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Home Travel in Qinghai Qarhan Salt Lake
Qarhan Salt Lake
Travel in Qinghai

 Qarhan Salt Lake

Qarhan Salt Lake (chá ěr hàn yán hú 察尔汗盐湖) , located in the salt marshes of the Qaidam Basin near the Mongol-Tibetan prefecture city of Haixi (hǎi xī méng gǔ zàng zú zì zhì zhōu 西蒙古藏族自治州) in the northeastern part of Qinghai Province (qīng hǎi shěng 青海省), is the largest salt lake belonging to the Qaidam Basin, sometimes called China's Salt Lake City. Qarhan Salt Lake is also the country's largest salt lake and, in fact, is one of the most famous inland salt lakes in the world. Although the Qaidam Basin is a low-lying marsh, it is situated on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (qīng zàng gāo yuán 青藏高原) at an altitude of 2670 meters. The lake, oriented on an east-west axis, is 160 kilometers in length and varies in width from 20-40 kilometers, while the lake's depth varies from 20 meters to a mere 2 meters.

The area around Qarhan Salt Lake produces so-called pearl salt, a product dubbed the "King of Salt Lake", a pure salt that is as white as driven snow, and glitters like jade. The 32 kilometers (20 miles) long 'Wan Zhang Salt Bridge' is the most famous attraction of the lake.


Qarhan Salt LakeThe word "Qarhan" is Mongolian, meaning "salt marsh". Located in a hyper-arid basin that is extremely hot and dry – and with long days – the amount of evaporation from the lake far exceeds the amount of rainfall for a comparable water surface elsewhere. Indeed, Qaidam Basin is itself endorheic, with no inflow of water from the outside except for runoff surface water that accumulates in the marsh and its lakes. The lakes have therefore shrunk over time, and this shrinkage is also due partly to the lakes' (marshes') briny water which crystallizes into salt under the searing heat, leaving a hard, sloped rim in the form of a salt bed that rings the present-day lakes, including Qarhan Salt Lake.

Though the terrain surrounding Qarhan Salt Lake is flat and desolate, the landscape is nevertheless interesting and unique. The lake itself, though devoid of fish, is home to a few special plants that grow in abundance here. For example, there is a species of flowering plant here that produce flowers in various suggestive shapes such as corals, gems, pagodas and even shapes reminiscent of certain constellations in the night sky. On a clear, calm, sunny day, the sun's reflection on the placid lake brings to mind the image of a mirror, and on days when the wind blows, the lake seems to be alive with dancing reflections that glisten with the heaving movements of the lake, creating a mirage that will fool you into believing that you are gazing at an ocean instead of a lake. The beauty of the lake at such times, enhanced by the salt flowers – known locally as "the blue flowers" – is truly compelling.


Qarhan Salt LakeQarhan Salt Lake is a large playa surface in the Chaerhan sub-basin, which lies in the Qaidam basin (chái dá mù pén dì 柴达木盆地) of inland Qinghai. The Chaerhan Salt Lake playa has an area of 5856km2 and is one of largest playa surfaces in the world, comprising nine salt lakes: Dabiele (bié lè tān 别勒滩), Xiaobiele (xiǎo bié lè tān 小别勒滩), Sheli (sè niè 涩聂), Xidabuxun (xī dá bù xùn 锡达布逊), Dabuxun (dá bù xùn 达布逊), Tuanjie, Nanhuobuxun (nán huò bù xùn 南霍布逊), Beihuobuxun (běi huò bù xùn 北霍布逊), and Xiezuo. Dabuxun Salt Lake, which lies in the western part of the Chaerhan basin (chá ěr hàn pén dì 察尔汗盆地), is the largest of the lakes. Their water depths vary from 20cm to 1m, their salt contents from 165 g/l to 360 g/l, and the pH values are ranging between 5.4 and 7.85. There is no outflow, but seven intermittent streams and six permanent streams bring water into the basin.

The Chaerhan basin originated through faulted structures in the Mesozoic. The underlying bedrock is formed from Proterozoic metamorphics, Palaeozoic sandstone and limestone, and Mesozoic granite. Lacustrine deposition with the Chaerhan Basin has been continuous since the late Cenozoic. There has been slow subsidence of the Chaerhan Basin throughout the Quaternary. As a result, Quaternary lacustrine deposits have a thickness of 2500m. However, there is no evidence for abrupt tectonic activity that might have disrupted the drainage network within the basin or otherwise affected the record of changes in relative lake depth. The climate in the catchment is cold (0.1°C annual mean temperature) and extremely arid with 28-40 mm total annual precipitation, but ca. 3000 mm total annual evaporation.


