• Category Archives 2016 Trip Planning
  • Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Da Qaidam Zhen to Golmud

    xia-he-delinghaThe original plan was to skip Golmud, to go directly from Da Qaidam to Delingha, and there to take a train or a bus to Ulan and Tsaka.

    Although Delingha does not appear on the Lonely Planet guide (nor, by the way, in other guides, and Ella and Peter went 125 km towards South in their trip, direct through the Dulan Desert to Dzounchia), it seems rather interesting (see photo at left). So, the plan was crystal clear, either go from Mangnai Zhen to Golmud, through Teijinar (Urt Moron), or go from Mangnai Zhen to Da Qaidam Zhen, and then there is no need to reach Golmud (and empty city as Lonely Planet describes it: “For three decades, Golmud faithfully served overlanders as the last jumping-off point before Lhassa. Bedraggled backpackers hung around the city truck depot (powerful image!) trying to negotiate a lift to the “Roof of the World”. But since the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, this lonesome backpacker has become even less important (…) ”

    There is no description about anything to see in Golmud, although on the Internet some interesting sceneries does appear, usually with a train in the background.

    So, the plan was to skip Golmud, and go to Delingha instead. But.. but this is what a fellow traveller says about Delingha:

    this area is covertly known for nuclear missile base. said so, entering without this knowledge would give you much trouble. as foreign travelers, no where you can stay over night, as hotel would not allow. skip this area, whether you head east or west for next destination…

    As a consequence, I have asked for information several hotels, and I will update the information here. If Delingha is out-of-limits, then the journey will bring us from Da Qaidam to Golmud, through lakes of salt, and emptiness. Da Qaidam may be a city with a scenery, a little like Santiago de Chile, with high peaks in the background (Qaidam Shan 5.179 m).

    As a consequence, and depending on the answer of Delingha’s hotels, we will go to Golmud, and then a train to the South shore of Qinghai Lake (Kokonor)

    view of Da Qaidam
    da qaidam zhen

    views of Santiago (by the way, from my appartment) in June

    after a light snow in the mountains
    after a light snow in the mountains

    in December

    Santiago in summer
    Santiago in summer

    Photo credits: Featured image, Delingha and Da Qaidam, from the Internet
    Santiago images, from the author

  • Monday, May 22, 2017 Mangnai to Da Qaidam (260 Km) or to Golmud (352 Km)

    There is not a lot to see in Mangnai except if you are interested in the mining business. And, more specifically, in the asbestos mining. An interesting page from 10 years ago -> -> Shimiankuang <-

    Carlos at Atacama

    Assuming that we have arrived to Mangnai, we may try to cross the Tsaidam from North to South, towards Golmud. There is a road marked on the map, but, as there is not a lot of geographical accidents in there, this “road” may be a dusty local path. But, as in Google Earth the path is marked by photos (like scattered breadcrumbs left by some Tom Thumb) we may assume that the road exists. A major village marked in this road is Urt Moron, near the Senie Lake, which is a brine (salt) lake. Bathing is a salt lake is an experience, it is absolutely different to anything known before, the “tact” of the water es different, gliding, like inmersing in a liquid pearl.

    If possible, it would be fine to find a transport to Golmud through Urt Moron, and, eventually, even to stop at Urt Moron, to see what the Qaidam looks like. In the Tsaidam, a “must see” for whoever loves deserts, are the “Yardangs


    “A yardang is a streamlined protuberance carved from bedrock or any consolidated or semiconsolidated material by the dual action of wind abrasion by dust and sand, and deflation which is the removal of loose material by wind turbulence.[1] Yardangs become elongated features typically three or more times longer than wide, and when viewed from above, resemble the hull of a boat. Facing the wind is a steep, blunt face that gradually gets lower and narrower toward the lee end.[2] Yardangs are formed by wind erosion, typically of an originally flat surface formed from areas of harder and softer material. The soft material is eroded and removed by the wind, and the harder material remains. The resulting pattern of yardangs is therefore a combination of the original rock distribution, and the fluid mechanics of the air flow and resulting pattern of erosion.”


    The “normal” road (E 315) goes East, to find the E 215, Urumqi-Golmud Highway, and from them on, Qaidam Zhen.

