Qinghai Lake, the largest inland and salt-water lake in China, is situated in northwestern China's Qinghai Province. The lake is a well-known tourist destination for its beautiful natural landscape, bird watching and folk culture of local ethnic groups. The lake and its nearby scenic spots have attracted many travelers from China and abroad.
Qinghai Lake is located in the northeastern area of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the highest plateau in the world. The lake is sandwiched between Hainan and Haibei Tibetan Autonomous prefectures in Qinghai Province. It is situated in the area where Gangca (a county in Haibei) borders Haiyan (a county in Haibei) and Gonghe (a county in Hainan).
People of some ethnic groups — including the Tibetan, Mongolian, Hui and Salar ethnic groups — reside near Qinghai Lake. More than 60 percent of the locals are members of the Tibetan ethnic group. The lake is a holy place for Tibetans. Every year, the Tibetans worship the lake, at lakeside, to express their respect to the lake and to pray for themselves and their family members.
Qinghai Lake is surrounded by lofty mountains. The lake might be one of the most alluring tourist resorts in western China, as travelers can enjoy the breathtaking natural scenery in different seasons. The water is frozen from November to March, and the surrounding mountains are covered with snow. The mountains are covered with grass in summer. It seems the mountains wear a green blanket as yaks and sheep wander the grasslands. The grasslands are covered with golden rapeseed flowers throughout July; however, July 10-20 is the best time to admire and photograph the beautiful, golden flowers.
The lake is located along the migration routes of various waterfowl that migrate across Asia in spring and autumn. Bird Island, composed of the Haixishan and Haixipi islands, which are situated in the northwestern part of the lake, is a sanctuary for tens of thousands of birds, including francolin, the bar-headed goose and the brown-headed gull. Groups of waterfowl fly to the lake in March and April from some countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia. They build nests with grass and branches, and they lay eggs in the nests.
Haixishan is called Egg Island by the locals because of the countless eggs on the island during breeding season. The birds fly back to their hometowns in September and October.
More than 1,500 whooper swans pass the winter in the region. The lake is a Mecca for bird watchers.
Another attraction is biking around the lake to fully enjoy its beautiful scenery. Travelers can rent bikes in Xihai, a town in Haiyan and the starting point of the cycling route around the lake. As the lake is at an elevation of about 3,200 meters above sea level, cycling around the lake can be strenuous. Many bikers regard the lake as one of the best biking destinations in China. The Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race is held in this region and neighbors of Qinghai (Gansu Province and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region) each summer. It is the largest international road-cycling race in China, and one of the top cycling races in Asia. The beautiful scenery and the height of the lake have lured an increasing number of competitors from around the world.
Nearly 40 rivers flow into Qinghai Lake. Among them, Daotang River is the most special river. Many rivers in China flow from west to east. However, Daotang River flows from east to west. According to legend, Princess Wencheng passed Riyue Mountain on her way to Tibet, after she left Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), to get married with King Songtsen Gampo, of Tibet. She missed her parents and her hometown, and she cried. Her tears formed a river that flowed from east to west. Now, Riyue Mountain and Daotang River are two scenic spots near Qinghai Lake.
Chaka Salt Lake, at 3,059 meters above sea level, is situated in Chaka, a town in Haixi, a Mongolian and Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Qinghai. Chaka means salt pond in the Tibetan language. The salt lake is a must-see scenic spot near Qinghai Lake. It is the smallest of the four major salt lakes in Qaidam Basin, a well-known inland basin in Qinghai. The lake has been mined for salt since the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-8). The lake was an extremely important site along the ancient Silk Road.
The best time to visit the salt lake is July and August, and the best time to visit the lake is either at dawn or dusk. The surface of the lake can mirror the beautiful scenery of the sky.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly September 2018 issue)