My visit to Qinghai Lake was part of my Tibet tour, but Qinghai Lake deserves it’s own blog post. This is the largest lake in China and is situated high in the Tibetan plateau at 3,205m above sea level. Although it’s part of Tibet, it’s not in the Tibet Autonomous Region so you don’t need a travel permit to visit this place. Qinghai Lake is not just the largest lake in China, but it is also a salt water lake. It’s believe that Qinghai Lake was actually a sea that was cut off when the Indian sub-continent crashed into the Asia continent millions of years ago to form the Himalaya mountains. Of course the local legends have more colourful explanations of how the lake was formed.
This is a popular tourist spot and is quite crowded in summer. In winter it gets very cold and the lake freezes over. There is an island with a temple on it and is only accessible in winter when the lake freezes and you walk over the ice. Many pilgrims will visit the temple during this time to pray.
Getting to Qinghai lake requires you to hire a car and is around 2hrs drive from Xining, the nearest city. The scenery along the drive is quite nice with grasslands, farmlands and mountains forming a backdrop. There are few tourist facilities with public toilets. So whatever facilities that are present are overused to the point of being a health hazard. We had to take the internal bus to the lake side since visitors are not allowed to drive their vehicles into the lake area.
You can trust the Chinese to convert any natural attraction into a paying tourist spot. There is a playground for kids, boat rides, horse and camel rides, photography with ethnic costumes, and camping facilities. The local Tibetans also find any opportunity to harass tourists for money.
According to scientists, Qinghai Lake is shrinking due to over grazing, land reclamation, and other natural causes (global warming?). Many of the rivers feeding the lake have dried up over the years. In the last 100 years, the lake has lost more than 11% of its surface area. So it’s a good idea to visit this lake before it disappears forever.
Cycling is a popular past time around the lake, although for those of us not acclimatized to higher altitudes it would be quite strenuous to cycle at more than 3,000m altitude. There is an annual Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race that takes place here in July. One of my friends has raised the idea to do a round-the-lake cycling tour (roughly 1 week duration). That sounds like a great idea for a future blog.