    Travel plans are to continue towards the Kokonor (Qinhai Lake) in bus, but, eventually, plans may change, and our route now almost follows the train line from Beijing to Lhassa, so, we may use train, or bus, at our convenience.

    note: trains may be taken at Gormud or Delingha (250 East of Qaidam Zhen), but probably there are stations between this two cities.

    Photo credits: all photos, but the Yardang, are from the Author, taken in the sorroundings of San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)

    Atacama Desert Brine lake I
    Atacama Desert Brine lake I
    Salt lake in Atacama
    Salt lake in Atacama

  • Sunday, May 21, 2017, Ruoqiang to Mangnai Zhen by minibus… if possible

    InsidersExpeditions_Qinghai8_0So, we leave the Xinjiang to enter the Qinghai. From Lonely Planet Qinghai Guide: “Big, bold, and beautiful barren, Qinghai larger than any country in the EU, occupies a vast swathe of the Northeastern chunk of the Tibetan Plateau. In fact, as Tibetans are concerned, this is the Amdo, one of the old Tibet’s three traditional provinces. Much of what you’ll experience here will feel more Tibetan than Chinese; there are monasteries galore, yaks by the hundred and nomads camped out across high-altitude grasslands.

    Rough and ready, Qinghai is classic off-the-beaten-track territory, often as a last frontier feel to it. Traveling here can be both inconvenient and uncomfortable, though China’s rapid development plans have begun to touch the province, with huge railways and new rail lines under construction.

    Despite that, Qinghai still delivers a high dose of solitude among middle-of-nowhere high-plateau vistas, Martian-like red mountains and encounters with remote communities of China’s ethnic minorities”

    This (and 13 pages more) is all what LP has to say about a province bigger than any country in the EU.

    mangnaiOn Sunday May 21 of the next year we plan to leave Ruoqiang to Mangnai Zhen, which is a mine “town”. Village may be. LP guide says that there is a bus from Ruoqiang to Golmud. May be, may be not, as it happens often in China. Other travelers found themselves stranded in Ruoqiang (not so long ago, in 2014), and arrived to Mangnai Zhen in a shared car (very) full of smoking miners, which, at 4.000 m, may be a powerful experience.

    Mangnai Zhen is an asbestos mine, and the photo shows the pollution on the countryside (no, it is not snow) as one of the cyclists of may previous post specifies :).

    And, on the next post, we will talk about the Tsaidam (also spelled Qaidam) Basin, which is the area we just entered, and that finishes in Golmud. Teijinar is in its center. Moreover, searching for Qaidam, I saw that an american expedition found in 2002 metal pipes belonging to an ancient (or alien) civilization…

    Photo Credits: Featured Image a mine in Atacama, near Copiapo, from Carlos Griell
    Other photos from Internet. Second one from a blog of a briton who wanted to break all Silk Road speed records. An example that I do not plan to do link -> The fast briton blog
    Last one from Internet


  • May 18 to Saturday 20: Free in Charkilik / Ruoqiang

    xiaohejpg-8ae3d9f2df5727d7Ruoqiang is, for us, travellers from West to East, the exit gate from the Xinjiang, and the entry to the Haixi region. We leave the Tarim Basin, and the Uyghur area to enter the Qaidam and the Mongol area. Near Charkilik (near at China distances, 220 Km) was located Loulan one of the old cities in the desert, near the wandering lake of Lop Nor. And Ruoqiang has an interesting museum, which hosts the “Beauty of Loulan”, a red haired mummy, of Caucasian origin (aka. European) who died 3.800 years ago. There is an interesting history underneath, almost a detective novel, because.. what did a red haired, 45 year old european woman doing in the Takla-Makan, 40 centuries ago?.

    Ella and Peter skipped Charkilik, because they try to avoid controls, and they knew that they will found them in the main road, in the Altyn Tag pass. We have three days in Ruoqiang, it would be nice to be able to find one in Ruoqiang to go through the old 315 Road (marked in the map as “Tarim-Qaidam nn”). Part of the road is clear, because there are photographs of it, and it is a tarred road. But when it is marked with (?) that means that the road path is not clear.tarim qaidam

    Of course, as always, there is a “B Plan”, if we have not found a 4WD in Cherchen that drives us through the desert and beyond, Lonely Planet Guide says that there is a daily sleeper bus from Ruoqiang to Golmud. And other travellers say that there are minibuses from Ruoqiang to the Altyn Tag mines.

