That very moment, I regretted I only set one day for Urumqi.
11.08.2012 - 02.09.2012
Urumqi, August 26th 2012
My driver suggested to leave at 7:30 and I just followed. I dared not to count how many hours I had been in bed. It's such a pity that for such an expensive rate, I enjoy so very little. It had been rather difficult for me to book a hotel in Urumqi. As you might know, some hotels in Xinjiang don't accept foreigners. High season even limited my choices more. Thus, I ended up paying 275 yuan for a night in Green Tree Inn. My fingers tremble as I type 2, 7, 5. That has been the most expensive room on the China part of my Silk Road Adventure. The room layout and size was exactly like my room in Green Tree Inn Chengdu. Anyway, the front desk staff was welcoming and kind. I liked that.
By 7:15 my room phone rang. It was my driver. "It's not 7:30 yet," I answered. He said, fine.
"Have you got your breakfast?" my driver asked after I proceeded with check out.
"Errr... breakfast..." Painstakingly he tried to pronounce 'breakfast' in English.
"No, I haven't," I answered.
"You can go across there."
Green Tree Inn was by the side of a main road and what I saw across was a small lane. Is he suggesting me to have noodle over there? Doesn't he want to leave soon? I was wondering.
As if reading my thoughts, my driver said again, "I'll wait for you here."
So I crossed the street. Before I reached the lane, I saw a dumpling vendor with a cart. Ah, my driver must have meant this vendor. It was an interesting thing actually. It's a pity I didn't take pictures. The dumpling was cooked inside a tandoor. The smell wasn't as strong as the dumplings I had in Turpan. Or was I already adapting?
Accompanied by magnificent scenery moving along my side, I had my breakfast in the car. Urumqi seemed to me somewhat rather different than the other cities I had been in Xinjiang.
At the parking lot I gasped. Wow... Is it this huge? I first learned about Tianchi from Insight Guides Silk Road. My impression was about a beautiful lake, but just a lake. This is something like the Jiuzhaigou National Park! That very moment, I regretted only setting one day for Urumqi.
Tiānchí 天池 is translated into "Heavenly Lake". Tianchi is surrounded by Tiānshān 天山, the "Heavenly Mountain". Hence is written on top: 天山天池
The ticketing lobby was huuuge. Nothing in comparison to Jiuzhaigou's. The entrance ticket was 100 yuan, but I paid 170 yuan. On the right of this ticket there was another piece that specified the 70 yuan fee. I tried to figure out what that was for through the Chinese characters. Bus fare? Ah, suddenly I missed my Singaporean friend whom I met in Jiuzhaigou, at the ticketing office. Now I'm completely on my own, in a bigger place. Okay, Jiuzhaigou was lesson one, and this is lesson two, I told myself.
I searched around for any clue in English. Only this. There's the English translation under each name of places. But no printed version. Do they expect me to memorize this map before entering the site? Even the Chinese version of the printed map I could not find except for the one on the ticket which is written in fonts tinier than ants.
Oh yeah, on the other side of the ticket there was some English. But... who can read this? Blame my age? No! With all my heart, I doubt a teenager can read this without straining eyes or the help of a magnifying glass. Anyway, after I scanned this ticket and viewed it on my computer screen, the passage was merely telling about legend of Tianchi and the other half was about the don'ts in Tianchi. Don't litter, don't use flammable sources, don't pluck off flowers, don't harm birds, and so forth.
By the way, why does this ticket that obviously works as a postcard as well has a winter scenery? Isn't it still summer now? Hmmm. Honestly, this postcard initiated my curiosity of what it would be like here in winter. Well, suppose I return here in winter, I will print out the photo of the map above.
No Singaporean friend. But thanks to the high season. I returned to my old monkey strategy. I tagged along behind a group tour. There were many group tours, but all locals. I followed their steps, I imitated what they did, just like a monkey. I tagged along brainlessly that I didn't realize I entered the ticket-check-point gate for groups whereas there was a separated gate for individuals.
"Over there, please," said the officer. Ooops!
Yes, I was right. The 70 yuan was for the bus fare. I followed the tourist groups and queued for the bus. The road was hilly. Along the way a tour guide explained about Tianchi. At the bus terminal nothing like a lake was seen. I continued being a monkey. Some got on the electric bus-train, some walked. I follow the walking group, I decided. 170 yuan has been beyond my expectation. So I'm going to cover that up with walking.
