Family Travels: Heavenly Lake

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Travelers: American Anne Wilbur and her daughters Zoe (9) and Lucy (7) Morrison. They traveled with Ian and Fiona Key, and their kids Jake (15) and Tallulah (12). All kids were three years younger than they are now.

The Plan: The families were visiting Urumqi and had heard about the Lake’s great beauty, so they organized a two-day trip by car, booked through their local hotel.

The Trip: Driving to the Lake takes around two hours through seemingly endless desert, however the destination is worth it.

Horsing Around: The families were dropped off at an area coated in restaurants and cement yurts, then rode horses through the woodlands to the south side of the lake – an area with yurts set up by the semi-nomadic Kazak people. A remote and beautiful area, the families enjoyed walking around the lake ’s paths and even went swimming. The horses returned the next day to take them back for the return trip to Urumqi.

The Lake: Heavenly Lake (Tian Chi) nestles in the Tianshan mountain range, north of Bogda Peak. Its crystal clear, glacier-fed waters lie 1,910 meters above sea level and are surrounded by snow-capped mountains and glacier forests. In summer, the lake turns into an alpine wonderland with fishing and boating on the water against the backdrop of lush spruce woodlands, abundant wildflowers and blue skies (100RMB Apr-Oct, 40RMB Nov-Mar, cable car 35RMB, barge tour 30RMB, electric bus 10RMB).

Yurt Life: The yurt accommodation was cheap and basic, much like camping except you snuggle indoors under warm quilts. Breakfast was an interesting experience of garlicy noodle soup, so BYO cornflakes. Some Mandarin is needed to communicate (around 200RMB for the entire yurt).

Tips: Take warm clothing, even in summer. Anne suggests making sure you have everything you need in regard to food and medicine, as local supplies are few and far between. Let the need for reservations slip by, as there is no telephone contact. Just go; the people are very friendly and are used to dealing with foreigners, so organizing something when you arrive should be easy. Anne recommends avoiding the cement yurts set up for tourists when you first arrive – they are not nearly as charming.

Best of: The family’s favorite part of this journey was not only the stunning mountain scenery but getting off the main tourist road, connecting with the locals and seeing a bit of real China.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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