Tian Chi means “Heaven Lake”, and this natural haven 100km east of Ürümqi – the starting point of Vikram Seth’s book From Heaven Lake – almost lives up to its name, especially for travellers who have spent a long time in the deserts of northwest China. At the cool, refreshing height of 2000m, the lake is surrounded by grassy meadows, steep, dense pine forests and jagged snow-covered peaks, including the mighty Bogda Feng, which soars to over 6000m. The nicest feature of the area is that you can wander at will; there are no restrictions on accommodation (most people stay in yurts, with the semi-nomadic Kazakh population), and there is virtually limitless hiking. You need only to watch the weather – bitterly cold in winter, the lake is really only accessible during the summer months, May to September.

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