Golmud (gé ěr mù 格尔木) has a plateau continental climate, with long, cold winters, and cool summers. The mean monthly temperature drops to 9.1 °C (15.6 °F) in January and rises to 17.9 °C (64 °F) in July, averaging 5.28 °C (41.5 °F) for the year. Precipitation is very low, totalling only 42 millimetres (1.65 in) per annum, falling on 28 days, most of which are during the summer. Relative humidity averages only 32%, and due to this aridity, the area is one of the sunniest in China, with nearly 3100 hours of sunshine per year. The difference in temperature between day and night is big.


Wanzhang Salt Bridge

The Wanzhang Salt BridgeThe Wanzhang Salt Bridge (wàn zhàng yán qiáo 万丈盐桥) is a unique bridge in the world. It is one of the spectaculars of the Qaidam basin. The Wanzhang Salt Bridge is 32 kilometers in total, which is equivalent to 10,000 zhang (zhàng 丈) in the traditional Chinese system of weights and measures. It across the whole Qarhan Salt Lake and people usually name it Wang Zhang Salt Bridge (Ten Thousand Zhang Salt Bridge). Actually, the Wanzhang Salt Bridge is a wide road made of salt built on the top of the salt lake. It has no piers and handrails. The surface of the bridge is as smooth as a fine-grained whetstone. It seems that it is not different from the asphalt road in the city. The surface of the bridge is so smooth that cars will skid or turn over if they run too fast. The speed limit written on the wooden board at the end of the bridge is 80 kilometers per hour.

The method of bridge maintenance for the Salt Bridge is unique. Usually, once there are erosions of the surface, the staff of bridge maintenance will pick some salt particles from the nearby salt cover and dip out some brine water with a ladle. Sprinkle the brine water on the erosions of the surface. The salt particles will melt and condense on the surface of the bridge. The erosions of the surface will be repaired.

The Wanzhang Salt Bridge is wide, long, and surrounded by spectacular views. Tourists can take cars here. The straight salt bridge looks like a sharp sword which divides the salt lake into two parts. Lining up along both sides of the salt bridge, there are the workshops and dormitories of the fertilizer plant. In addition, there are many mining points around it. The world famous Qinghai-Tibet railway is not far from it. Lots of trains run across the salt lake.

The Wanzhang Salt Bridge is located on the top of the Chaerhan Salt Lake. It is about 60 kilometers south of Golmud.
Tel: 0977-8222015
Transportation: Visitors can take buses or mini buses at Golmud Long-distance Bus Station to Chaerhan Wuyi Market, at the cost of CNY20.
Opening Hours: The whole day
Admission Fee: Free

Salt Blooms

salt bloomsThere are many beautiful salt blooms (yán huā 盐花) in all shapes on display. Some of them are like corals, pagodas, flowers and some of them are like constellations, ivories, precious stones. It is so much complimented that it is called blue flowers. It is beyond people’s imagination. When standing in front of them, it feels like you are wandering around the fantasy.

Salt Lake Museum

Salt Lake MuseumSalt Lake Museum (yán hú bó wù guǎn 盐湖博物馆) is a place where the all-shaped salt crystals are exhibited. The salt crystals had been gradually made of crystallized salt grains due to the age-long torrid and dry climate in the Gobi, being exposed to the weather and the rising of salt concentration of the lake water and all these factors have contributed to the present unique, beautiful and marvelous spectacle. Some of the salt crystals look exactly like nice and delicate corals, some of others look really like beautiful and erective pagodas, while the others look just like candocks with their graceful appearances. And some of the salt crystals are simply like brilliant and glittering crystals with many varieties and sizes.

Location: About 60 kilometers north of Golmud
Transportation: Visitors can take airplanes or trains to Golmud first, and take the buses or mini buses at Golmud Long-distance Bus Station to Chaerhan Wuyi Market.
Recommended Golden Season: From April to October
Opening Hours: 9:00—17:00
Admission Fee: CNY 100 for adults
Travel Tips: The sunlight of Qarhan Salt Lake is very strong. Tourists had better protect themselves from the sunburn.