Today we plan to meet Jason at 11:00am, after breakfast, and cycle/drive to Tian Chi (Heaven Lake), about 100 km southeast of town. What used to be a three hour journey is now much faster, thanks to a recently completed expressway.
Tian Chi is located at an altitude of about 2000 meters, in the foothills of the Heavenly Mountains, where Kazakh families pitch their yurts during the summer, and graze their flocks of horses, sheep and cattle. During the summer, there are fields of yellow, lavender, and white wildflowers around the lake, among which grow morrel mushrooms, wild peppermint and rhubarb, as well as a rare white lotus.
It is possible to stay overnight in one of the yurts pitched near the lake, or to ride a horse farther up into the Heavenly Mountains. We drove to the Tian Chi exit on the expressway, but then discovered that the entire area is restricted to tourist busses run by the agency in charge of this resort-in-progress, so biking today would not be possible.
When we arrived, the parking lot was already crowded with busloads of tourists, and they were in the midst of building even more parking spaces, as Tian Chi’s location just over an hour from Urumqi makes it a very popular destination. They are also constructing a hot springs resort on this site, to bring in even more tourists! I hope that some of the revenue from the resort, including the 100RMB admission price for the Lake, goes to benefit some of the Kazakh and Uygur people who have surely used this area for summer grazing for many generations.
The Lake itself is just beautiful, very scenic. It is surrounded by the steep Heavenly Mountains, and it’s waters are a deep azure, looking clean and cold. Most of the tourists there, after posing for countless photos with the Lake as background, took one of the ferry boats lined up at the shore on a tour of the Lake.
We decided instead to walk around some of the lake on a long pathway that paralleled the shore, about 15 meters above the rocks and water, eventually leading to a Taoist Temple. Oftentimes, even in very crowded locations like this one, I’ve realized that going just a bit off the well-beaten track can lead to quiet, intimate, almost solitary experiences, and this walk afforded us an undisturbed view of the Lake and the verdant gullies surrounding it. Off in the distance were groups of yurts – some for the tourist trade, some actually used by the herdsmen as summer homes.
We spent about five hours walking to and from the Temple along the shore, then headed back to town for dinner with Jason. Tomorrow, we’re off to Turpan, the second lowest place on Earth!