Tian Chi: The Heavenly Lake of XinJiang


Tina Su at Tian Chi XinJiang Reading
Tina reading “Eat, Pray, Love” at Yurt park. Photo by Jeremy Sawatzky

Tian Chi is located 114 km North-East of Ürümqi – the capital of XinJiang. Tian Chi, which literally translates to “Heaven Lake”, sits 2000m above sea level. Despite the vague description and shady directions in the Lonely Planet book, and without knowing what to expect, we budgeted 3 days and went on a whim.

Figuring out how to get there was really confusing. We ended up catching a ride on a bus with a day tour for 60RMB per person (~ $9). The tour guide and agency both turned out to be quite sketchy, where part of the trip included a detour to a medicine store (tourist trap) so the agency could pick up an extra commission for each tourist they brought in. (Note for next time: Take a bus from the north gate of People’s Park. Or hire a taxi for about 200 RMB.)

Tina Su Tian Chi XinJiang
“I really like jumping pictures.” Here’s one of twenty. :)

The place was swarmed by thousands of day tourists rushing from sight to sight in order to maximize what they saw, before hurrying back to their tour buses by 3:30pm (after arriving there at 1pm). Many tourists – with their high-heeled shoes, pin-striped suits and thin coats – didn’t look like they were prepared to hike or roam around comfortably in sub-zero weather. I took a moment to give gratitude for not needing to rush along side the over-crowded heaps of people. And having the option to see the sights before the day tourists arrived was a plus.

The lake itself was so-so, but it was the surrounding panoramic view of the 5400m high mountain ranges that stole the show. The combination of water, mountain, snow, and green vegetation made the park breath-taking.

Supposedly, there’s a monster in the lake (from what I read in wikipedia). I’m sorry to report that I didn’t get to see him during my visit.

Tian Chi XinJiang

Tian Chi XinJiang
Ethnic costumes to rent for photos. Tian Chi, XinJiang

Upon getting off the second shuttle (see end for transportation details), I was approached by a man asking if we needed Mongolian Yurts. I’m quite skeptical of people wanting to sell me things when traveling – I’ve learned from being ripped-off many times in the past. After questioning him I felt from his energy that I could trust him.

After some friendly bargaining with my new friend, we scored a sweet deal on a large Kazakh Yurt too cool to pass up. (Note: at the time of this writing, at the end of September, asking price was 200 RMB a night, we ended up getting it for 100 RMB a night including 3 meals for two people, two nights. That’s about $15 a night for two people including meals!!! )

When I saw it in person, I was blown away by how cool it was, and had to bite my tongue to hold off my excitement. I’m glad I bargained before seeing the place, otherwise, I would have given him a lot more money had he asked for it. The yurt was fully decked out, with electricity and primitive coal-based heating.

Dudes & dudettes, I present you with pictures:

Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt

Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt

Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt
Kazakh yurts in September. Tian Chi, XinJiang

The yurt was fully decorated with over-the-top Kazakhstan carpets, draperies and details; LOVE IT! It’s large enough to sleep 10 people and includes all the necessary bedding.

Even with heating, it was really freakin’ cold at night and early in the morning. I slept with 3 layers of pants (2 of them thermal pants), a scarf and two fleece jackets. I also had six blankets to myself, four used as a make-shift mattress, and two used as blankets.

Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt

Tian Chi XinJiang Kazakh Yurt Meal Breakfast
High-tech in low-tech. Jeremy getting comfortable with laptop in the cold night.
Breakfast served in yurt: milk tea, Kazakh cube donuts, and cucumber salad.

The owner’s name is “Xi Lang Hou”, but I called him “Mr. Happy”. His last name, “Xi” means joy or cheerful. Happy was close enough in meaning and had an upbeat emotional association. He and his family were gracious hosts. The women were curious about my instant oatmeal packets and snack bars, so we shared with them.

Tian Chi XinJiang
Mr. Happy’s Wife

Mr. Happy’s wife has the most incredible light-blue-hazel eyes I’ve ever seen on an Asian woman. Mr. Happy is of the Huai ethnic group and his wife is of the Kazakh ethnic group. In fact, the Kazakh people are nomads originally from Kazakhstan (You bet’cha we made plenty of Borat jokes!). As one of the 19 major ethnic groups in the highly diverse province, they make up 6.8% of XinJiang’s population, and a majority of them live in this region.

The food was basic but delicious, especially the morning milk tea served in a kettle after being cooked on an open fire.

My days were filled with hiking, exploring, eating, reading and communing with nature. I also got to visit my first Taoist Monastery/Temple. There were optional horse back riding tours to the snow peaks, but we didn’t do it, due to lack of planning.

During the hour-long up-hill hike to the Taoist temple, I kept seeing these triangle-shaped warning signs of danger (painted on large rocks). They made me laugh. So I had to photograph them for ya:

Tian Chi XinJiang Warning Sign

After 3 days of authentic Kazakh living, Mr. Happy drove us back directly to Ürümqi. What a nice guy!

Tina Su Tian Chi XinJiang
Tina in front of Taoist Temple. Tian Chi, XinJiang

Note on Kazakh Yurt: I highly recommend Mr. Happy and his family. Really amazing value and very thoughtful people. They also run a restaurant on-site during the summer. Here is their info:

Authentic Kazakh Yurts
Cell: 13899601931 or 13289001080
Cost: 50RMB (~ $8) per person, including simple meals.