    Atacama near Copiapo

  • A diversion in Qiemo or map-makers horror vacui

    Altun-Mountains-InternationalHunting-Field“At the end of the first stage we rattled through Yamatu, a place prominent on mapswith no more justification than a tumble-down fort where half a dozen soldiers contemplate their chickens while waiting for tips from escorted travelers” (Owen Lattimore, High Tartary). When preparing today’s post I was on a trip, and I only had my Gizi 1:2,000,000 map, which shows a road, due South of Quiemo, that crosses places like Munaybulak, Kadalik, Bäshtograk to join the main road Qiemo-Ruoqiang at midway. I though that it should be a rather interesting diversion, at the feet of Altun Mountains, and, again, a road less travelled. And, probably, more interesting than the Cherchen River I planned

    Of course, I have no the faintest idea of the possibilities to find a 4WD with a driver for an acceptable price to follow the Cherchen riverbed, but, I liked the idea

    So, back home, I searched for the cities, or the towns, or the villages, whatever these places may be. And I did not find them. Not any of them, nor in Google Earth Index (which happens rather often), nor in the Index of Geographical Names for China, which includes Mongol and Uyghur names. So, I reverted to Google Earth. Usually, roads not marked as such in the map, and eventually not distinguishable from desert surroundings are marked by photos of sites uploaded by users. Well, in Google Earth, the cities do not appear, nor the roads, nor users photos following it, as there is a path following the Cherchen river in the desert.

    So, probably this road – should it exist – was draw on the map without verification. Simply, there was an empty place on the map, and there was no need to change anything. One of the complex issues that any mapmaker will tell you is that one of the great difficulties is to maintain more or less homogeneous the level of detail, if not on the whole map, in surrounding regions. So.. does this desert track actually exists, or not? when we will go there we will try to solve this question.

    trekking gobi

    Featured Photo: from Internet when searching for Altun Mountains, but really I do not know where it is
    Last photo, full size: From Internet, from a page about Gobi trekking
    May I suggest this page from the Gobi desert and its people, done by an excellent photographer : Mario Endara Photo Blog ? Mario is an excellent photographer

  • May 16, 2017: Qiemo-Rouqiang (315 Km) by local bus and a bivouac in the Takla-Makan

    lop-nur-south-ancient-city_214921Things become interesting from Qiemo until Da Qaidam Zhen, on the “Mongol” side of the Altun Mountains.

    Qiemo (Cherchen) is a city with a population of 50.000, in which what has to be seen is its Museum, and a nearby archeological site (for whoever is interested in archeological sites in which almost nothing remains)

    There are buses from Qiemo (Cherchen) to Rouquiang (Charkilik) (or, at least, quite a lot of bloggers have done this stretch of route by bus), so I assume that to find a bus full of smoking (and expectorating) people is not big deal. But… in Google Earth there are a lot of photos following the Cherchen River, which means that there should some kind of road there (and probably some tours too).

    I took a picture of my Google Earth screen in which you may see two different and almost parallel itineraries: the South one, which follows the road, and the North one, marked by the string of picture marks (alas, the map is a photo of the Google Maps, so, links do not work, but in Google Earth you select Qiemo, and you will have direct access to them). My idea is to locate a car and a driver beforehand, from Europe, through a Chinese agent, and then to travel one or two days through the desert following the Cherchen Hen, probably making a bivouac, should the weather be favorable (and the driver agree)

    Road Qiemo-Ruoqian

    So, either we take a bus and the road, or we live one of the two adventures of this trip. Because of course, going to a desert and following the tarred road is like to go to a Restaurant and ask for a hamburger… it can be done, but…

    Of course, what would be unforgettable is to skip Ruoqiang, and proceed directly through the Altun reserve to Issik Pakthe and Teijinar, but it seems impossible due to the high prices of the permit… but… who knows?


  • May 12, 2017: Niya-Qiemo (200 Km) by local bus

    china-1-051It took eight camel stages to Peter and Kini to reach Niya from Qiemo (Cherchen). Their guide was Aziz… but let Peter do the talking: “He was an obsequious and ingratiating Turki, neither particularly efficient nor particularly honest, but recommended by his command of bad Chinese”… The description is really up to the point (it may be true or not, but in any case, we imagine Aziz, and I wonder how many people I know like him, nor efficient, nor honest, but knowing the inside talk of – medicine, computers, taxes, laws – whatever). And Peter continues: “He wore a black three-cornered hat, and a rusty bottle-green coat tied round the waist with a scarf which might have been a dirty tricolour”.

