Nalati Grassland (那拉提草原), also called Kunes Grassland, in Ili, Xinjiang is one of the six most beautiful grasslands in China and one of the four alpine and valley grasslands in the world. It is as famous as Pampas Steppe in South America, Hulunbuir Grassland and Xilingol Grassland in Inner Mongolia.
It is said that during Genghis Khan's western expedition (A.D. 1219-1225), a Mongolian army marched from Tianshan Mountain to Ili. It was spring, but snowy and windy in the mountains. The soldiers were washed out by hunger and cold. However, when they climbed over the mountain, in front of them was a vast grassland with flowers, springs and flowing water. At that time, the sun scatters the clouds and people couldn't help shouting "Nalati, Nalati" (which means “there is the sun”), so the grassland is called Nalati. Now Nalati has become a national AAAAA tourist scenic spot, and one of the top ten scenic spots in Xinjiang.
There are three visiting routes in Nalati Grassland respectively to Sky Grassland (extending to Xuelian Valley), Hegu Grassland and Panlong Valley, representing the highlights in Nalati. Sky Grassland is the most famous and classic route. Hegu Grassland is renowned for Kazakh customs and forest scenery. Panlong Valley is for in-depth virgin forest scenery. You can visit some of them according to your itinerary.
The Sky Grassland (空中草原), also called the Summer Ranch, is where you can feel the grassland is so close to the sky. It gets the name because of its high altitude of about 2200 m. The Sky Grassland is the most representative highlight in Nalati and a must-see. It is a basin in the mountains with beautiful grass and running water. Summer is the most popular time to travel here. At that time, you can see magical changes at the top and bottom of the mountain. The ice and snow have melted and the grassland presents light green rolling along the mountain ranges. Standing in the center of the Summer Ranch and looking down, you can see the village in the distance and have a bird’s eye view of the grassland stretching at a lower altitude. It is quite a different feeling from visiting other grasslands such as the ones in Inner Mongolia.
After exploring Sky Grassland, you can go back to the tourist center or take a tourist bus to Xuelian Valley (雪莲谷). Xuelian means snow lotus in Chinese. As the name implies, here is a snow mountain whose peak is in the shape of a lotus. What’s more, you can really find snow lotus here if lucky. Xuelian Valley is also about 2200 meters above sea level. The alpine meadows and valleys attract numerous tourists from June to September.
Hegu Grassland (河谷草原) is famous for the valley landform, and the combination of grassland and water. On the way to Hegu Grassland, snow capped peaks, dense forests, green hills, flat meadows… gradually appear before your eyes. Taking the tourist bus to meander through the sightseeing road, you can see the Gunes River on the left is like a shining silver blue ribbon falling in the wide valley and the boundless grassland is dotted with all kinds of flowers on both sides of the road. Looked from afar, the mountainside of the snow capped peaks is covered with dense and deep forests and it is green everywhere. On the green grassland at the foot of the mountain, groups of cattle and sheep wander comfortably, because here is not only a scenic area, but also where the local herdsmen graze.
Note: Tourists need to take a tourist bus to Hegu Grassland at the tourist center. The fare is CNY 40. If you go to the Sky Grassland first, you need to come back to the tourist center and then take the bus to Hegu Grassland.
Panlong Valley is a newly developed route to take you deep into the virgin forest, which needs about 3 hours for a round trip. Tourists still need to take a tourist car (CNY 100) from the tourist center. Driving through a large area of grassland, you will see endless tall trees standing straight like the model in a sand table. The driver will stop at several spots and serve as a guide to tell the tourists what scenic spot this is and what is worth seeing. The vast green, soaring eagle and fresh air bring refreshment to both eyes and minds. Looking afar from Panlong Valley, it is alpine pasture in the front and snow mountain at the back. Here you can clearly see the location of the river valley, in the middle of which is Nalati Town.
Many local herdsmen live in Nalati, so you can encounter sheep, cattle and horses from time to time when traveling around. If you want to ride a horse, you can go to Sky Grassland or Hegu Grassland. There are horse teams to serve tourists. It usually charges CNY 80-200 per hour. It does not matter if you do not know how to ride. The locals will lead you to walk around the grassland on the horse back along specific route to ensure your safety.
Nalati Grassland is located in the east of Xinyuan County, Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region 新疆伊犁哈萨克自治州新源县东部.
Xinyuan Nalati Airport (新源那拉提机场) operates 2 direct flights a day from Urumqi and the flight only takes 1 hour. It is very time-saving to get to Urumqi first and then transfer to Xinyuan. From Xinyuan Nalati Airport, you can take direct bus to Nalati Grassland, which is about 56 km, 70 minutes' drive.
Another airport in Ili, which is called Yining Airport (伊宁机场) is about 250 km, 5 hours' drive to Nalati Grassland. Tourists who arrive at that airport can charter a car to Nalati directly or get to Yining downtown first and then take a bus to Nalati.
