Getting to Heavenly Lake 68 miles east of the Urumqi in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Western China is not easy. The drive from Urumqi is not bad, but when you arrive, you leave your vehicle in a gigantic parking lot and walk half a mile to the impressive welcome center. Here you purchase multiple tickets for a series of buses which will take you in stages higher and higher into the mountains. The Lake sits at 6,600 feet, higher than Denver or Mexico City. Going up is fine, but keep your eyes on the road going down so as not to notice the precipitous drops off hairpin bends.
When the last bus drops you off you have the choice of a steep but pleasant walk through the trees to the lake itself, or you can splurge (about a dollar) on a golf-cart like tram. The crescent-shaped Lake is well-named: it is heavenly. Deep blue water, soaring mountains, clear skies and thousands of well-behaved tourists.
There are boat tours of the lake or walks along the edge to admire the view or visit the Damuo Monastery. Some foreigners have even been observed playing Mah Jong at one of the stone picnic tables that dot the slopes above the lake. There is a pleasant open-air restaurant under the trees where they serve, among other things, noodles made fresh while you wait.
There is another tourist area at the northern end of the lake, approached from Fukang, which has rustic accommodation in yurts rented out by Kazakh sheep herders.
Visitors are well fed on mutton stew, but the temperature drops steeply at night and even in summer a fire is needed to keep the yurt warm. And toilet facilities are non-existent.
Tian Chi is one of China’s premier tourist attractions, a glorious oasis high above the arid plains of Xinjiang.
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