The Silk Road: Places to Explore

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Qinghai

A remote and sparsely populated province on the northeastern border of Tibet, Qinghai's sweeping grasslands locked in by icy mountain ranges are relatively unknown to most Chinese people, who tend to think of the province as their nation's Siberia; a center for prisons and work camps. Yet Qinghai shares much of the majestic scenery of Xinjiang, combined with the rich culture of Tibet.

The opening of the railway linking Tibet with the rest of China led to an influx of travelers to Qinghai, one of the last major stops before the train arrives in Lhasa. Many hoped that tourism would improve Qinghai's struggling economy, but restrictions on travel to Tibet also brought the number of foreigners traveling through this stunning region to a dramatic halt in March 2008. Happily, the region is once again open for independent travel.

Visitors to the region should take in a few of Qinghai's must-see sites. Xining, the compact capital city, has some charming Tibetan flair. On the northwest edge of the city is the famed North Monastery, a solemn Daoist destination. The Kumbum Monastery is a testament to Tibetan tranquillity. For a truly heavenly display, crane your neck skyward at the aptly named Bird Island on Qinghai Lake, several hundred miles to the west of Xining.

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