the tour bus getting fueled
I booked to join a group to to Tian Chi (Heavely Lake) in Tianshan today. It's about 110-120km away from Urumqi
in the Tianshan mountains, under the Bogda peak. The bus picked me up just before 10am, even though I was originally told between 9 and 9:20am. Then it went around and picked up another 2 people at a different hotel before we started on the highway. The highway was part of the first highway in Xinchiang to be built using a loan from the World Bank, and the toll booths are supposed to operate til 2014.
It was a very nice, smooth highway, as we head out of the city. The tour guide gave us good information on Xinjiang and Urumqi. The highway also had flood gates along some parts, supposedly it was built along ancient river beds which occasionally flood.
on the highway to Tianchi
After about 1 hour's driving, we got off the highway, and then the road was under construction and not smooth any more. In fact, we went over several potholes which I, sitting at the very end of the bus, was bounced off the seat! We were heading into the mountains, the tour guide said they fix this road every year after the winter snow damage, but supposedly this year, they are making the road more permanent. We drove past some Kazak tents which appeared to be used for hotel, but they were still almost 1 hour from the park entrance!
Before we got to the park, the tour bus made its first mandatory "shopping" stop at a Chinese pharmacy! Chinese herb medicines are available here and there were a couple of Chinese doctors who gave free consultation but of course they then tell you what medicine you would need to buy and take.
kazak tents near Tianchi
.. I actually got consulted by the lady doctor who looked at my hand and fingernails. She said I should cut down on meat and eat more vegetables, probably a good advice in general.
At about 1pm we reached the entrance, the guide got our entrance tickets (90 per person) and we went through a natural stone gateway into the park. The mountains around were tall and quite beautiful. We went to the base area where there was a big parking lot, a reception hall, some shops and the shuttle to the higher level. There was also a sky cable car to take you for 35RMB, the shuttle cost 35RMB also round trip. If you had the time and inclination, you could hike up, which some people from our bus did, and it took them more than 1 hour to go up. At the higher level where the bus dropped us off, there were some restaurants, more shops, and we walked along a wooden planked walkway next to the road to the Heavenly Lake.
entrance to Tianchi
The walk was perhaps 10 minutes. There were many conifer trees along the way. The lake became visible, and it was very beautiful, with Bogda peaks beyond. It was a little overcast, the sky was gray. Here were more shops, a stage where ethnic dancing and singing apparently happen. A Taoist temple is off to one side, and charges 20RMB for admission, so I did not go. I just walked around the lake and looked at the eagles flying overhead. You could also pay to get on the tourboat onto the lake.
We had some free time, then the group gathered and went to a restaurant to have our included lunch. Which was very basic, but OK. We left the park just before 4pm. So 3 hours at the park, which is not really that much time, considering some people boarded the bus before 9am, and we finished the tour with the 2nd and last mandatory shopping stop at a jade store in Urumqi just before 7pm.
parking lot, Tianchi
So the desintination was a fine one, but it sure took a long time to get there, and the shopping stops were not disclosed by the travel agency when I booked the tour. The tour cost 180 RMB (including 90RMB admission, a couple of people paid just 40RMB for the transporation but did not join the tour group, and the lunch, which probably cost 15 RMB). I think if you had a group of 2-4 people, it made a lot more sense to hire a taxi or car for the day, and have more control of your time and stops.
All day long I tried to get ahold of Colin on his cell phone, but was never able to get through. Later Phil said that supposedly the mobile phones in China were affected by the earthquake yesterday, that so many people were trying to use it at once. I did not have problem getting a call from Beijing
, but apparently in the same city of Urumqi, it wasn't working.
big screen at the parking lot in Tianchi, hmm, pretty weird
After getting back to the hotel, I was able to get in contact with Deats on travbuddy on the computer, and arranged to meet for dinner. It turned out that they were almost right across the street from my hotel, but I went around twice before deciding that was the place we had agreed to meet and found Phil and Julia waiting. We then walked to the sqaure in front of a theatre where we found Phil's Canadian friend Colin, and we had picked up Hannes on the street on the way there. So we decided to just have some dinner from the food vendors on the streets there. We ordered various foods from different vendors, mostly barbequed beef or lamb, and I got half a watermelon to share. The watermelon was not as good as one we had in JIaohe, Turpan, so I was a little disappointed. We had some Uigur people eating next to us, they spoke Chinese also, and we talked about a few random things.
map showing the hiking and car (winding) path
Many people were curious when they see me with the "foreigners" and most would assume I was a "tour guide", or otherwise wonder why and how I met them. We ate and chatted until about 11pm when I decided it was time to head back to the hotel and pack, because my journey on the silk road had come to an end. We said goodbyes and wished each other a safe journey. Especially to Phil and Julia, who are heading to the stans.