Qinghai Tibet Plateau: Where's Qinghai Tibet Plateau Located and What are the must-sees for Qinghai Tour?

November,22 2019 BY Sonam Tenphel 0 COMMENTS

Lying in the northwest of China, the Qinghai Tibet Plateau, usually known as just the Tibetan Plateau, is the highest plateau in the world. With an average elevation of more than 4,800 meters, the plateau extends far beyond the modern boundaries of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Covering a major portion of Qinghai Province, as well as part of the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir in India, the plateau is the true border of the ancient Tibetan Empire.

Located in central Asia, between the Himalayan Mountains to the south and the Kunlun Mountains and Taklamakan Desert to the north, the plateau also incorporates parts of western Sichuan Province as well as the southern part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region in the north. Well known as the highest plateau in the world, this massive section of the Eurasian Tectonic plate is one of the most unique places on the planet.

How Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was formed

The plateau is the result of huge tectonic activity over 70 million years in the past, when the Indo-Australian plate collided with the Eurasian plate and pushed underneath it, driving it high into the air and creating the mountain ranges that border it to the south and west. The movement of the plate is still ongoing, and the Tibetan plateau is still rising at a rate of around 15 centimeters per year.

formation of tibetan plateau
Qinghai-Tibet Plateau comes into existence as a result of the collision between two plates.

Qinghai Province at the easternmost of Tibetan Plateau

Qinghai province is one of the main gateways to Tibet and is the starting point of the famous Qinghai Tibet Railway, along which all trains to Tibet must pass. At just 2,275 meters above sea level, Xining is actually one of the lower points of the Qinghai Province, on the edge of the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau.

When traveling from Xining to Lhasa, the trains climb up to the plateau from Golmud, although the plateau actually starts closer to Xining, just after the Chakayan Salt Lake, which lies at more than 3,000 meters above sea level. From there, the altitude increases constantly as the trains climb higher up to the Tanggula Mountains, where they cross the boundary into Tibet.

Top sights for a Qinghai Tour

Traveling to Qinghai Province does not need the same special permits that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) requires, and tourists are able to tour the sights in the area with just a Chinese Entry Visa. With Qinghai once being part of ancient Tibet, there are still many ethnic Tibetans living in the province, which means the adventurous tourist can get a glimpse of the Tibetan customs and culture without actually traveling into the TAR.

Qinghai is one of the few places where a multitude of Chinese cultures reside peacefully together, with people from Tibetan, Han, Hui, Tu, Salar, Uyghur, Kazak, and Mongolian ethnic groups existing side by side. In this unique place, there are a wealth of things to see and do and places to visit. The capital of the province, Xining, as well as being the start of the Qinghai Tibet Railway, is referred to as the Summer resort Capital of China for its cool, pleasant summer weather.

Ask most people, and they will think that Xining is just the place where you can catch the train for Lhasa. However, there are a huge number of attractions in and around Xining that make a visit to the area well worth the trip. From the stunning Qinghai Lake, from which the province takes its name, to the Ta’er Monastery and the Dongguan Mosque, the largest mosque in northern China.

Qinghai Lake

The largest saline lake in China, Qinghai Lake is also known locally and historically as Koko Nor. Over 20 rivers and streams empty into the lake, with just five providing permanent inflows making up for around 80 percent of the total influx of water. Yet, despite the huge inflowing of fresh water, the lake retains its intense salinity, another of the many mysteries that abound in China.

qinghai lake
Picturesque Qinghai Lake in summer

The stunning beauty of the lake lies in its tranquility and peacefulness, its salty vastness stretching for miles in all directions. Unusually, for a saline lake, the surrounding landscape is a scene of multitudinous colors, with lush green grasslands and fields of yellow oilseed rape adding to the cold blues of the waters and the darker greens of the distant hills that reveal the true beauty of the scenery.

A popular place for both hikers and twitchers, the lake is a haven for many varieties of birds that spend the summer on and around the lake.

Sun and Moon Mountain

Lying at around 4,00 meters above sea level, the Sun & Moon Mountain is the boundary between the Loess Plateau and the Qinghai Tibet Plateau, and lies between the agricultural area and the area of grassland farming. It also forms the border for the southern monsoon areas and the northern non-monsoon region of the Gobi Desert. To the east of the mountain, fields of rape and grain form a patchwork pattern across the landscape, while to the west the vast grasslands are roamed by sheep can cattle in a more nomadic environment. From June to September, when the summer is at its height, the mountain is lush and green, dotted with thousands of beautiful wildflowers.

