Golmud Overview

Golmud (Gé'ěrmù, 格尔木), or Geermu in Tibetan, an industrial city whose existence spans just 50 years or so, is situated on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in northern Qinghai, not far from the Gobi Desert, the imposing Kunlun Mountains and one of China's largest salt lakes.

Upon exiting the train station, you'll be treated to a landscape of endless desolation. Think Death Valley, but flat. The city itself with its tree-lined streets isn't too bad, but there's not much to do. The city's 200,000 residents are there to cash in on jobs relating to the extraction, processing and transportion of the Qaidam Basin's massive oil, salt and mineral resources.

Apart from an inexplicable desire to simulate tourism on the moon or oblivion, there are few reasons for travelers to stop here, save that it is the only overland route through which to enter Tibet via either the Qinghai-Tibet Railway or the Golmud-to-Lhasa Highway. Both overland routes promise spectacular scenery on the way. For those planning to do exactly that, be aware that travel into Tibet is heavily regulated and there are several things you need before going in.

First and most importantly you need a Tibet Entry Permit issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau. This permit is mandatory, you can't even buy plane or train tickets to the Tibet Autonomous Region without one. What's more, you'll have to be accompanied by a licensed tour guide while traveling.

Guides warrant extra research as some let you travel more freely, while others may use their position to extract more cash from you.

Secondly, if you plan to travel to "closed areas" such as Mt. Kailash or Everest you'll need an Alien's Travel Permit issued by the Foreign Affairs Section of Lhasa's Public Security Bureau. Your travel agency should be able to help you with this.

Other areas, such as Ngari, Nagchu and Nyingtri are sensitive military areas requiring a Military Permit issued by the Military Office in Lhasa. Again, your travel agency should be able to help.

Though there are travel agencies that advertise their competencies in procuring Alien's Travel Permits and Military Permits outside of Tibet, they are simply delegating the job to one of the 50 or so registered travel egencies in Lhasa and tacking on a surcharge. To bypass this extra cost, simply apply for these in Lhasa proper.

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