PEOPLE OF THE GRASSLAND
Four seasons in the Nalati Grassland
Kazak herder Zhalyn Rakhymzhan returned to his home in the Nalati Grassland even though this meant giving up admission to a university in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, about 10 years ago. “Life is too fast in Urumqi,” Zhalyn Rakhymzhan told Beijing Review, “I’m glad that I came back! We live a very simple life here.”
The 32-year-old man now has three children, with the oldest being only 4 years old. His family follows the grazing herd in summer while spending winter in their apartment in the village. This is the typical lifestyle for most villagers in the county of Xinyuan in Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture, where the grasslands roll along.
The Nalati Grassland is located at an average altitude of 1,800 meters, covering an area of 1,012 square km. It is the subalpine meadow of the Gongnaisi Grassland and one of the four largest grasslands in the world. Due to its high altitude and steep terrain, it is also known as the Sky Grassland.
Drawn by the tourism industry, a number of local farmers and herdsmen began operating a horse-riding team.
Zhalyn Rakhymzhan and his horses have been part of this riding cooperative for five years. There are 160 horses in local tourism, with each horse earning an average of 200 yuan ($31) a day during peak season—running from May to October.
At home, he has another 30 horses, plus 20 cows and 200 sheep. His family usually makes 200,000 yuan ($31,000) in annual net income.
Kazak people are reputed for their equestrian skills. “Every child gets a horse as a gift,” said Zhalyn Rakhymzhan, who has five siblings. A 9-year-old horse has kept him company for six years now.
Having grazed here for generations, Zhalyn Rakhymzhan’s family will change their location once in a while to protect the grass. They don’t cut trees to start a fire either, but instead use dead trees or dry cow dung as fuel. This eco-friendly tradition has contributed to the health of the grassland.