Up... up... pufttt. It turned out not to be as simple as I imagined it to be. But I'm not the only one. If they can make it, I can too. I stopped for a drink although I wasn't thirsty. I just wanted to take care not to get dehydrated. When I grabbed for my water bottle, I realized I had my sleeping bag in my backpack. I forgot to leave it in the car. Oh, how stupid! No wonder my back felt heavy. It wasn't just because of the camera equipments I had.
Nevertheless, at the sight of the lake, every weariness paid off.
The situation was extremely crowded. Every single frame successfully shot without an unknown face in it was to be highly appreciated. On the other hand, not only once did it happened that someone tapped my shoulder while I was concentrating on a shot. "Excuse me, we want to take a picture." They wanted me to move away from their frame view. Ah, summer is not quite a good time for photographers.
There are 2 kinds of boat trips tourists can take on the lake. One boat is like this one.
The other kind is like this. It's a luxurious thing. 80 yuan. Besides carrying a formidable design, it's more spacious and runs in low speed, simply a photographer's choice. If you take a look on the big picture of the boat on the left, the right side of the deck is like the smaller picture on bottom right. The left side is like the picture on top right. You can sit under that shelter while enjoying the scenery but not hit by the sun.
Off we go.
Oh yeah the sun was working at its best. I couldn't ask for a better weather. Bright sun, blue sky, clear mountains. What could be better? However, after the boat ran between the mountains, the sun was defeated by cold win. I was grateful a thousand times that I had my jacket with me. I had wanted to leave it in the car, but a voice said in my heart, "Why do you bring a jacket but leave it in the car?"
It wasn't just the jacket that helped a lot. The cap over it protected my ears. While people retreated under the shelter or even downstairs, I wandered around the deck, head up. Aha.
Here are some of the shots I made.
Here are details of the boat. As seen on bottom right, there's a platform where you can take pictures with a scenery background like in photo studios. I reckon this boat is an interesting place for narcissists as well. Don't you think so?
Back on land, I followed the sign that led to the waterfall. Now the way is down, down, down. In a distance I could here sound of gushing water. How far is it still? I began to wonder. Going this way far down, would I have enough energy to go back up? I paused to think. Well, if I turn back now, there would already be a long way up. It surely would be exhausting. But then I would be exhausted for nothing. Hence, I continued walking down the rather steep stairs. The staircase was well built and safe, though.
On the way I met a family of three, father, mother, and a little daughter. The father seriously hesitated to go further. I could figure out he was telling his wife and daughter who were several steps further down, "Later we won't be able to go back up!" Nevertheless, his little girl was not to be stopped and his wife was too eager to not let her down but go down together.
Meanwhile, groups of tourists came, coming up from opposite direction. Ughhh... your part has yet to come, I told myself.
What?? Is it this? I was disappointed. I thought the waterfall wasn't worth the effort, let alone the way back up later. The waterfall was to me more a 'river slide'. Plus, this crowd, what an obstacle.
I'm here anyway. So just try to make anything. Nothing good, I know. My mind wandered to winter. I bet it would be more picturesque.
This is the Dragon Pool.
The English version is rather confusing to read. I wonder how about the Korean version above. Anyway, I get it that this pool is regarded as the Little Heavenly Lake.
Everyone, every group, turned back to path where I had come from. But the path itself hadn't ended. What's over there? I wondered. It was not curiosity of what's over there, but it was the path that looked less steep than the way back. Using my 200 mm lens as a telescope, I tried to make sure the path didn't lead to a dead end. Hmmm, I can see a little figure of someone walking through.
I made a decision to quit being a monkey. I didn't follow the crowd back up the stairs, but continued walking further. At times I shuddered, because it seemed so quiet. What if someone jumps out of the trees? And then I heard voices.
Two ladies were sitting on the stair chatting with one another. Good thing. It means this is a safe place, I sighed.
Without realizing, I was already high above the waterfall.
Here's a more close up of the people in above picture. So tiny, aren't they? But, see the stairs?
Here's another view.
I couldn't believe it when I found myself standing on the other side of the bus terminal! Why didn't those people take this path instead of those steep stairs back up? Didn't the tour guides know this way? Who says joining a tour is more convenient? Ahahaha.
A close up of the desert mountain.
Bye, bye, Tianchi. See you again in winter, hopefully.