Caka Salt Lake

Nicholas Quirke was pleased to have slept fitfully, despite the seedy surroundings of the hotel on 4 October 2020. He woke at five and tried to get on the internet again as he had the day before. He had no luck but it did mean that he was awake and ready at 7am to see the sunrise over Qinghai lake, China’s largest, covering an area of 4186km. It was cloudy and there was no guarantee that there would be a sun to see but they set off across the estuary with a host of other hopefuls. The sun rise was not a spectacular event but it was a bracing and enjoyable, eerily beautiful moment. When they got back to the motel the street vendors and cafes were all open and they enjoyed a warm soya milk and twisted dough for breakfast before heading off on the next leg of the journey to Qilianshan in Qinghai Province which, importantly, is part of Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It was a very long drive and it’s was agreed they would share the work. Nicholas was delighted to have the opportunity to drive again and though he was unable to film the amazing mountainous scenery they were driving through he did get to enjoy the incredible sights. They stopped for a comfort break and to switch over on a mountain at an altitude of 3817. The toilet was a blue tent and as he made his way to the basic facility he spotted a mole like rodent sitting in a hole it had burrowed., a Tienshu. The journey through the mountain range really was incredible, the immense scale of the vista was never reflected in the video he took and the sense of awe he felt was never reflected. The first scheduled stop was at Chaka Salt Lake, also known as ‘Mirror of the Sky’ a major tourist destination famous for crystal-blue water and its reflective bed. Although they had arrived at the ticket office at 10am it was already absolutely teeming with people and when they were given the choice of how to get to the location they elected to travel by boat and to return by train, they had not anticipated having to wait an hour to get to the actual lake. Nor had they expected to queue a further hour to get the red boot galoshes needed to go out onto the lake, though it did not stop the salt from staining his trousers. Time consuming as it was the experience was worth it and they had fun walking across the salt lake taking photographs, striking poses to reflect in the water and avoiding the ‘caves’. A further wait was required to get on the train back to the car park and once on the platform it was a fight to find a vacant seat. They did and it proved rather uncomfortable as he squeezed himself into branch with some wide hipped people. It was going to be a 7 hour drive along the lake and through the Qilian Mountains and they had run out of time to do anything else. Nicholas took to the wheel when they stopped at the shores of the lake to actually go down to the waters edge and dip fingers in the briney water. Nicholas took to the wheel till dusk started to encompass the landscape. The mountain road was very rural and rocky and by the time night had fallen they seemed to be traversing a dirt track which, was very bumpy and uncomfortable. It was slow and treacherous driving and when a snow blizzard started he thought they might not make it and be stranded. When the lights of Quilian City emerged they breathed a sigh of relief, Peng was commended for his valiant driving and they looked forward to the warmth and comfort of a better hotel. The hotel manager had been waiting for them and came out to assist. It wasn’t until Nicholas spoke and the manager looked in alarm that he realised Laowai were not welcome there. He had experienced being turned away from hotel on a couple of occasions and once the suggestion that he should sleep in the car was dismissed and they were invited to sit in the kitchen whilst Peng argued on his behalf, he gave up paying attention and let the storm rage around him. Eventually they were taken to another hotel in a back street. It seemed bleak, cold and dismal and it was only when he was told that they had to leave by 7.30 that he began to grasp the full situation. It wasn’t just the hotel he wasn’t welcome at it was Qilian county itself, where no foreigners were allowed. As part of the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, he was there illegally and would be driven out by the police. Harsh fines were imposed on the hotels found to be flouting the regulations so he was grateful for the owner who allowed them in and allowed him to collapse into a sleep.


  1. Extraordinary experiences Nick! Great photos of this trip too. Epic landscapes, weird views. Mister Vista is definitely your third travelling companion. Xxx

  2. Love that photo of you and Peng in your red wellies. Thank goodness you didn’t have to sleep in the car 😱xx

  3. It must have disquieting to be both unwelcome and illegal! The salt lake was worth the trip though. Fabulous pictures.

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