Home on the range in the wild Northwest

Updated: 2013-12-12 10:49

By Xue Chaohua and Ma Lie in Sunan, Gansu (China Daily USA)

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The recent influx of tourists brings new thinking and new ideas for Meng Xianguo, a 49-year-old herdsman in Northwest China's Gansu province.

Meng runs a small specialty shop in Kangle township, Sunan Yugur autonomous county.

His shelves are packed with local specialties, including ghee, qula (a kind of local cheese), black beans, white beans, wheat kernels, fried flour, mushrooms, barley flour and local ethnic specialty apparel and accessories, to welcome visitors from the region and far away.

"I like to learn things from visiting tourists in order to broaden my horizon and thinking," Meng says. He's pleased, though, that "my family also earns from the booming tourism".

This remote county has worked hard to attract an increasing number of visitors to the scenic countryside.

Like Meng, An Xiaoping, 48, another herdsman in the township, has also found opportunity in the travel industry.

There are four members in his family. While his son and daughter-in-law are still herding and his wife runs a small shop to sell daily goods to local people, An has created a business to serve tourists.

During the tourism season from June to October, An takes his horse to the Yugur Scenic Corridor, offering visitors a horseback ride around the scenic area. From this service, An can earn nearly 10,000 yuan ($1,642) a year.

According to An Xiaoyong, deputy director of the Yugur Scenic Corridor's management center, more than 200 herdsmen work to provide various services, including horseback-riding, specialty sales and catering.

The scenic corridor stretches nearly 80 kilometers along several Yugur townships. There are natural landscapes of the Qilian Mountains, grasslands and forests, as well as the cultural life of the Yugur ethnic group which has a history of more than 1,000 years.

The Yugur, an ancient nomadic people in northern China who have tended livestock for generations, today live only in Gansu province, concentrated in the county's alpine grasslands more than 2,000 meters above sea level.

In the last years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the population declined to fewer than 3,000 and was on the verge of dying out. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, however, and through some 60 years of development, the Yugurs' regional socio-economy has undergone profound changes and its population has increased to some 10,200 people.

The Yugurs are a hospitable people, eager to entertain guests at their homes with wine, mutton and butter tea, as well as folk dances and songs.

The county's push for tourism has focused on attractions, such as the Yugur Culture Corridor, Mati Temple, Danxia Landform, Qiyi glacier and Kangle grassland, according to magistrate Gao Linjun. Sunan has received some 1.4 million tourists so far in 2013, and income from the tourism industry reached 368 million yuan ($44 million), 44.2 percent more than in 2012.

Located on the northern side of the Qilian Mountains, the county's rich natural resources include 1,044 species of seed plants and 268 kinds of wildlife, which constitute a complex ecosystem.

Medicinal plants, such as snow lotus, have high economic value and rare wild animals, such as Tibetan wild ass and white-lipped deer, have attracted both researchers and conservationists.

Meanwhile, the terrain has great potential for summer recreation and expedition adventures.

An Xiaoping says that the government encouraged him and his fellow herdsmen to settle down and has provided them with contemporary housing.

"My family used to have more than 300 cattle and sheep, and now the number of livestock went down as the grassland needs to be restored. But our life is better as we live in the residential building with better conditions and, we get more money from tourism," An says.

Contact the writers through malie@chinadaily.com.cn.

 Home on the range in the wild Northwest

Sunan Yugur autonomous county in Gansu province offers visitors sceneries of alpine grassland (top) and the Danxia Landform. Photos Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 12/12/2013 page8)