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Qinghai Lake (青海湖) is the largest lake in China. This lake’s salty water covers an area of 5,694 km² and is 360 kilometres in circumference. It is also an important place in history and culture, this lake has been the traditional meeting place between Mongolian and Tibetan societies. On the very shores of Qinghai Lake in 1578, the Mongolian King Altan Khan gave the title of Dalai Lama to Sonam Gyatso, creating the first Dalai Lama. Because of this event Qinghai Lake is a very sacred lake to Tibetans and Mongolians. Many Tibetan and Mongolian pilgrims complete the kora around the lake every year. There is also a small temple on an island on the western part of the lake. In traditional times no boats were used so the monks only had contact with the outside world when the lake froze over.
This lake is also a breeding ground and a migration stopping point for countless European and Asian bird species. This creates one of the most popular tourist spot in the lake, which is Bird Island (Niao Dao). The best time to see birds is between March and June. But this also makes the place a location of concern. If there was an outbreak of bird flu here it could easily spread to all of Asia and Europe. Due to over fishing in Qinghai Lake the bird populations were seriously depleted a few years ago. Gladly due to strict environmental laws, the fish populations have grown and the birds have started to return. Sadly the lake is shrinking at a rate of 10 cm a year. Most of the rivers and lakes that used to feed into the lake are drying up due to a combination of over grazing, farming downstream and damming.
Most of the sights in the area don’t really have names. Hire a local Tibetan to take you around and he will take you on stunning mountain hikes to running down sand dunes. The big activities include hiking, biking, horseback riding and bird watching. In general the opening hours for all activities is daylight.
Every June there is an international bike race around Qinghai Lake.
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The only way to get to Qinghai Lake easily is by bus from the capital of Xining. Travellers can take buses from other cities west or north of the lake but this can be very time consuming and troublesome. This is mainly due to the fact that there are military zones in western and northern Qinghai that the Chinese government doesn’t like foreigners visiting.
To get to Qinghai Lake just take a bus from the main bus station in Xining just south of the train station. The bus driver will just stop and drop you off at one of the main tourist areas. To get back to Xining wait on the side of the highway and wave down a bus or minibus. Minibuses are a little more expensive but are quicker and more frequent. Another bonus of the minibus is that it will drop you off anywhere in Xining.
In the past people came to Qinghai Lake to eat the fish but too many people ate the fish so the birds stopped coming. Therefore don’t eat the fish and just stick to the traditional Tibetan cuisine.
|Kokonor Lake International Youth Hostel||2103 Km, State Highway 109||HOSTEL||-|
There is now an International Youth Hostel on the southern shore of the lake. The hostel is located in an old farm house in the middle of nowhere along the lake. There is a range of rooms and the dorms are around 30 RMB a night. The food options are limited so bring plenty of food with you from Xining. They can rent cars with drivers for a day and motorbikes. To get there just tell your bus to stop when you see the large sign for the hostel on the highway
There are now several mid-range hotels geared towards Chinese tour groups around the southern part of the lake. Remember to always bargain at these places.
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