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
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
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
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
Climate: It can get very cold up here, so make
sure you take enough warm clothing, especially if you plan to
stay the night.