• Tag Archives Tsaidam
  • 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


  • Salgari in the Ayyak Kum Kul

    boron kol_10“Aujourd’hui, 15 Novembre, nous partons vers l’inconnu, vers le Sud”

    “Today, November 15, we depart towards the unknown, Southbound”. And this is how Ella starts one of the best passages of her book, a description that may fit in any Salgari’s or Verne’s book, with snow storms, sick horses, narrow river gorges, lost water springs… with of course, some tongue-in-cheek (or not) romantic moments: “Should I write a best-seller, it is now or never that the two heroes of my history, thrilled and grateful, would fall in one other’s arms, after having saved themselves from poisonous food or fatal fogs” says Ella.

    And, the couch traveller wonders the exact place of these adventures… where were the Boron Kol Gorges, and Issyk Pakte, and the Ayyagkum Koul (or Ayak Kum Kul)?

    Well, let us try to follow their path, until they reach Issik Pakte where Boro has friends. He will return from there “to his isolated yurt in the Tsaidam” and Peter and Niki will continue their journey towards Cherchen.

    So, here I am, sitting on a couch, my laptop on my lap, three or four books about the area, a 1:2.000.000 map that I recommend: “Gizi Map Series China 5”, labelled “Tibet Autonomous Region”, and, of course, Google Earth, centered in Xi Taijnar Hu, which means East Lake of Taijnar. Of course, there is no lake there…

    Google Earth is fine to find what you know that must be there, but it is not the right tool to navigate, it’s continuous change of scale make almost impossible to see the whole picture. So we take the Gizi map, we locate Teijnar (D-20), from Kini and Peter maps we know that they reach Tchertchen (Qiemo, C-12) and they avoid Charkilik (C-15) on an almost straight path. They must avoid the Mangnai Zhen pass, so they depart due South (Kini) or Southwest (Peter), following the Boron Kol river upstream.

    But… where does the Boron Kol flow?… does this river even exists?


    Photos: Caravan in the Boron Kol Valley (Ella Maillard)
    Others: From the Internet

  • Going up, towards Dzoun

    Ella and Peter joined the relatively small caravan of the Prince of Dzoun, who was a young man going back home, from Tangar to … well, not to Dzungharia, because this region lies to the North of the Tarim mountains, (above Urumqi) but to Dzoun, apparently a place in the middle of nowhere. The caravan was formed by 250 camels and 40 horses.

    I am still looking for Dzoun (Ella) or Dzunchia (Peter). The Caravan took 16 days to reach it. Some authors identify it with Gormud, but Gormud is the Gorumu of Peter, and it is 150 km (5 days) too far. Based on the information that a loaded bactrian camel walks at 3 to 4 kilometers per hour, that the stage is usually 8 hours, and confirmed by Ella who says that 30 km is the daily fare of a caravan, in the following post(s) we will place the stages, at least from Tangar to Dzunchia.

    They left Tangar with a helper, Li, four rented camels, two horses. Of course, Ella needed to bring her portable gramophone with three records :), and Peter two rifles, two pounds of marmalade, four boxes of cacao, six bottles of cognac, plus a bottle of Worcester Sauce). Two days later, they meet the 250 camels of the Prince of Dzoun and they started the Caravan life.
    Awake at 4 am, two hours to load the camels (each one of their four camels was in a different lien, so, their are not loaded at the same time), departure at six, eight hours walk, unloading camels and horses, meal preparation, eating, and then staying into the tent. During the march, or eventually in the afternoon, Peter went to hunt geese, or hare, or antelope. Geese were sacred for Mongols, Peter’s killings were not butchered following the rituals for muslim, the fact that these acts may seem offensive were not really a problem for them, except for the first goose, that they almost gave to the Prince.

    Lattimer caravan organization does not agree with Ella (Peter almost does not speak about it, he is more interested in hunting every animal that moves). The Prince’s caravan had people riding camels, although the were going “up”, and each lien was approximatively of 10 camels, instead of 18, but we recognize in her description the “camel pullers”, the Master Cook, in this case a woman, and, of course, the Caravan Master, in this case the Prince.

    So they walked, they hunted (Peter), they cooked (Ella), and, apparently, they had a lot of fun. Arriving to Dzunchia Peter says something, curious to say the least:

    The place (Dzunchia) has nothing impressive. It is impossible, even in the most romantic mood, to find anything enticing in it

    “Even in the most romantic mood”? well, this says everything, don’t you think so?

    And to end this chapter, another quote, this time from Ella Maillart:

    It is said that Mongols do not wash because they are afraid to become fishes after their death. Moreover, water from wells seems full of spells; coming from inside the Earth, were are the female spirits, it will only become healthy when exposed to the Air and the Sun, who belong to the male world of superior regions. But this unheard-of dirtiness is not annoying in winter, when cold weakens the smell of rancid butter their fur is imbibed

    2006-12-12 at 23-27-06

    Photos, but for the map, are from the Author

  • Kumbun, Koumboum or Ta’er, aka. the Big Lamasery

    2009-08-07 at 05-34-012011-01-01 at 12-09-10Ella and Peter arrived to Sining. They had lost en route the Smigounovs, sent back by Chinese authorities  to Tsien-Tsin. An incomplete passport allowed them to leave Lanzhou, thus passing the hot potato of the two heterodox travelers to next stop, in this case Xining,

    Lanzhou authorities did not dare to stop a “Correspondent of the Imperial and Foreign Department of The Times” with her boy (usually Ella was considered as Peter’s assistant), and they gave to them a passport for the Koukou Noor, written in Chinese only and not in Tibetan.

    So, they arrived to Sining, to be stopped again, waiting for a valid passport and without authorization to leave the city. This is the first city that Ella as well as Peter find “not Chinese”. Sining is a cross-road for “Mongols from Tsaidam and Tibetans from Labrang and even from Lhassa” (PF), Both, Ella and Peter talk about the exoticism of Sining.

    They strolled in the city, talked to the Authorities, bought their last equipments: a tent, designed by Ella with an “aerodynamic” look, sleeping bags made from cured skins of mutton (you may imagine what it should be to sleep inside), a recipient (a wok?) that was utilized by Ella to make laundry first, and to cook later.

    Finally, they got an authorization to visit the Big Lamasery of Kumbun, as Peter calls it, Koumboum for Ella.

    2006-04-13 at 17-47-122011-01-01 at 12-12-02
    They were overwhelmed by the lamasery, and the life there. Both talk about the gallery with stuffed animals, their fur bathed in yak’s butter. Odor should have been overwhelming. But they enjoyed staying there. Probably they felt that their trip had already started.

    They only needed: a caravan, some camels, a guide and they were all setup!

    (photos from the Author, Chengddu and Shaolin Temple.)