.

If all goes well the trip and itinerary we are taking will form the basis for a future workshop to this remote provincial region of China. In the meantime, this exploratory trip promises to be quite the adventure and will prove a nice counter point to the time I will be spending in the Polar regions. Internet access is more or less unknown in many of the areas where we will be photographing; but we do hope to post some dispatches from the field whenever possible.

3 thoughts on “2013: Exploratory Trip to Xinjiang Province in China

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s