A destination loses its appeal when it becomes popular and accessible. We can all relate to that.
Our next stop was Xinjiang Heavenly Lake. On Google Maps it’s called Heavy Pond which seems like an Instagram vs IRL dig. Bearing in mind that this was my first experience in a populated tourist area in China, boy was I in for a surprise.
My heart sank when I saw how much the place was built around tourism - although, as a disclaimer, my photos were a hard attempt at avoiding them all. You drive up to the park entrance and buy your tickets to enter the protected site. Then you have to get on a bus. The bus takes you 30 mins up the mountain, where you’re shuffled off to be led through a terrible maze filled with tatty market stalls all claiming to be ‘authentic this’ and ‘authentic that’.
Just before you pass out from the crowds of people wanting to take a photo of you because you're white, they bundle you on to another bus to go back on exactly the same route up the mountain to reach the top. If you’re a lazy rekcuf, you can then get a 10 min buggy ride up the mountain to reach the final destination spot where the lake actually is.
I was being treated like a pack animal. This Thorpe park/Alton Towers treatment was not what I came to the far ends of China for. It’s probably because I’m a grizzly mf when it comes to people and pushing and queueing and eurgh, but we eventually made it.
I did a little research into domestic tourism. Apparently, 4.44 BILLION domestic (overnight) trips were made in China in 2016. That makes it equivalent to three trips on average per person in China’s population. The total receipt from domestic travel was RMB 3.9 TRILLION in 2016. That is £444.3 billion. The Chinese have made even the most beautiful natural lake into something that you have to pay to enter. Once there is a fee, there is a status. Once there is a status, it stupidly overcrowded and popular.
There is a legend that surrounds the lake actually. Apparently, the West Queen ‘entertained’ King Mu of the Western Zhou Dynasty (a long time ago B.C.). She wrote him a long-ass poem asking him to stay with her by the lake, and his lame excuse was that he needed to lead China to a prosperous life and only once he had done that would he come back. Obvs he never did, biggest pie-off ever. Apparently the Lake was the only thing that witnessed her mopey days and nights so there’s that whole weepy woman thing about it.
We would be staying here overnight with a local family in a tent-like yert next to the lake. We got to our settlement and were greeted with a large brown government sign describing what lay before us as a ‘true ethnic settling’. True maybe in the sense because it didn’t have any running water, electricity or toilets. We were staying with Kazakh people (who spoke no English, and only broken Chinese) that made a living off the tourism, but they were super friendly and eager to feed us.
To get rid of the grump, Suzanna and I went off on a long ‘hike’ around the heavy pond. On our way round, there was a girl that stopped us and asked for a photo with us. Over the past few days there had been a lot of people asking for a photo, or surreptitiously filming me. I didn’t think I was going to be a target as I had dark hair and didn’t look particularly English but we were tired and grumpy, and this was about the 20th photo that day, so we said no thank you. She looked so upset so I started chatting to her about where she learnt English and why she was wanting a photo. She said it was because she had never met anyone that looked like us before, she had never even left western China (she was mid-20s)!
So we guiltily said yes to a selfie and she started crying saying how beautiful we were and how special it was that we were so nice. I told her I liked her hat and her very good English and she got so embarrassed and tried to give me her hat and show us off to her parents.
On return we got fed some traditional – once again unidentifiable – food and vodka to keep the body temp up/keep the germs at bay. We fell asleep with spiders dropping on our heads which led to some jumpy dreams about spiders.
To finish it off, the lake greeted us with the following view on our departure.