If I could only use one word to describe our trip to Qinghai, I would use amazing. I honestly had no idea that such a place existed in this world. So many different kinds of terrain all within a 360-degree view… But I guess before I tell you about all of that, I should start from the beginning.
Just to give everyone an idea of where exactly it was that we went, here’s a map of where Qinghai is:
We started the trip on a Saturday afternoon, leaving for Shanghai Hongqiao airport at around 5:00 with carry-on baggage only. We didn’t arrive in Qinghai until about midnight, since we had a bit of a delay and a layover in Xi’an.
Initial impressions immediately after arriving in Qinghai: it was so much colder and dryer than anything in Shanghai. The elevation was much higher so my ears felt a little funny and it was super easy for me to get winded. However, it was also probably the first time I felt properly cold in China. And in some areas we visited, the air was definitely some of the best air I’d breathed while in China. Shortly after arriving in Xining, the capital of Qinghai, we went to sleep, cuddled up in our beds (very cold – no heating in Qinghai until the government turned it on on October 15), and turned in early in preparation for the next day.
Day One – Sunday
Our first full day in Qinghai was relaxing but very informative. We spent the day learning about Tibetan culture, and eventually about Thangkas, which is a beautiful form of Buddhist religious art that stems back from Nepal and India. Different styles of Thangka art can be seen all over Asia, and is often used as a religious tool. In many ways, the creation of the Thangka can be a form of meditation in and of itself. I really don’t know THAT much about them other than they are crazy beautiful; each part of the thangka is incredibly meaningful; and the painting process takes a very long time; so feel free to find out more on your own here.
After learning about Qinghai and Tibetan art from a few exceptional people, we went to a local Tibetan Medicine and Culture museum. A few things I learned:
1) Tibetans were some of the first founders of modern medicine – they were preforming brain surgery way before some parts of the world knew there was a brain.
2) One of the longest Thankgas in the world is in this museum. It’s a freaking maze. And amazing. Get it? a – MAZE – ing. ok ok I’m done.
3) Tibetans were also one of the first people to begin dabbling in veterinary medicine.
4) Tibetans also really knew what was up with food, plants, and minerals. One of the oldest people in the world is Tibetan and she credits her age to the Tibetan way of living (she’s something like 118 years old or something CRAZY).
After learning about everything Tibetan, we finished it off with our first Tibetan meal of the trip. In Tibetan cuisine, Yak is a staple food. Yak butter milk, yak butter, yak yogurt, yak meat, yak soup, yak noodles, yak dumplings, yak yak yak!
Day Two – Monday
Monday was our first day of extreme adventuring in Qinghai. We woke up early, loaded up the bus, and headed over to Qinghai lake, one of the largest salt-water lakes in the world.
People kept on acting like this lake was the largest body of water they’d seen. They also asked me if I thought Lake Michigan was bigger. I really had no idea, but to me the lake seemed massive, but no bigger or more surprising than Lake Michigan. Once I came back though, I looked at my world map and I’m just saying…. Lake Michigan s like 200x bigger than Qinghai lake. It’s huuuuuge. Regardless, Qinghai lake was also very huge. It was so strange to see so many different kinds of terrain in one area; water on one side, desert on the other, snow capped mountains in the distance. Simply beautiful.
After taking a few awesome jumping pictures with our snow-capped mountains, we headed over to a place not even 20 minutes away to these MASSIVE sand dunes to slide around in the sand for a while. It was great, and given the number of people who slid down the side of the dunes on half a garbage can and lived, I would say it was an epically amazing time.
Day Three – Tuesday
Tuesday was a bit of a travel day. We checked out of our hotel in Xining and headed on to the next leg of our journey, which took place in Tongren. Tongren is a super small, quiet, sleepy town where a major Tibetan monastery is located. Even though it was very small, it was still so cute and we really enjoyed walking around the town in the evening, talking to locals on the pretty bridge that lit up. On the way to Tongren, we made a few stops – first near the Yellow River, which was super cool to see up close, and second, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere to climb a mountain. To me, it seemed like whenever we were going “hiking” our (super intense) Tibetan tour guides just looked for a mountain with a decent ascent, (or at least one that was slightly more horizontal than vertical), pointed to it, and said “you guys can climb that one”. It made for some interesting hiking endeavors.
We stopped here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, to hike.
From here, we got back on the bus and went the rest of the way to Tongren, where we visited a beautiful monastery.
From here, we went to our hotel, and basically had the rest of the night free to explore the town and do whatever we wanted.
Day Four – Wednesday
Wednesday was probably the most culturally interesting day we had in China. It started off in Tongren; after we check out of our hotel, we walked around the town a bit, where we got to see bits and pieces of the local peoples’ every day lives.
After walking around the town for a bit, we stopped by a very famous Thangka art school to look at the art and have them show us how it’s done.
After leaving the studio, we left Tongren and headed to basically the middle of nowhere, as we would be staying the night on a homestay, with a local Tibetan family. As the drive there was long, we made several stops, the first of which was another hike – this time in an even more remote area!
After this gorgeous hike, we went to have yak butter tea with Tibetan nomads. Yep, you read that right. We were just chillin’ and having tea with NOMADS, nbd.
The experience there was so unique and beautiful, and I SO enjoyed learning more about this incredibly unique culture. The best part is, after all of that, the day wasn’t over yet…
From here, we headed to our lodging for the night… which was in a small Tibetan village with local Tibetan host families. This was probably my favorite part of the trip. However, in the interests of my poor readers who are probably tired of reading so much, I’m going to stop the post here for now because it’s getting QUITE long. BUT stay tuned because the best is yet to come… 🙂