    And they depart Cherchen, through a less desert country than expected “June and July are not good months to travel the Takla Makan and we had a certain dread of the desert. At first it seemed less naked, through not less desolate, than expected”.

    So, we travel in May, that does not mind that it would be a better month to travel the Takla Makan, but… we may wander if there is a good month to travel it.

    And what is to be seen in this stage?
    If we decide to stop midway, we may visit Endere (supposing that no permit is requested, or we can get one)stein_endere_4 although it does not seem really interesting.

    In Qiemo one thing to do is to visit the
    Toghlarek Villa, which is a small museum of domestic tools, and it is also home of the mummy of the “man of Cherchen” and we should probably go also to the Zaghanluk Cemetery, 15 minute drive away.

    And the other is to organize the next stages, it would be interesting to hire there a 4 WD car (with driver of course) to follow the Cherchen River to Karghilik, and if possible, to continue with this driver the next stages, beyond Karghilik, were things really become interesting. We should stay from Saturday 13 to Monday 15 in Qiemo, but if we are able to get a car there, probably we may stay one day more, or slept somewhere in between Qiemo and Charkilik (350 Km through the main road)

    To May 2017 Trip:
    2017: Hotan Keriya
    May 2017: General View of the trip Part 1
    May 2017: General View of the trip Part 2

    Rather interesting link on this area, done by a cyclist cyclist link

    Camels (wild?) from adam blog linked above. Photo is not so good, but they represent the area
    Featured photo: Carlos Griell. Birds on a dune. Atacama
    Endere ruins: from the internet
    Last photo: Guangzhou food market, Carlos Griell, 1997

    Contact Form

    2008-01-27 at 03-11-33

  • May 10: Keriya-Niya (125 Km) by local bus. Traveling the South Silk Road

    Relax Should I say that, speaking about Hotan, one of my guides says: “Hetian (sic) is an extremely dusty town – with very little charm”? Well, the same guide (the Silk Road by Judy Bonavia) says “In the desert east of Hotan, a tarred road leads towards Keriya, Niya, Qiemo and Karkilik. There is no much to see on the road and the small towns offer little attraction but for their lively and colorful markets”

    So, one may wander why to go from an extremely dusty town to other places that offer little attraction, through a road where is no much to see ? and the answer to it is important, and it is, probably, the cornerstone of this journey. Different people may travel the South Silk Road for different reasons, to fulfill a dream, of course, but also to be a traveler who has done a difficult trip, out of the beaten paths, or because the traveler likes the ever changing light of the sand deserts, or because China fascines, or all these reasons. I love small, lost and dusty towns. I hate tourists (although I am one, of course).

    Each person, doing a trip like this one, must accept that other fellow-travelers may have different expectations, and not everyone may be interested in waking up at three in the morning to see the sun rising on a sea of dunes, or like the idea of a day bus instead of a night bus, to see a road in with there is nothing to see.

    8134650999_1dbce92322Other people may be thrilled by the idea of following a mythical route, to go through Oasis Cities, to see pristine Asian bazars, to overcome difficulties (“meio” – impossible, is the most hear word by a foreign traveler in China), and finally, to go back with eyes full of images…

    This is a very short stage (125 Km) and, afterwards, we will have two nights (assuming that we may find a hotel open to foreigners) and one full day. The afternoon of the first day may be devoted to see the sunset on the desert, or just staying there, strolling at the bazar. And, on the second day, we may hire a car with a driver to go to the old Niya, 115 km North supposing that the ruins can be visited without a permit.


    To May 2017 Trip:
    2017: Hotan Keriya
    May 2017: General View of the trip Part 1
    May 2017: General View of the trip Part 2

    Sleeping after a job well done (near Caldera Costa Rica). From the Author
    Sea of dunes near Copiapo (Featured and last image) From the Author
    Mosque in Niya: from the Internet

    Contact Form

    Atacama. Chile

  • May 8, 2017: Hotan-Keriya (301 Km, by bus)

    f04da2db148411a79e562dFor Ella and Peter it was the end of the desert part of their trip. It will be the begin of ours. Our initial contact with traveling outside the beaten paths. First stage, 301 km, by bus if possible, if not through shared taxi. What to see in this part of the trip: Towards South, at 50 km the Kunlun Range, that form the South border of the Taklamakan. The peaks in the area between Hotan and Keriya are 7 and 6.000 meters high.

