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Colourful whirl of Qinghai


The Straits Times


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Golden fields of canola flowers, cultivated for their oil, stretch as far as the eye can see, their yellow bulbs standing in stark contrast to the cloudless, cobalt skies.


Qinghai Lake, China's largest lake, gives the province not just its name, but also a sense of unearthliness. Called Kokonor, or Teal Sea, in Mongolian, its shimmery blue waters make the adjacent road feel like an ocean highway - despite the lake being in a landlocked territory - as one drives along it.


Things get more surreal at Chaka Salt Lake, where the ground is as white as Antarctic snow, even though the air is a scorching 35 deg C.


The clear waters create a perfect facsimile of the sky and visitors treading across the shallow alkaline lake look like they are walking on a giant mirror, which helps explain the lake's nickname, "China's mirror of the sky".


But Qinghai has more than dreamscapes and natural beauty as I discover on our six-day summer journey.


Its legacy as a major artery of the ancient Silk Road endures today and its cities remain a melting pot of Han, Tibetan, Hui and Mongol people, alongside 33 other ethnicities.


So one day, I am visiting the Great Dongguan Mosque, a Ming dynasty- era mosque in the capital city, Xining, that blends Chinese glazed roofs and watercolour scenes on lamps with Arabic minarets.


The next, I am touring Kumbum monastery, a Tibetan gompa (place of learning) founded by the third Dalai Lama.


It is considered one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Tibetan Buddhism, filled with priceless frescoes, thangkas (silk appliqued embroidery) and Technicolor yak butter sculptures.


Surrounded by a swirl of chanting monks, prostrating devotees and ever-turning prayer wheels, the monastery, located just outside Xining, feels as hallowed today as, I imagine, when it was built more than 400 years ago.


The two facets of religious beauty and natural wonder meet in Qinghai's great outdoors, where lines of primary-coloured Tibetan flags blow their mantras and blessings into the wind.


And the result is an experience of China unlike any other.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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