(Note for those traveling to Tian Chi: There are several legs of travel before getting to the actual lake. Ignore the confusing details in the Lonely Planet book. 1. – All transportation first passes through the ticket gate, where tickets cost 100RMB per person. You are better off paying for a day tour leaving from Ürümqi for 120 RMB which includes transportation. 2. – It’s another 10 minute drive to the giant parking lot containing countless tour buses. If you take a taxi, make sure it takes you here, past the ticket gate. 3. – Another 1 km up hill to the park entrance area. Take a shuttle or the ski lift – which is open only during summer months. Both cost 35 RMB round trip. Once here, there’s an overly-priced-and-heatless 3 star hotel, various restaurants and coat rentals. 4. – A short 6 minute walk up to the lake area – your main attraction. There are carts that can take you there for 5 RMB. It’s pretty fast just to walk. 5. – Once you are at the lake area and you plan to spend the night, all the yurts are on the hills along the right side. Many yurt owners have cars parked near the lake and will take you up free of charge. Otherwise, walking up hill to the yurts takes 25 minutes.)

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21 Responses (20 Comments, 1 Trackbacks ):


  1. PeaceLoveJoyBliss


    Tina, it’s like I’m in another world. Wait a minute. It is another world. Some great tips and pics here. Thanks for sharing.


  2. 2

    Thanks for letting me be an armchair traveler! Great pictures.

  3. 3

    The photos are simply amazing! Beautifully taken shots there.

    I wonder if you had stared in the lake long enough before the monster appears from within. :D

    Share more!

  4. 4

    Kazakh Yurt? What on earth? And then…I saw the pictures….my heart stopped….I wished I could be there!

  5. 5

    lovely place. thanks for sharing this. adding it to my must see places!

  6. 6

    Hi Tina,

    I stumbled onto your travel blog (india) a while back when i was doing research for my india trip. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing style and the enthusiasm and passion you exude in all your adventures. Thank you for your wonderful site. I hope you’ll be bringing Blackie back with you. :)
    As for the Yurt’s, what an amazing deal and experience it must have been!

  7. 7

    Once i slept over at a friend’s place. The indoor temperature probably was not close to what you had experienced but it was cold enough for me. I had to turn on my notebook and shoved it under the blanket to keep myself warm :)

  8. 8

    Hello – I think you might have mixed up the location of the lake monster. The lake monster in the wikipedia entry you posted is in the Tianchi lake along the border with North Korea, but you were in Xinjiang, so it should be this lake instead (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianchi). Both places are similarly named but are on opposite ends of the country, kind of like Washington state vs. Washington D.C.

    So you didn’t see any monsters because you were looking in the wrong lake :)

  9. 9

    I love the photos! The Yurts look really awesome, but I can tell the temperature is quite low. Thanks for sharing, your trip looks like so much fun!

  10. 10

    I found your personal blog through your other blog, TSN. Great photos! I hope to visit this place one day too.

  11. 11

    Wow! What a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing those pictures and your experience with us. Makes me wanna go there! :)

  12. 12

    Great to read about your travels.

  13. 13

    my grand parents went to tian chi!! never knew it was that beautiful!

  14. 14

    The Heavenly Lake (Tianchi Lake) is situated to the east of the Tianshan Mountain range, north of Bogda Peak, 97 km south of Urumqi.

    Known as Yaochi in ancient times, the lake surface elevates 1,910 meters above sea level, with an average depth of 60 meters. Surrounding the Heavenly Lake are snow mountains, glacier forests and grassland alpine lakes, featuring a vertical natural landscape belt.

    The snow line of Mt. Bogda is 3,860 meters above sea level, making it rich in glacier resource. Numerous super-glacial rivers formed by the melting snow and ice, ice bridges, ice mushrooms and ice fountains can be seen on the glaciers.

    There are many super-glacial lakes and moraine lakes scattered in front of the glaciers. The vast expanse of mountain land and forests at the foot of Mount Bogada are also rich in plant and animal resources.

  15. 15

    hi Tina
    passing by at your blog while seeking some photos on my research on micro-architecture. The yurt that you re staying is damn cool, look very cozy. Start to falling in-love with this unique vernacular architecture, might visit. Just wondering is there any bathroom or wash room attached? Any other space separations in between? cheers..

  16. 16

    Hi Azi Taz,

    No bathrooms attached. You can go outside around the yurts, or to the bathroom area about 4 minutes away in an area away from the living yurts.


  17. andi darmansyah


    hi tina, what a wonderful trip. you add my knowledge about the lake. thanks very much for sharing the stories and pictures. i wish be there as soon as possible…..

  18. 18

    I found your site while researching for my own trip to Xinjiang and stayed with Mr. Happy and his family. He remembers you :) I took a photo of Mr Happy’s wife too, she has the most amazing eyes. It was a great trip, but omg the yurts were coooold!

  19. 19

    Frankly speaking, during the stay in the yurt, how did you deal with the toilet stuff (eg: going to toilet, brushing teeth, shower …) ? Honestly …

  20. 20

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of Tian Chi: The Heavenly Lake of XinJiang | Simply Tina » Tian Chi: The Heavenly Lake of XinJiang . Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

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