Heavenly Lake

Situated in the Heavenly Mountain range (Tianshan), 115 km northeast of Urumqi, Heaven's Lake (Tianchi) is arguably one of the nicest spots in all of China. The huge clear water lake,  the pine trees covering the hillsides and the snow capped mountains in the background make this a spectacular sight- reminiscent of Switzerland or the Rocky mountains but somehow with more vibrancy and color.

The Indian writer Vikram Seth, who studied at Nanjing University for two years, took the lake as inspiration for the title of his account of his travels through Xinjiang and Tibet "From Heaven Lake". Indeed, this is a stimulating spot. This huge lake (3km long and 1km wide) sits half way (560 ft) up the mountain range and offers some excellent walking and horseriding with breathtaking views. This spot is particularly refreshing for those arriving in Urumuqi from the barren deserts elsewhere in Xinjiang or from one of China's numerous granite cities.

Buddhists visit this spot to praise the God of Mercy, Kazakh families set up camp here between May and September, and tourists visit the area in their hundreds. All this, surprisingly enough, does not spoil the area. One of the most pleasant aspects about exploring here is just being able to wander the lake and mountains at your own pace. This is a vast area and, despite the crowds, it is easy to lose yourself and there are no restrictions about where you can go.

The Kazakhs bring their entire house, home and family with them when they set up base here. There are hundreds of Yurts built around the shores and slopes, surrounded by goats, sheep and horses. Kashmere goats and sheep are the main source of income for these people followed by tourism. Many will offer horse back tours of the hillside and accommodation in their homes for a small fee (Approximately RMB30 including food). This is a great experience, and a fun way to get a glimpse of the lifestyle of these people. Yurts are made from hide or canvas stretched over a wooden frame. The interiors are wonderfully colorful, with handmade rugs and tapestries adorning the walls.

You MUST spend at least a day here, and staying the night in the Yurts or at the more upmarket Shui Xin Hotel is good fun. The evening and early morning here are comparitively peaceful. There are numerous small restaurants along the western shore serving good simple dishes for about RMB20-30.

A gargantuan glacier, 100 meters thick and 500 meters wide lies at the peaks of the Tianshan mountain range, surrounded by ice caves and valleys. This is the source of the Urumqi River, and although it is too COLD up here for many travellers, this area is one of the most important  in the world in terms of research and development.

How to get there: Buses leave from the north end of Renmin Park in Urumqi between 9am and 9.30am every day and return from the lake between 4pm and 4.30pm. The trip takes between 90 minutes and 4 hours, depending on the type of transport you take. Mininbuses are the most efficient. There are also private buses running from the Hongshan Hotel. The trip costs RMB25 for a same day return on the cheapest bus. The minibus is RMB50 one way and the private buses are RMB30 return. The views along the route are spectacular.
Climate: It can get very cold up here, so make sure you take enough warm clothing, especially if you plan to stay the night.

Other Travel Attractions in Urumqi