The Kazakhs at Heaven Lake have recently seen massive changes to their livelihoods. Originally, they led a semi-nomadic herding existence in these hills, selling lambs in spring if the winter spared them – a hard, unpredictable business. However, in 2011 livestock grazing inside scenic areas was banned across Xinjiang, and overnight their traditional way of life disappeared. While this sea change has challenged the herders to adapt centuries-old habits, the natural environment has undeniably benefited, and the meadows of wild flowers around the lake have now returned to their former glory.
Today tourism has largely replaced herding as the chief source of local revenue, with the Kazakhs providing food and accommodation for visitors to Heaven Lake, as well as working and performing in the “Kazakh Village” that you’ll pass through en route to the lake. The sheep may have gone, but some traditions are still adhered to: visit in May – considered the most beautiful time – and you may get to try the alcoholic kumiss, fermented mare’s milk, a rare delicacy.