    Let us talk about bus travel. If you do searches in Internet about bus travel you will find a lot of horrible accidents. Of course, there are bus accidents, as there are plane accidents, and all of them are quite picturesque. So, they generate a lot of pictures. Traveling by road in China is, of course more dangerous than traveling by train or by plane, but it is not like a death penalty. We will (probably 🙂 ) survive to accidents, although surviving to 50 chinese fellow travelers may seem some times difficult. So, we will start light, with a 300 Km first stage, from Hotan to Keriya and one day stop in Keriya afterwards. Really there is not a lot to see in Keriya (Lonely Planet remains silent about it). There is a mosque, and the typical (I imagine dusty) life of a small oasis city on the fringes of the desert.


    This stop will be to discuss, to analyze, to reset expectations eventually.

    This part of the trip (or probably the whole trip) is about countrysides, desert life, and people more than about cities, or going to places

    This is what I expect to see on the right side of the road: 325729

    and this on the left side


    and this in front


    but of course, I do not know if visibility through the windows of and old chinese bus will be enough, if we will not be to tired to do anything other than to sleep… so many questions, so few answers!


    Link to: Trip Itinerary Part I

    Photo Credits: From the Internet
    Featured photo: Kumlun Range from above with the Taklamakan
    Mosque in Keriya
    Kumlun range from the distance (although probably we will be farther away)
    Takla Makan
    Again, Kumlun Range

    Don’t be shy and use this Contact Form (or skip it and jump to the map)

  • Travel in group or travel together? It is like cats and dogs

    Flamingos over Laguna Verde
    Flamingos over Laguna Verde

    When planning a trip with other people usually the question that makes the title of this post is not even considered. But it is of paramount importance to make a voyage unforgettable :), should you (or others) have the wrong expectation. It is like the choice of a pet… If you are a dog person, you will feel insecure with a cat, and if you are a cat person, the dog “follow-the-leader” personality will put you on the stress to be a leader when you do not feel so.

    Group travel consists in a planned approach, and a group leader to take decisions for the whole group. The group is considered as a unit and move together, like a wolf-pack. Traveling together consists in sharing meeting points, transportation, and time together (if wanted), a more “feline approach”.

    This travel is thought with the feline approach in mind. Do not let this blog, this seemingly organized array of places, dates, itineraries, and in the future hotel names and train schedules, fool you. I am not organizing a group tour, I am recruiting people who wants to share travel experiences, and, eventually, receive the help of like-minded people. When one together-traveler member goes to the ticket office to try to understand why the train is not at the station, the other looks after the luggage.

    Of course, together-travelers may discuss everything and they should try to arrive to an agreement on, per example, if to take the night train or the day train, or if they prefer the International Friendship Hotel or the Xiju Impression Fashion Hotel, but if someone does not agree, he/she has the freedom of choice. And the decision should not affect the remaining of the trip, nor the relationship between the travelers. If a group traveler leaves the group due to dissension it is a major problem for the group and probably the traveler will not reintegrate the tour. A “together traveler” will not leave the group, because there is no group, he/she will decide do something differently and he/she will be welcome to resume the trip together at any point.

    The only moment in which we must act as a group is if a “together traveler” has a health/police problem. In this case, we must stick together. A Marine never abandons its comrades 🙂

    And an excerpt from Peter, speaking about Kini: “Differing widely in character and in temperament, we had one thing in common, and that was our attitude towards our profession (or vocation, or whatever you like to call it). We were united by the abhorrence of the false values placed – wether by its components, or by the world at large – on what can most conveniently be referred to by its trade-name of Adventure”

    I do not search Adventure, either.

    Images, all from the Author
    Misha, sitting in a black couch
    Flamingos over the Laguna Verde (4.380 m) Chile
    Dakar truck in Copiapo Dunes Chile

    Stranded Dakar Truck in the Atacama
    Stranded Dakar Truck in the Atacama

    Contact from, should you be interested in a follow-up