Herders preserve, promote heritage as they steer growth

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, August 16, 2022
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Unlike many of his friends, Bahajan Soltanahen did not choose to stay in the city after he graduated from college.

Instead, he decided to head straight back to his home in the grasslands of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Bahajan, 26, is a member of the Kazak ethnic group, known for their traditional nomadic lifestyles. When he saw how his village, nestled in the lush mountain valleys of Xinyuan county in the Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture, was reaping the rewards of development through major sectors such as tourism, he wanted to do his part and contribute to its growth, sharing the beauty of his home and heritage at the same time.

"Our ethnic traditions and customs are very valuable, so I wanted to take the opportunity to preserve and promote them to other people," he says.

In the past four years, Bahajan has built on the basic tourist lodging, catering and other hospitality services first offered by his parents. His home now boasts rooms and traditional Kazak tent dwellings that can altogether accommodate 100 visitors a day, more than triple the initial capacity.

Guests at the Kazak lodging get to enjoy ethnic meals, celebrations and other local activities, such as roast mutton skewers and pilaf, nang flatbread, thirst-quenching, organically grown melons and other fruit, and dancing accompanied by folk stringed instruments´╝Źall that with the breathtaking Nalati grasslands right at their doorstep.

"We still rear about 40 cattle and 20 horses, which produce meat for sale and give us delicious fermented mare's milk. Visitors can also explore our beautiful prairies on horses," he says.

The family can make 150,000 yuan ($22,185) from tourists during the peak travel season between May and September, joining many other ethnic households in the area where local authorities have helped spur the growth of the sector through incentives, infrastructure development and training.

Successful ventures like these mean tourism is becoming a pillar industry of the new economy of the area alongside traditional animal husbandry. The village is often cited and visited by internet celebrities and is listed as a key rural travel site by the local industry.

Similar to many other local ethnic entrepreneurs of his generation, Bahajan also expects to grow his business further by riding on increasingly important digital trends, such as promoting his home through social media, video-sharing and livestreaming platforms. His training and education in information technology also come in handy for these projects.

"My parents are getting older, so I want to do more for the family. I hope we can expand the yard and add more rooms, improve the experience for guests and attract more of them here to discover what our communities and environment have to offer," he says.

"We still raise cattle and horses, to maintain our traditional nomadic and herding practices, especially during the off-peak travel periods. We get to enjoy stable, sound development while keeping our heritage and culture alive and well."

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