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Qinghai

Photo © Absar

Travel Guide Asia China Qinghai

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Introduction

sitting at the gate of the guesthouse

sitting at the gate of the guesthouse

© All Rights Reserved minfreya

Qinghai (青海) is a very large province in the northwest of China and is one of the most remote and sparsely populated places in the world. In the past, Chinese parents would threaten to send their bad children to live in Qinghai as it is home to many prisons, labor camps and toxic waste sights. This has given Qinghai province an extremely bad reputation it does not deserve. It is a diverse area with many minority groups and a fascinating history. The beauty of Qinghai lake and the stunning mountains surrounding Yushu County just give a glimpse of what Qinghai has to offer.

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Geography

The geography of Qinghai is high altitude plateau with mountain ranges. Qinghai is located on the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. The Yellow River originates in southern part of the province, while the Yangtze and Mekong have their sources in the southwestern part. Qinghai is separated by the Riyue Mountain into pastoral and agricultural zones in the west and east.

By area, Qinghai is the largest province in the People's Republic of China (excluding the autonomous regions). Qinghai Lake is the largest salt water lake in China, and the second largest in the world. The Qaidam basin lies in the northwest part of the province. About a third of this resource rich basin is desert. The basin has an altitude between 3,000 and 3,500 metres.

The Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, is located in Qinghai and contains the headwaters of the Yellow River, Yangtze River, and Mekong River. The reserve was established to protect the headwaters of these three rivers and consists of 18 subareas, each containing three zones which are managed with differing degrees of strictness.

Qinghai has domestic borders with Xinjiang, Gansu, Sichuan and the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

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Cities

  • Golmud is an industrial oil town and the last stop on the highway and railroad to Lhasa.
  • Tongren is a small Tibetan town and a great place to buy Tibetan thangkas.
  • Xining is a modern city and capital of the province with a few nice sights.
  • Yushu County is in southern Qinghai and has great temples.

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Sights and Activities

  • Mengda Nature Reserve
  • Qinghai lake is the largest lake in China and home to the famous bird island.
  • The sources of the Yellow and Yangtze River
  • Nomad Grasslands - Much of Qinghai is covered in high altitude grasslands which are home to Tibetan and Mongolian nomads. These grasslands are full of yaks and sheep.
  • Ngoring and Kyaring Lakes - These two beautiful lakes west of Maduo are the main sources of the Yellow River. These huge lakes sit at 4,400 metres
  • Kumbum Monastery (known as Ta'er Si in Chinese) - This famous Tibetan monastery was the birthplace of the famous buddhist reformer Tsongkhapa. There are currently over 650 monks at Kumbum.
  • The 14th Dalai Lama's Birthplace - The current Dalai Lama was born in Qinghai, close to Xining. His birthplace is considered a holy site to Tibetan people.

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Events and Festivals

China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.

Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.

Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.

The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.

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Weather

Due to the high altitude, Qinghai has quite cold winters (harsh in the highest elevations), mild summers, and a large diurnal temperature variation. Its mean annual temperature is approximately -5 to 8 °C, with January temperatures ranging from -18 to -7 °C and July temperatures ranging from 15 to 21 °C. It is also prone to heavy winds as well as sandstorms from February to April. Significant rainfall occurs mainly in summer, while precipitation is very low in winter and spring, and is generally low enough to keep much of the province semi-arid or arid.

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Getting There

The easiest ways to get to Qinghai is to take an airplane or the train to Xining from anywhere in China. There are also several buses that service the highways from all of the surrounding provinces to smaller towns on the provincial borders. In many more remote areas you will have to flag buses down on the side of the highway.

Xining is connected with daily trains to many cities across China including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Chengdu and Lhasa.

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Getting Around

There are several highways that snake across the main parts of Qinghai. You can also take the train to a few cities such as Xining and Golmud.

By Plane

Currently there is only one airport in Qinghai Province just outside of Xining. Airports are being slowly constructed in Golmud and Yushu County.

By Bus

Buses serve all the cities and towns in Qinghai.

By Train

The train only services cities between Xining and Golmud.

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Language

While most inhabitants understand and speak Mandarin, Tibetans take pride in their culture and often prefer to speak Tibetan. Any effort you can make will be appreciated. Local Han speak a regional variant of Chinese called Qinghaihua. The province's many ethnic groups all have their own languages, including Dongxiang, Mongolian, Salar, Tibetan and Tu. At any travel agency, big restaurant or hotel, standard Mandarin works fine.
The Amdo Tibetan dialect is spoken widely by Tibetans in the prefectures of northern and eastern Qinghai, while Kham Tibetan is spoken by Tibetans in Yushu prefecture in southern Qinghai.

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Eat

Qinghai food is heavily influenced by Chinese and Tibetan cuisine. One of the staples of the diet is a noodle soup known as laomien, which originates from the neighboring province of Gansu.

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Contributors

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This is version 18. Last edited at 9:17 on Aug 16, 17 by Utrecht. 18 articles link to this page.

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