Ultimate Urumqi

Written by Oct 16, 2004 12:10
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Arriving in Urumqi

The six-hour ride from Turpan to Urumqi was not very tiring, despite the hot weather. In fact, I didn't even doze off considering all the places we went to in Turpan. Along the way, you'll notice rows of enormous white windmills on both sides of the highway that look more like airplane propellers. They're used for generating electricity. Our guide said that the first 300 windmills on the first row were made by the Dutch and the remaining of what seems to be more than 500 were made by the Chinese. These towering structures are the only things you could see in the middle of the deserted highway. I guess you can say that the desert is very deserted! Ha ha ha! At first there was nothing to see, but an endless sea of sand. After a couple of hours, you'd come across some trees then mountains, etc. Finally, you'd notice beautiful crystal lakes and green pasture lands. This western-most region seems to have it all.

Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang Province located in the western-most part of China. The people here look more Arabic than Chinese perhaps because of the area's proximity to the Arab countries. Tall, deep-round eyes, pointy noses even their language is obviously different from Chinese. Much of the writings on the road signs and billboards are in Arabic. The name Urumqi, by the way, is a Mongolian word for beautiful pastures.

After dinner, I ventured out into the city hoping to find a local hand-drum made from donkey hide. Unfortunately, it was already about 9pm at the time and most of the shops were closed. I was able to spot a bazaar with swarms of people along one of the streets I happened to pass by, but the items sold there were mostly of western kind; watches, shirts, and various household stuff. Not the kind of local souvenir items I was looking for. At least, before heading back to the hotel, I devoured 3 humungous slices of hami gua! That definitely made my day! It was about 1am when I got back to the hotel.

The Heavenly Lake

In the morning we went to what I would honestly say as one of the most beautiful places on earth. They call it the "Heavenly Lake". The name perfectly fits the description of this natural beauty. The winding road going up the lake will give you a thrill taht will leave butterflies in your stomach. It is also steeper with more beautiful scenes to gaze at like cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear ponds, and a sea of pine trees. There are also cable cars taking tourists to the lake from the entry point at the foot of the mountain. The book I bought says that the lake was formed in the Great Ice Age of about two million years ago when there was a very violent ice movement. It is 3400m long, 1500m wide, and 1980m above sea level. It has an average depth of 40m with the deepest reaching 105m. Adding beauty to the lake are the glistening snow-capped mountains on the southeast side and the evergreen pines surrounding it. I had my picture taken standing on a rock doing a tree pose.

There is something magical about the place, too. On the northern bank of the lake stands an old elm which is the ONLY tree by the water. It is termed the "Magic Needle that Tranquilizes the Ocean". The government had a fence surrounding it for fear that perhaps one day somebody who likes climbing trees might climb this one. Ha! I could've if I wanted to!

Going around the lake, I was able to spot a Kazak boy holding a "dongbula", a small guitar-like instrument with a single string, along with his lamb whose fleece is white as snow(no, this is not Mary's lost little lamb). He was in a brightly blue colored clothing. I had a picture taken with him at the cost of 1 yuan (about 7 pesos) with his little lamb standing on a flat stone and the lake serving as background. Going further still, I came upon the "Eastern Minor Heavenly Lake" which was much smaller. I wanted to take a dip, but the moment I stepped my foot in the water made me think otherwise. It was freezing! Not wanting to be embarrassed by the crowd, I moved further into the lake until the water touched my knees. That's when I decided to let one of the students take my picture. Just a couple of meters away is a small waterfall that didn't sound at all small. At the rushing waters just below the waterfall, I carefully selected 3 pebbles to take with me as a souvenir. They're free and can easily fit in an empty film case. Along the way are many Kazak children selling wild berries that look like miniature tomatoes the size of your fingernail. They even taste like tomatoes. I bought a small bag for 2 yuan.

The Yurts

In the afternoon, we were delayed for almost an hour because one of the teachers forgot their cellphone at the lake. Lucky for her an honest tourist was able to spot it and report it before we left. We were on our way to one of the mountain tops to witness a tribal dance, but as the saying goes "When it rains it pours". We encountered a flat tire along the way which delayed us for another hour. By the time we reached the entrance, we saw all the other buses going down. We were too late, but the scene there was something you'd regret not seeing. There were dozens of "yurts" That's the term for the white hut the nomadic Kazak people dwell in. It is composed of wall-like felt, supporting poles, ceilings, felt rug, and the door, which is very easy to assemble and dismantle. It is a great shield against the intense heat of the sun and the freezing cold of night. I guess I should purchase one of these yurts when I decide to become a hermit and live a solitary life up on the mountains.

At dinner, the teacher who forgot her cellphone, treated us roast lamb with soft drinks. How I wish she had forgotten her cellphone often! Ha ha ha! When you're hungry, you don't think about the kind of meat you are eating. It'll spoil your appetite

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