The closest train station to Nalati Grassland is Yining Railway Station, which is about 250 km, 5 hours' drive away. It mainly serves trains running between Yining and Urumqi (5-11.5h). At Yili Passenger Station, it runs 3 daily buses to Nalati.
Urumqi runs 3 overnight buses to Xinyuan with a duration of about 11 hours. When you arrive in Xinyuan, there are about 30 buses a day from 9:00-21:00 to Nalati Grassland and it takes about 40 minutes.
If you have enough time, it is a good choice to travel Xinjiang by car because you will enjoy unparalleled scenery such as lakes, mountains, valleys, grasslands and forests on the road. Starting from Urumqi, the whole journey needs about 11 hours. On the way you will pass the world-famous Duku Highway. You can enjoy much flexibility in the trip, but after all, it is a long journey so you need to be well-prepared such as bringing some water, bread, snacks and taking anti-motion sickness drugs in advance.
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As Nalati Grassland covers so vast an area, it is impossible to travel on foot. Private cars are allowed to enter Nalati Grassland (except for Panlong Valley) with a charge of CNY 300 (entrance ticket included) per person. Tourist buses are available for a round trip to Sky Grassland (CNY 40), Xuelian Valley (CNY 60), Hegu Grassland (CNY 40), and Panlong Valley (CNY 100). On the way the driver will take several stops for tourists to walk around and take some pictures.
Nalati Grassland is open to tourists all year round except for days with extreme weather such as heavy snow. June to September is the best visiting time as the grass is flourishing and the whole scenic area is like being covered by a green blanket with sheep running around like white clouds. The climate is very pleasant and it is a good place for a summer holiday. From April to early June, Nalati is called “sky garden” because you can see blooming wild flowers in all colors. October to November is another excellent time for photography in Panlong Valley. From December to March, Nalati becomes a world of snow with enchanting red willows, which is very spectacular.
Note: There is a large temperature difference between day and night in Nalati. It is recommended to bring a coat even if you are visiting in summer as the temperature can drop to below 10℃.
As the ticket of Nalati is valid of two days, many people choose to stay a night in Nalati to fully appreciate its beauty and to enjoy the grand sunset or sunrise on the grassland. The most recommended accommodation area is Nalati Town (那拉提小镇) which is only 1.5 km away from the scenic area. It has complete supporting facilities such as hotels, markets, restaurants, and shops. The only 4-star Nalati Resort (那拉提度假酒店) has better accommodation environment and a higher price. Here are also many other choices of 3-star hotels, homestays, inns and local yurts. But the overall living condition is not as good as that of big cities so you need to be prepared and do not set too high an expectation. Some tourists may want to stay inside the scenic area, which is also an option, but not necessary, as there are not many choices and it is much more expensive than living outside the scenic area. Camping is NOT allowed.
The ticket to Nalati Grassland is valid for 2 days. It is sold separately from the ticket of the tourist buses inside the scenic area. If you are going to visit Nalati the next day and need to take the same tourist bus again, you can buy the bus ticket at half price.
Nalati Grassland has a large temperature differnece. In the most popular summer, it is cool in the daytime because of the high greening rate, but at night it gets a little cold with a temperature below 10℃.
How to Get to Xinjiang: Urumqi is the transfer hub of Xinjiang, and it receives flights from Beijing (4h), Shanghai (5h), Xian (4h), Chengdu (4h), Chongqing (4h), Changsha (4.5h), Xining (2.5h), Dalian (4h), Guangzhou (4.5h), Lanzhou (2.5h), Yinchuan (3h), etc., as well as high speed trains from Xian (13.5h), Lanzhou(10.5h), Xining (9.5h), Zhangye (7.5h), Jiayuguan (6h), Dunhuang (4h), etc.
Best Time to Visit Xinjiang: It is available to visit Xinjiang all year round, but May ~ October is the best time for the most comfortable weather and most beautiful scenery
A longer Xinjiang trip is more recommended and worthwhile because of its large scale. Most travelers start a Xinjiang tour from Urumqi – the tourist distribution center equipped with convenient airlines. Some travelers also unveil a Xining experience from Kashgar – the transfer hub in southern Xinjiang.
A classic Xinjiang tour takes 6 ~ 8 days, including 2~3 days in Urumqi (Xinjiang Regional Museum, Nanshan Passture) and Heavenly Lake, 1~2 days in Turpan (Jiaohe Ancient City, Karez System, Bezeklik Thousand Buddhas… ), and 3 ~ 4 days in Kashgar (Kashgar Old City, Karakul Lake, Tashkurgan Fort…). Don’t miss Kanas - the God’s private garden, and it takes at least 3 full days to enjoy its beautiful lakes, bays, forests, rivers and villages.
Many travelers prefer a Silk Road tour involving Gansu and Xinjiang discovery together. It needs about 2~3 days to explore Dunhuang highlights, 2~3 days to visit Zhangye essences and 1~2 days to enjoy Jiayugan landmarks. It is also recommended to spend 1 ~2 days visiting Xining and Qinghai Lake.
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