Heavenly Lake, Northwest China, China

Lake Locations:

China - Northwest China -

Also known as:  Tian Chi, Heavenly Pond, Heavenly Pool, Pearl of Heaven

One of the most beautiful spots in northwest China’s Xinjiang Province, Heavenly Lake-Tian Chi-is aptly named. A natural lake high in the Heavenly Mountains, the pristine waters lie in the shadow of Bogeda Feng Peak. Long a revered spot by Buddhist monks at the temple on the lake, the beautiful scenery invites thousands of visitors to join the native herding population at the lakeside each summer. Remote though the location is, regular tour bus service arrives from Urumqi’s People’s Park many times a day. Fed by snow melt from the surrounding peaks, Heavenly Lake’s turquoise waters reflect a background of stunning beauty and serenity.

Several lakes in the vast Chinese territory share the Heavenly Lake name. They are found as distant from the Heavenly Mountains as the North Korean border and in the former country of Tibet. This Heavenly Lake is located about 65 miles east of Xinjiang’s capital city of Urumqi. Most visitors take one of the regular tour buses to the entrance of the park that surrounds the lake. Even those who drive will find that they must park at the entrance and walk to the lakeshore. Small electric vehicles can be procured for the final distance if one is unable to handle the hike. As is common with popular Chinese tourism sites, the main area of the lakeshore is developed with food sellers, souvenir peddlers and even a small mall. Brightly painted tour boats ferry visitors around the vast lake to see the sights, including rushing waterfalls and soaring green peaks. Cable cars offer a bird’s-eye view of the lake and its surroundings. Wooden walkways provide an easy walking surface whenever the water isn’t extremely high. The surrounding area within the Heavenly Lake Scenic Area is great for sure-footed hiking.

A traditional grazing area for Kazakh tribesmen, they camp along the shoreline during the summer, tending their herds and flocks in the narrow valleys. Many have made it a major part of their livelihood to offer food and yurt lodging to visitors. Because the buses run daily from dawn to dusk, many adventurers arrive here prepared to do some backpacking and hiking. The yurt lodgings are often gaily painted and furnished with colorful tapestries and traditional rugs. Many even have a small coal stove to take the chill off the frosty nights encountered most of the year. Traditional foods, often delightfully spiced, can be enjoyed for a small sum. After the crowds leave in the evening, more adventurous travelers can enjoy a quiet evening near the scenic lake with the sounds of the Kazakh’s flocks bleating softly in the distance.

Visitors bent on trekking the surrounding mountains have a choice either to follow the steep footpaths worn by the herders and their livestock or rent a horse and ride the long trail around the lake. Golden eagles swoop overhead and small native mammals and birds share the lakeshore. By getting away from the main park entrance before the tourist buses arrive, there are plenty of places to enjoy a picnic lunch or explore the rocky overlooks along the trails. The Queen Mother of the Western Heaven Temple can be visited for a small fee. Many hikers spend several days near the lake, with overnight accommodations in one of the yurts. By September, the weather cools considerably and snow flurries often fill the air. Before long, the Kazakh families will pack up their yurts and move to lower elevations with their flocks for the winter. Few visitors venture here in winter as snow can become very deep and travel into these mountains difficult. Heavenly Lake sleeps silently under its blanket of white until spring.

The entire area near Heavenly Lake was named the UNESCO Bogeda Biosphere Reserve in 1990 because the area contains several endangered and rare plant and animal species, including over 300 medicinal plants. Tourism from foreign visitors is new to the Urumqi region. Here the traditional population of Tajiks, Kyrgiks, Kazakis and Urgurs have faced challenges as the Chinese government has encouraged Han Chinese to move here from the overcrowded cities farther east. Language, religion and customs of the groups are sometimes at odds, and an uneasy peace hangs over the area much of the time. Still, the people are generally friendly to outsiders, ever curious about Europeans and Americans as an unknown curiosity. The mix of ethnicities gives Urumqi a vast number of attractions to please any first-time visitor. Traditional markets, handicraft kiosks, multi-ethnic street food, multiple restaurants and cafes, ethnic dance and song exhibitions, horse racing, and unusual ethnic traditional events such as ‘sheep snatching’ likely won’t be seen anywhere else in China. Numerous ethnic traditional festivals enlighten multi-day celebrations with song, dance and feasting.

Visitors to Urumqi won’t want to miss the Xinjiang Regional Museum. Open daily except Mondays, the museum exhibits over 50,000 items of cultural significance to past and present populations. Of particular interest is the collection of mummified remains preserved by the natural environment dating back thousands of years. Several picturesque mosques in the city are worth seeing, with the Tartar Mosque allowing visitors with special permission. And the International Bazaar is the perfect place to shop for art objects, handicrafts and goods such as leather goods, rugs and tapestries.

Urumqi holds a number of modern hotels, guest stays and inns along with hostels and more native-style lodgings. Other lodging facilities are located along the road to Heavenly Lake. And if yurts aren’t in the stars for you, many visitors camp in the surrounding hills, although apparently without official permission. So bring your sense of adventure to Heavenly Lake.

*Lake statistics are from unofficial sources so should be considered estimates.

Things to do at Heavenly Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Birding
  • Museum

Heavenly Lake Photo Gallery

Heavenly Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 12,108 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,496 feet

Average Depth: 131 feet

Maximum Depth: 345 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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