Caka Lake

Caka Salt Lake and Koko Nor from the Space Shuttle

The terrain gets progressively drier during the day's drive. Often the only greens are small patches in cultivation along the river. The fields often have large expanses of yellow flowers; a crop that we are told is used to produce vegetable oil. We cross the Qinghai Nanshan over a 3780-meter pass and turn west along a dry river valley towards the town of Caka. The valley opens out into wide expanses of salt flats that surround the Caka playa lake, which is in a valley formed by recent faulting.

The photograph taken from the Space Shuttle shows Caka lake as a white bulls-eye left of center. The Qinghai Nanshan separate it from the blue expanse of Koko Nor to the north. The snow-capped Ngola Shan rise to the south with peaks in excess of 5000 meters (16,400').

Caka Lake (or Chaka Lake), means "saline lake" in Tibetan. The lake is small, with a nominal area of only 145 square kilometers, but during the "wet" season swells to about seven times this size. The Chinese have mined the playa for salt since the Western Han Dynasty (late second century BCE), but operations were small until construction of an extraction plant in 1950. The plant produces six types of salt for domestic consumption and export: washed salt, regenerated salt, medium Qing salt, powdery salt, iodine-bearing salt, and zinc-bearing salt. It is beyond my ability to describe the differences between these products.

Camels near Caka - J.H. Wittke

A few kilometers outside town, the vans encounter a herd of camels grazing along the road (left).

Free Tibet!