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Local people benefit from developing tourism
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By Zhang Yunxing

China.org.cn staff reporter

Ten years ago, Habik was a herdsman feeding his cattle and sheep on the Tianshan Mountains. Now he is owner of two yurts at a Kazak-style vacation site at the foot of the mountains, and has two vehicles registered under his name, each costing over 50,000 yuan.

Habik was a herdsman 10 years ago. Now he is owner of two yurts at a Kazak-style vacation site at the foot of the Tianshan Mountains. [China.org.cn/Zhang Yunxing]

The 37-year-old Kazak, father of two boys, said he once felt saddened at giving up grazing and starting a new business. In 2006, he invested 60,000 yuan building up two 50-square-meter yurts at a vacation site at the foot of the Tianshan Mountains. Before he moved in, the local government had made everything ready including water and electricity supply, planting, and road construction.

Habik's yurts, 100 meters from a newly-renovated road that leads directly to the gates of the Tianshan Tianchi Lake Scenic site, can accommodate 15 to 20 people and cost 1,200 to 1,300 yuan per stay. Prices of all food and additional services are clearly tagged. For example, a Kazak-style music and dance performance costs 100 yuan a day.

"The first year (2006) was tough because I didn't know how to run a business like this. The best year was 2007 – I made about 50,000 yuan," Habik said. "And I'm sure this year will be a harvest year," he added with a smile. Before launching the yurt business, Habik was earning about 20,000 a year.

The vacation site has over 90 households, each running two yurts. All these households were relocated from the upper Tianshan Mountains. In 2005, the local government invested over 600 million yuan on a relocation project involving over 10,000 farmers and herdsmen, aimed at restoring the environment of the Tianshan Mountains that mainly lie within the current Tianshan Tianchi Lake Scenic Site. Taking Sangong Township, for example: 967 households of a population of about 3,400 were relocated from the heights of the Tianshan Mountains to the foot. All households were compensated and some of them used the money to invest in the yurt business, Habik being one of them.

Initially, some Kazak herdsmen complained to Amantay, deputy director of Tianchi Management Committee: "We are herdsmen - what can we do if we leave our pasture? You are a Kazak and you are the director, why don't you do something useful for us?" But a year later, the complaints turned to praise: "We Kazaks have a good official – and his name is Amantay. Thanks to him, we live a better life now."

Tianshan Tianchi Lake [China.org.cn/Zhang Yunxing]

"The ecology of Xinjiang is very fragile – once destroyed, it will take decades or even a century to recover, so we will never go back to old mode of sacrificing the environment for economic development," said Inam Nasirdin, head of the Tourism Bureau of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Due to overgrazing and overdevelopment of tourism, the environment of the Tianshan Mountains, especially around the Tianchi Lake, suffered badly in the past. Subsequently the autonomous region government took comprehensive measures to improve and restore the environment, including returning farmland to forest, reforestation, and controlled rotational grazing.

"You've seen the beautiful lakes and mountains – can you believe this was once a place where horse and sheep manure lay all over the place, leaving a perpetual smell," Inam told the China.org.cn reporter.

Tianchi Lake lies on the north side of Bogda Peak of Tianshan Mountains. The scenic site, consisting of a broader area around the lake, was dubbed as a national 5A class scenic sites in 2007.

(China.org.cn May 15, 2009)

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