Chaka Salt Lake

Chaka Salt Lake, Haixi
Chaka Salt Lake, Haixi
Situated in Chaka Town, Ulan County, Haixi in China’s western Qinghai Province, the Chaka Salt Lake (Caka Salt Lake) is in the western part of the Chaka Basin, 298 kilometers (85 miles) from Xining, capital of Qinghai. This natural crystallized saline lake is regarded as the eastern gateway to Qaidam Basin, which reserves the largest salt mine in the world. Lying at an altitude of 3,059 meters (10,036 feet), the lake is oval shape and covers an area of 105 square kilometers (40 square miles), ten times larger than the West Lake of Hangzhou. However, it is the smallest among the several salt lakes in Qaidam area, but different from others for its coexistence of both solid and liquid salt. The snow-white lake bed and the crystal blue water against the azure sky win it the reputation of ‘Mirror of the Sky’. Travel to such a beautiful world of salt embedded in the snowy mountains and verdant meadows, tourists would inevitably feel like they are in a fairyland.

Chaka Salt Lake has the longest history of exploitation (over 3,000 years) among all the salt lakes in the Qaidam Basin. Due to the large reserves, mining is not at all difficult as natural salts can be obtained by just uncovering the top layer of the lake. Large scale mining is done mechanically nowadays with many grades of salt sold around China and they are even exported to Japan and Nepal.

The climate around the lake is dry and cool. Even in the middle of summer, the average daytime temperature is just about 19.6 C (67 F) and the mean annual precipitation is 210 millimeters (8 inches). The lake’s surface area is greatly affected by the seasons. It may reach up to 105 square kilometers (40 square miles) during the rainy seasons and reduce in size during the dry seasons.
Salt Sculptures
Salt Sculptures

There are halite layers at the bottom of the lake and which reaches 15 meters (16 yards) at the thickest point and averages 5 meters (5.5 yards). Brines extracted will recrystallize into halite layers a few years later and with its large supply from the lake, it is really inexhaustible! The grains of salt are of superior quality that they are edible once processed. The storage of salt now reaches about 5 million tons and it is said that it will last for 85 years for the whole China with a population of over 1.4 billion people!

There are many giant sculptures scattered along the lakeside upon entering the scenic area. These are formed from the deposit of salts and brine over a long period of time and they are fondly called the luxurious art of the land. Tourists may swim or just lie on the lake without life buoy or life jacket. Substantial salt and mineral substances accumulated in the lake over a long period, making the buoyancy force eight times higher than seawater and nearly the same as that of the Dead Sea.

The beautiful sunrise and sunset sceneries are highly recommended. The best time to visit would be from July to August. It is believed that with the summer breeze, inhaling the humid air with its salt content is especially good for the lung.
Railway for Salt Mining
Railway for Salt Mining

There is a long railway track extending to the center of the lake. Visitors can walk along the track to view the splendid scenery on the water. The magnificent mining scene of the large modern salt dredgers is the most impressive.

1. The lake is truly a film killer. Prepare enough memory card or film before the trip.
2. The salt in the lake can be tasted, but do not take too much for its hygiene concern.
3. Wear sunglasses and a hat due to the strong ultraviolet rays.
4. Prepare some medicine for the weak and the senior to deal with altitude sickness.

How to Get to Chaka Salt Lake

1. Take bus from Xining Xinninglu Bus Station or Xining Bus Station (close to Xining Railway Station) to Chaka Salt Lake (CNY 60).
2. Charter a car from Xining. It costs around CNY 400 for a round trip.
3. Take bus from Xining Bus Station to Ulan or Delhi (Delingha). It passes by Chaka.
4. In the peak season every year depending on the tourist amounts, there will be a tourist train Y961/2 connecting Xining and Chaka on service. Generally every day the train departs from Xining at 08:25 and arrives in Chaka at 12:23; it returns from Chaka at 17:00 and arrives in Xining at 21:13. Please check the information locally to make confirmation.
See real-time train schedule
Admission Fee Entrance Ticket: CNY 70
Sightseeing Train: CNY 50
Opening Hours 07:00-18:30
Recommended Time for a Visit Half a day

 Further Reading:
  Qarhan Salt Lake
  Qinghai Lake

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