Next up along the Silk Road is Qinghai Province (formerly known as Kokonor). Although fourth-largest in size, Qinghai is the third-to-last of all provinces population-wise. Its name is derived from Qinghai Lake (meaning cyan sea lake), which is also the largest lake in China, covering over 4,317 km^2. Almost 20% of the population is ethnically Tibetan, so you’ll be able to see the very evident influences of Tibetan culture and religion on the area.
We landed in Xining, the capital of Qinghai, and began driving towards Ta’er Si, a Tibetan monastery that’s also one of the six great Gelukpa Buddhist monasteries of Tibet. Inside, you’ll find scriptures, goat butter sculptures, frescoes and embroidery. The current 14th Dalai Lama studied at this monastery, and many Tibetan pilgrims will pay homage to the Buddha here.
That night, we drove to a small hotel near Qinghai Lake. It should be noted that the elevation of this area is fairly high and altitude sickness is common if your body is not comfortable in this setting. From there, we could watch the sunrise on the lake from our hotel room, but unfortunately, it was too cloudy that day to get a good photo.
Later, we passed the highest elevation point of our trip — 4120 meters high — and immediately began our descent. We didn’t stay particularly long in Qinghai, for we had to leave before the international bike race from Xining to Qinghai Lake began, but we did have the opportunity to visit Bird Island. There weren’t too many birds there, since egg-laying season is over, but there were still some stragglers here and there (if you do visit, I’d suggest you go in May — you’ll be able to stand in a glass underground room and watch overhead as birds lay eggs).