Qinghai, in the west of China, is big. I asked the staff at the Qinghai Hotel in Xining for a local map, and this is what they gave me. See that lake in the upper right? Let me zoom in.
The staff didn't seem to understand that this map wouldn't really help in my search for local noodles. See Xining and that lake? That's a 200km, four hour drive.
All in this, our lovely bus. No complaints, as there is really no way around the distances. It's quite inspiring actually, and the little cyclist icons on the map make me think of someday riding a bicycle across China. Maybe.
Our travels started in Xining, the provincial capital since the Qing dynasty. Qinghai, being bordered by such diversity, is a melting pot of Tibetan, Mongolian, Muslim, and Chinese culture. That means museums and temples a-plenty.
I love these old books, but the highlight was the 618 meter-long thangka (Tibetan sacred art) scroll.
It feels like a maze that took 400 artists four years to complete.
The detail is extraordinary. A must-visit work of wonder.
Just strolling around Xining, looking for noodles, reveals a lot about the city. Construction is everywhere, with high rise apartments and civil buildings popping up faster than you can say dui buchi.
But despite the modernization, it is still China through and through. Is that Master Shake?
Entire new neighborhoods, nestled between the mountains.
The views are wonderful, but the high altitude of 2200 meters draws a lot out of you. Precious calories seem more important than ever. Time to start the noodle search.
Despite wanting nothing more than to find the dingiest back-alley noodle shop, sometimes you crave the comfort of a mega-mall. China's mega-mall building spree has been a bit much in major cities like Shanghai or Beijing, but out here in the countryside, the Landmark shopping area is a welcome sight.
Yes, there are two Starbucks within a minute of each other, but there are also noodles. Lanzhou beef noodles to be exact.
I became quite interested in Lanzhou noodles after reading this article. To sum it up, Qinghai people are responsible for opening Lanzhou noodle shops around the country. Even though Lanzhou is in Ganso Province, Qinghai is behind the popularity of these noodles. When chains started cutting into the mom-and-pop businesses, people started getting angry. Who has a right to Lanzhou noodles?
Well, I have a feeling that this shop, nearly above a Burger King in the shopping mall is one of the offending chains.
The noodles are cut from the dough right before being cooked. A little beef broth, some green onion, and a little spice are all you get. Done!
Simple, though on another day I would be pleasantly surprised at a non-chain place serving the same dish. The cost was 8元, which is just over a dollar.
See you later Xining! You're modern roads and malls will be missed!
As you depart the city, the roads become less straight, and the scenery less concrete.
The Yellow River's source isn't far, feeding the valleys with enough water for life to exist.
And where there is life, there is civilization, religion, and culture.
Notable temples in the area are the Kumbum - 塔尔寺, Longwo - 隆务寺, and Qutan - 瞿昙寺.
All are meticulously maintained by the local monks.
My favorite temple of all was actually not on our tour itinerary. The Xining Nanchan Temple - 西宁南寺 was across from our hotel, at the top of a hill, under a bit of construction, and completely empty. Be sure to explore the non-touristy spots when you are out and about.
Qinghai lake is considered a must-visit spot. When we arrived and I saw the cycling trails, I hoped and prayed to Buddha (pronounced Booder by our guide) that we would spend the next three days on bicycles, cruising along the water. Of course, that isn't really a possibility on a group tour, so I put it in the back of my mind for a future trip. Cycle 3000km into Tibet, anyone in?
The landscape as you climb is diverse. Arid deserts give way to tundra and evergreen covered mountains. Year-round snow covered the highest peaks, some more than 5000 meters high.
Keeping your eyes off of your smartphone and onto the landscape is easy, as Internet is a bit dodgy in China.
Monuments to the silk road. Future trip idea; camel ride the silk road.
Actually, my legit dream was to ride an adventure bike (KTM of course!) across China and Mongolia, but after witnessing the madness that is driving in China, I probably wouldn't ride anything without two inches of steel protecting me. Ever seen a big rig pass another big rig on a blind curve? I saw that every 30 minutes.
We ended the trip in Qilian, the Switzerland of China. Beautiful landscapes that are rarely seen by Western eyes. Permits are required for travel in this part if China, permits that must be approved by multiple parties. We were told not to stray far from the hotel, lest we start an international incident.
I exaggerate, but keep in mind that until Western tourism becomes mainstream, you will be an anomaly here. This has silver lining in droves, and everyone you meet will be curious and happy about your presence.
Qilian must-do; the show at the Cultural Tourism Center. Half of our group was suffering from the effects of the altitude, but the ones who made it were treated to an insane spectacle of song-and-dance.
Leaving Qilian meant the trip was at an end.
Stay tuned to my next post, about the people of Qinghai, China.
Part 1: Food
Part 2: Places
Part 3: People