Kanbula National Forest Park

The Kanbula National Forest Park is renowned for its unique Danxia landforms, which stand straight and tall with a spectacular scenic charm. The area is also known for its connections to the Houhong period of Tibetan Buddhism, which had a major impact in Buddhism over the centuries. With a cool and moist climate for most of the year, the area is a popular place for naturalists and trekkers, and has some of the provinces most unique trees, such as spruce and white birch, which rarely grow elsewhere in China.

kanbula national forest park
Enjoy a bird’s eye view of Kanbula National Forest Park

A dense area of plant life, the forest park also contains such flora as azaleas, honeysuckle, Chinese pines, and more than 80 varieties of ornamental plants that have a high value to horticulturists. There are also a large number of indigenous wildlife in the park, with blue sheep and argali, as well as larks, blackbirds, cuckoos, and many other species of birds. Aside from the wildlife, there are also seven Tibetan villages in the area of the park, where the people farm and grow their crops in the same unique way as their ancient ancestors.

Lijia Gorge

Lying on the border of Jianzha County and Hualong County in Qinghai province is the stunning Lijia Gorge, one of the most spectacular gorges of the Yellow River’s hydropower systems. Running through the Kanbula national Forest Park, the gorge is surrounded by bright red Danxia rock formations, a stark contrast to the azure blue of the deep waters in the gorge.

More than 30 kilometers in length, the Lijia Gorge ends at the dam with its hydropower station, from where the yellow River continues its course eastward. One of China’s amazing feats of structural engineering, the dam channels thousands of gallons of water each day through its channels, creating massive amounts of power for the surrounding areas.

Ta’er Monastery

Also known as Kumbum Mosque, the Ta’er Monastery is located in Huangzhong County and was built in around the 16th century. An amazing architectural complex containing more than 9,300 structures, the monastery has unique Buddhist halls and pagodas, with residences for the many lamas present in the monastery.

ta’er monastery
A young monk was strolling in Ta’er Monastery in the morning.

Incorporating architectural styles from both Han and Tibetan cultures, the buildings are in perfect harmony with one another, with Tibetan style walls topped with the typical upturned eaves of the Han-styled roofs. One of the most famous lama temples in China, it is the birthplace of the famous Buddhist master, Tsongkhapa and is the center of Buddhism in northwest China. Part of the Big Six Gelugpa monasteries across China – the other five being Sera, Drepung, Tashilhunpo, and Ganden monasteries in Tibet and Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province – the monastery has a high regard in Buddhism throughout China as well as the rest of Southeast Asia.

Qilian Mountain

The Qilian Mountains in northern Qinghai Province are home to dozens of ancient glaciers, with an almost permanent snowline at around 4,000 meters. The mountains may only have altitudes of up to 5,000 meters, but they are some of the most spectacular peaks in the north of China, with more snow mountains than any other range in China’s northern provinces.

Despite the area having a four-season climate the demarcation of the seasons is never very clear, with snow lying below the snowline even in June, when the summer heat should have melted it all. This unique mountain climate is famous across China and has been observed by some of the world’s most prominent climatologists.

Surrounded by a primeval forest, the scenic area of the Qilian Mountains is charming and beautiful, creating a vast sea of green after the snows of June finally melt. One of the largest forested areas in Qinghai Province, the pines, spruces, and poplar are mingled with Sabina Chinensis, whip hemp, and blackthorn bushes throughout the area.

Chaka Salt Lake

The smallest of the four major salt lakes in the Qaidam basin, Chaka Salt Lake has been in production for salt for more than 3,000 years and is likely to continue for another 3,000 at least. The salt of the lake is simple and easy to mine, by simply lifting the salt layer from the surface and carrying it away. The earliest recorded use of this lake is during the Western Han Dynasty, which ruled between 206 BC and around 25 AD, according to the records of the Han Shu.

chaka salt lake
Enchanting view of Chaka Lake at sunset

Since the 18th century, the Qianlong period of government in the region set up a salt law to exploit the lake on a large scale, which lasted until well into the Guangxu period in Qinghai. However, since 1980, the Salt Lake has been a major tourist attraction in Qinghai and attracts tourists from both within China and internationally. A train now runs across the lake for sightseeing, and stops in the middle, in the middle of the night, for the benefit of stargazers.

Dongguan Mosque

One of the largest mosques in China, Dongguan Mosque has a history that dates back over 600 years, with an architectural style that is a mix of ancient local building styles and traditional Han Chinese styling. This grand mosque can hold more than 3,000 people at prayer inside its smaller prayer hall and serves now as an educational center and Islamic Institute of higher learning.

Covering an area of more than 13,000 square meters, this huge complex contains more than 50 buildings which all have the same Islamic style of interiors, inlaid with gold filigree, jade, and lapis lazuli. As many as ten thousand visitors enter the mosque during the major Muslim ceremonies, all of whom can be housed inside the single domed hall in the center of the complex.

Sonam Tenphel

About the Author - Sonam Tenphel

Energetic, responsible and reliable, Sonam is a guide with more than seven years experience informing visitors about heritage sites and attractions places in Tibet.

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