After three weeks in the desert, we reached the 3,000m Qinghai plateaux expecting to find an increase in population and available supplies. It was not long before we discovered that Qinghai is in fact the least populated region in China and more ‘deserty than the desert!’ There were a number of stretches where we would cycle over 150km without any signs of human life, so we were careful to plan ahead for water and food stations.
On our second day in the Qinghai region, we were joined by two Californian cyclists on their way to southern China via Golmud. Cycling as a group of six for the day was really fun and we all enjoyed being able to exchange stories with one another.
After five days without a wash we arrived the city of Delingha , desperately searching for a hotel. It is necessary for hotels in China to hold a permit than enables them to accept foreign guests although this is not usually a problem as there are normally a few hotels in each town which have this permit. In Delingha however, we were turned away from hotel after hotel. As night time fell we finally found a place to stay. It was not long however before the police arrived and told us that we were not allowed to stay in this hotel, or in fact the city as it is forbidden for tourists because it is ‘sacred’. We made it quite clear to the police that we had no intention of moving and after a long debate with the senior police officer we managed to persuade them that we could stay for the one night. After some internet research, we discovered that the city is the missile headquarters of the region where a number were in fact deployed in 1998. Sacred…?
We later passed a huge coal power plant where great plumbs of heavy smoke filled the sky. Shortly after we took a quick tea break in a nearby restaurant, which itself was full of sooty air. Leaving this restaurant we were then choked by yet more smoke, this time a large skip full of rubbish had been set on fire as a means of waste disposal. These three incidents filled us with fear of what may lie ahead in China and certainly demonstrated just some of the environmental problems that need to be addressed.
Before entering China, we sent our winter clothes back home as we had not needed them since Turkey and thought that we would not face the cold again – this was certainly not one of our wisest decisions of the trip. We crossed a number of passes over 3,500m, the highest at 3,817m just two days before reaching Xining and even experienced snow at the top of one pass. Cycling past Buddhist monasteries, up through beautiful valleys and grassland where yak roamed was wonderful. We were even welcomed at the highest pass by Tibetan prayer flags was wonderful.
Xining is a huge city filled with high rise buildings that seems to be expanding rapidly. Arriving here was crazy after spending so much time away from big cities. We stayed in a youth hostel in the international zone of the city and have enjoyed the luxuries of nearby coffee shops and restaurants. We have taken a few days off here to recharge our batteries ready for the next leg to Chengdu, where we plan to arrive in mid-October.