Qinghai Lake 青海湖
Looking at the pictures, I found one that was full of a rich sky blue. It was a picture of a lake with a life and a soul of its own - Qinghai Lake青海湖 - China's largest saltwater lake and large scale producer of naked carp.
The lake is located about 130 km from Xining西寧市, the provincial capital of Qinghai, and is well known for its mountain scenery and Bird Island, truly an eye-catching pearl of the high plain. Before I saw the lake, I had practically no idea of what it was like other than a few brief words of introduction I had heard. However, when I saw it, I was clearly moved and deeply impressed by those few hours I spent at Qinghai Lake.
As I flipped through the photographs, I tried to relive every moment of that tiring, bone-jarring trip. As we headed west in the car, we could clearly see a strip of the bluest water appearing in the distance where the earth meets the sky. I suspected that it must be a mirage. But others in our party who had been there before said that this was indeed Qinghai Lake and my heart almost skipped a beat.
I kept my eyes glued to the horizon for the rest of the drive, wondering if the lake water could really be this blue. Then the sky began to cloud up and the wind, although it was summer time, began to blow cold and hard, as it tends to do on the high plains. I wasn't dressed for this kind of biting wind and I quickly rushed into the hotel to wrap myself in my blanket, not planning to venture out again. I don't think I'm much of a traveler, and if Qinghai Lake has a soul, I was sure she would not readily accept a less than sincere admirer like me.
That first day, the wind blew without mercy as we sat in the van observing the lakeshore. As we neared the water, the view suddenly expanded greatly. The sky was a little cloudy, and from our car the scene looked like a vast and hazy mass of individuals and groups of sheep floating past on endless green grass. The car bumped along until we reached a clearing from where we could see Bird Island.
I had heard people say that a few minutes is enough time to spend looking at Bird Island. It didn't make sense; why would anyone want to make such an arduous journey just to take a quick look? As we got closer to the island we couldn't see any birds and I began to feel disappointed. All I could see was a large group of people standing in a circle on the soft sand outside the fence surrounding the island, craning their necks to see inside. This was no better than going to the zoo to see birds in cages. However, my despondency was soon dispelled by a group of birds that appeared before my eyes.
I have always lived and worked in the northwest of China and the sight was at first surprising. I never imagined that there was a lake like this so near to me, where I would see flocks of birds like something from a fairy tale. I suddenly understood why my tourist map was labelled "Sea Tour" and not "Lake Tour" because this was clearly a sea - a sea that resembled a piece of the sky trapped inland.
Thousands of screaming gulls combed the beach, making a real cacophony as they chased each other, flew around and searched for food. A thought suddenly occurred to me: It would be impossible to understand the appeal of Bird Island, that feeling of being in a fairy tale, if you only spend a few minutes here. As we got back into the van to drive to Qinghai Lake's Egret Island, I felt it was a shame to leave Bird Island after such a short visit.
Bird Island is like a sandbar, while Egret Island is more a real island completely
surrounded by water. Although the surface is covered with heron nests, it all seems very natural. I found that I really wanted to spend a few days here enjoying picnics, running around and playing by the lakeside. But if one really wants to understand Qinghai Lake, one must spend a lifetime here, breathing the salty air of the high plains and listening to birdsong every day and night until one's soul becomes completely immersed in the lake's soul.
But this is not my fate. I can only spend a few hours here as a casual observer, turn my back on the lake and get back in the van with my fellow travelers to talk about our experience. But I know that if I cannot visit her again, at least I will never disturb her, and that if I were able to come back again I would never be able to leave.