Tsaidam Basin


The Space Shuttle photograph, looking south from the Tsaidam Basin, shows Golmud and Kunlun Pass (the brown valley in the left center of the image). Golmud is located just above the lower edsge of the image right of this image on the left side of the curving aluvial fan (G). The rugged snow-capped Kunlun Shan, which run horizontally across the image, mark the northern margin of the Tibetan Plateau. The valley of the Xidatan-Tuosuohu-Maqu Faultis filled with cloud. The location of Kunlun Pass is indicated by KP. All the major faults display strike-slip movement, except for the S. Qaidam Border Fault, which is a north-directed thrust.

We arrive in Golmud in the early evening and explore town the following day. Golmud has a population of about 120,000 and is the second largest city in Qinghai. The principal industry is potash processing, although the oil industry is growing in importance. Several oil fields with substantial oil reserves are located in the extreme western end of the Tsaidam Basin near Gas Hu (Gasikule Lake) about 450 kilometers west of Golmud.

The empty expanses of the Tsaidam Basin also host three Chinese nuclear missile bases, which presumably target their estimated 90 warheads on India and Russia. Two of the bases are north of Golmud, at Xaio Qaidam and Da Qaidam; the third is at Delingha, northeast of Toson Hu lake. The presence of these horrific weapons in this part of Amdo, and the exploitation of oil reserves, is source of much ill will between the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Chinese. A deep respect for the environment has long been a policy of the Tibetan government. In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama issued a "Decree for the Protection of Animals and the Environment" and similar decrees have been issued annually since then.

Free Market at Golmud - Anne Barton Wittke


Golmud means "a place concentrated with rivers" in Mongolian. North of the city is the "salt bridge", built across the playa of Qarhana Saline Lake. The road is a dreadful bucking-bronco ride because it lacks a firm foundation being built on salt. The bridge is not a conventional bridge, but a causeway across a salt lake. We are told that potholes are filled by simply pouring in the hypersaline lake water.

Golmud has a wonderful open market, where one can purchase almost anything. The venders are seated behind long tables on rickety folding chairs. The tables support great stainless-steel basins innumerable multicolored plastic basins, and wicker cages holding chickens. Some, filled with water, hold live fish and eels, who poke their heads out of the water to scan their surroundings. Unidentifiable shreds of pale meat, intestines, and other internal organs fill other tubs. A collection of puffy stomachs, inflated by the gases of decomposition, wobbles and billows in the hot sun. Flies settle on bloody joints of pork that hang from hooks or lie on dirty metal tables. Lacking refrigeration, people seem prefer to purchase live food whenever possible. One shopper holds the bound feet of two chickens, which cluck and vigorously attempt to raise their heads as if to protest their fate.

Free Tibet!