Section 3: The Qaidam Basin, from Ruoqiang to Golmud. Stage 1

All blogs and guides agreed that it was not easy to go from Ruoquiang to Magnai, 350 km away, through a 3.500 m mountain pass, that was closed in winter due to snow, and in summer due to sandstorms. Moreover, as Ruoqiang was an oasis city in the middle of nowhere, but essentially oriented towards the North and the Xinjiang, and Magnai was a mine city, oriented towards the South and the Qinghai, nor people nor goods felt the need to join these to cities.

Anyway, blogs and guides (probably fed by the same source) said that possibly a minibus loaded with miners may leave (or not) Ruoqiang to go to the mines at Magnai Zhen. Trip depended on the state of the road, and miner’s shifts. The minibus may take (or not) passengers who must descend in Magnai Zhen and then hope for the best to go to Magnai, 150 km away. Recommandation was to go to the bus station, because, eventually, the minibus departed (if it departed) from there.

Blogs agreed also in that the trip on a mountain road, at 3.500 m on a minibus full of Chinese chain smokers, with their lungs destroyed by asbestos (Magnai Zhen is one of the world’s asbestos bigger mines) was an experience to remember.

I was worried. Would we ever be able to leave Ruoqiang and continue the trip ? Would we stay stranded there, as Ilsa Lund and Viktor Lazslo in Casablanca?

Ruoqiang had nothing special to show so, the plan was to leave it ASAP. Upon arrival, we went to the bus station, and bingo! there was a daily bus to Magnai Zhen leaving at 11 a.m. the following day. Perfect! a tour to the bazar

another to the (rather folkloric) jade bazar

a cup of tea (or a warm beer) with the beautiful owner of a nice place nearby

And this was all.

Following day, 10 am, bus station. We tried to buy a ticket to Magnai. No way, a long explanation from which the only conclusion I was able to get is that the 11 am bus was full (or did not take foreign people, or whatever reason), but we can buy tickets for the 6 pm bus. Of course, a night bus that would leave us (hopefully) at 2 am in an unknown city was not my piece of cake.

Moreover, my imagination kept presenting this

So, I went for the B plan, taxi. Bus stations in China are also long distance taxi stops, so, I asked them how much it would cost to take us to Magnai. Nobody was willing to go there at any price.

Now I was worried. Should we buy tickets for the night bus and pray the heavens? Should we wait for the morning bus the following day? When I decided to do this and I tried to buy the ticket, “meio”, tickets were not sold in advance. Or yes, but foreigners needed a special permit. Or the Magnai Zhen bus is always full and all tickets are sold months in advance so, after wasting one day you may have a seat… or not. Of course, one day, even wasted, is not a measure of time in China.

Who had said that bus travel is the best way to travel in China?

While I was wandering what the next step would be, a very nice woman with a two year old kid asked us if we wanted to share a taxi with her, not to Magnai, but to a city at 150 km from Magnai where her husband waited for her. We were able to understand each other (more or less), and we agreed in taxi sharing.

So the same taxi driver that has said no to me 20 minutes before drove us to the Police Station (to check that we were innocent tourists and not terrorists and/or journalists), and, as soon as we get Police acceptance (probably they wanted to get rid of us), we came back to the bus station, and three other people jumped into the taxi.

And there we went, towards the mountain pass