We were informed that the recession and swine flu had cut down on tourism for the past 2 years, and the beautiful new hotels and restaurants were almost empty. All of the hotels were painted in bright pastel colors – pink, light blue, yellow, etc – and each room had its own air-conditioning unit with elaborate rococo design decorating the buildings. Unfortunately the roads to the lake were very bumpy – quite unlike the very new and modern freeways we drove from Urumqi through the mountains.
Near the edge of Lake Bosten, a small group of locals was grilling fish over an open BBQ pit to sell to tourists. We took a group photo by the lake, and I felt rather sad that in the height of summer this region was currently so bereft of visitors to enjoy the lake. As the Canadian wine writer who lived in Beijing commented, it was rare to find such a lovely beach in China so empty. Most beaches are so crowded there is barely room to walk.
That evening jet-lag caught up with me, and I begged off going to another massive dinner banquet. Instead I sat in my room and watched the sunset over the tall snow-capped mountains and enjoyed 2 glasses of the 2006 Reserve Merlot from Aromatic Gardens. They had kindly left 6 bottles of local wines in our room to sample. As this was my favorite from the morning’s tasting, I opened it up – and it was even better. Perhaps it was the fact that I finally had time to relax after long hours of travel and discussion. Perhaps it was the setting sun, the peace and beauty of the region, the classical music playing on my MP3, and the local peach and airplane granola bar that I paired it with for dinner…... Afterwards I slept solidly for 10 hours, and was not in the least dismayed to discover the next morning from my colleagues that all I had missed the evening before at dinner was even more slugging back gambay toasts. Instead I had enjoyed some beautiful Chinese wine…and fell in love with this remote unspoiled region of Xinjiang.