china edition


Qinghai - Xining


Kumbum Monastery
Qinghai Lake and Bird Island

Xining, despite the few attractions within the city itself, has a charm that is refreshing in this rugged western province. Most travellers here are either on their way to other destinations in Qinghai, most obviously the Kumbum Monastery and Qinghai Lake, or planning to travel on to Tibet.

Of most interest to visitors in the town is a visit to one of the markets, either for food or exotica. Just near the West Gate are the 2 best markets: Water Well Alley Market and the Riverside Market.

The city is literally translated Western Peace, a projection of wish fulfillment by imperial order. It has long been on the fringes of the western Chinese empire, probably established around the Han dynasty, and it remained an important trading post in the area, mainly for goods to and from Tibet and China. It was by the 16th century that the city was set up as both a military garrison and a major trading post upon the Southern Silk Route.

It was not until 1928 that the city, with the formal establishment of Qinghai as a province, was to become the official capital. It has now emerged as the political and economic center of the province. The city lies on the Qinghai/Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of around 2,200 meter above sea level, and is around 225 kilometer from Lanzhou.

With mountains lying sharply to the north of the city, and desolate plains stretching before it, Xining is a welcoming staging point for treckers to areas beyond. Most of the city lies to the south of the Huangshui River, and it is more or less bisected by the South River. The city has its center between 2 sets of crossroads, at Ximen (West Gate) and Dashizi (Big Crossroads). The population within is roughly 60% Han Chinese, but it is the ethnic minorities that give the town its true flavour. Of these it is the Tibetan and Muslim Hui that make up the biggest proportion, accounting for around a quarter of the total population.

Qinghai Lake and Bird Island

Lying 180 kilometer from Xining, Qinghai Lake is the largest salt water lake in China; not only that it is also the largest of all lakes, both salt water and fresh, in the whole country.

Xining - Qinghai Lake and Bird IslandIn Qinghai Lake, Bird Island is the most charming and attractive place. Situated on the western shore of Qinghai Lake, the island has largely due to the receding of waters off its shores, been turned into a peninsula.

Though it covers an area of slightly less than 1000 square m it attracts many migrating birds in spring and summer. To these hundreds of thousands of migrant birds, the island has become a very important bird sanctuary.

Thousands of birds of different species such as geese, gulls, sandpipers and cormorants, nest on the island and the sound of its calls is carried far and away. For these birds as well as bird watching enthusiasts, the island represents nothing short of a piece of heaven. Another attraction on the lake is Haixinshan where according to legend great horses were bred.

Kumbum Monastery

As the religious activity center of both monks and followers of the Yellow Hat Sect (also named Gelugpa Sect, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism), the Kumbum Monastery (Ta'er Monastery) is located in Huangzhong County, Qinghai Province, 25 kilometer away from Xining.

In order to commemorate Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), founder of the Yellow Hat Sect, the Ta'er Monastery was built in 1577 more than 150 years after his death. Now the Ta'er Monastery is considered a sacred place in China.

In the Tibetan language, Ta'er Monastery is called "gongben", which means "10,000 figures of Buddha". During its long 400 years of history, it has gradually become a place of interest for its distinct ethnic color and native style. The whole area covers more than 144,000 square m with mountains surrounding it. It has 9,300 rooms and 52 halls. Just judging from these figures, you can imagine what a splendid place it is.

The Ta'er Monastery is a group of fine buildings in a combination of both the Han and Tibetan styles of architecture on the mountain slopes. It has lofty temples and halls rising one upon another. The palace buildings, Buddhist halls, sleeping quarters, as well as the courtyards echo each other and thus enhance the beauty of the whole area.

The Ta'er Monastery is rich in fascinating arts. The famous butter sculptures, the barbolas, and the murals are considered to be the 3 most unique arts of superb craftsmanship.