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Himalaya

Day 71: Near Yushu, Qinghai Province

Namtso Lake, Tibet 
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The essence of bleakness. The grey, windswept waters of holy Namtso Lake, 15,500 feet (4570m) above sea level. Yet prayer flags show that pilgrims come from all over Tibet to make the 18-day walk around it, or shorter walks around these towering rocks at Tashidor.
Michael Palin - HimalayaKeep going due north from Lhasa, across the Tibetan plateau that makes up a quarter of the land area of China, and you will come to Qinghai, the largest of China's 22 provinces.

It is not one of the world's great tourist destinations. The Rough Guide is, uncharacteristically, lost for words: 'Qinghai for the most part comprises a great emptiness'. The Penguin Encyclopaedia of Places (which has 12 lines on Grantham alone) doesn't mention it at all. Even when it does rate a few lines, as in Jan Wong's China, there's little to set the pulses racing. 'Qinghai,' she writes, 'was the heart of China's notorious gulag. Mention the place to ordinary Chinese and they shuddered.'

This morning in Qinghai it's raining, but, aside from that, this land of prison camps and nuclear weapons laboratories looks dour, but not depressing. We're running along a road not far from the town of Yushu, in a glacial valley 14,500 feet (4420 m) above sea level, hoping to meet up with a yak farmer called Sonam.

A sulky, grey sky sits low on the surrounding mountain tops as we pull off the road and bounce across rutted meadowland dotted with horses and cattle. In the centre of the herd is a black yak-skin tent with a motorbike outside.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 71: Near Yushu, Qinghai Province
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Near Yushu
  • Book page no: 167

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