Heaven and Hell in the Gao Temple (Gao Miao 高庙) Zhongwei 中卫 (Ningxia Province)

Heaven and Hell in the Gao Temple (Gao Miao 高庙)

Gao Temple (Gao Miao 高庙)

Gao Miao Zhongwei. I love the Gao Miao temple in Zhongwei. It may not be the oldest and most venerable temple in China; it may not have the most intricate murals, paintings and statues, but it certainly is one of the most atmospheric and photogenic places I’ve been to!

Gao Temple (Gao Miao 高庙)

For a start, this temple can show you both Heaven and Hell.


Heaven 天堂

Heaven is the part above ground. The Gao Miao rises up and up towards the sky, tier upon tier. You enter a flower-filled courtyard, walk through a colourful  temple and climb to the next level, where you then repeat the process. You continue passing through other, Continue reading “Heaven and Hell in the Gao Temple (Gao Miao 高庙) Zhongwei 中卫 (Ningxia Province)”

Sikou Scenic Area / 寺口风景区: Do you have a head for heights?

Sikou Scenic Area / 寺口风景区 /Zhongwei; Ningxia Province 2011

Sikou Scenic Area / 寺口风景区

 Margie and I looked at each other, looked at the dodgy hanging bridge disappearing into the mist, remembered having seen some missing wooden planks from below and decided no, this definitely wasn’t worth it!

Sikou Scenic Area / 寺口风景区

A park ranger offered us a harness, but even that failed to convince us and, apologetically, we beat a hasty retreat.

The Sikou Scenic Area is a striking area of sandstone gorges. It’s a fantastic place if you love clambering over rocks and don’t suffer from vertigo. If your idea of fun is getting pleasure from clinging on to rusty chains as you scramble along narrow paths, with only a flimsy railing separating you from an abyss of several hundred meters, then Sikou is for you.

Sikou Scenic Area / 寺口风景区

The highlight of a visit to Sikou is crossing the gorge on a near 100- meter long, swaying suspension bridge, a precarious looking structure, made of rusty cables and wooden planks, many of which are  missing. I imagine the views must be spectacular, weather permitting.

Sikou Scenic Area / 寺口风景区

However, neither Margie nor I have much of a head for heights; I get vertigo just standing on a Continue reading “Sikou Scenic Area / 寺口风景区: Do you have a head for heights?”

Yinchuan银川 to Bayan Khot (or Alashan Zouqi 阿拉善左旗) via Guangzong Si 广宗寺, or Nan Si南寺

The Route of 2011, Stage 4: by Margie


Roaming Camels Near Bayan Khot

Click below for Stages 3 & 5:

Stage 3: Yinchuan (银川) and around

Stage 5: Bayan Khot to Alashan Youqi and the Badain Jaran Desert

Our driver has agreed to take us all the way to Bayan Khot via Guangzong Si (once one of the most important monasteries in Mongolia) for 300 Yuan; or at least that’s what we think … We have managed to get up reasonably early and are making good progress.

The Great Wall

The first highlight of the day is when we suddenly catch sight of the ruins of the Great Wall! This is the real thing: unrestored, without tickets, souvenir stalls, or people. It is just standing there, defiant, majestic, having weathered so many centuries.

Great Wall

Of course, there’s not much left of it, it’s been reduced to a crumbling pinkish pile of earth, riddled with holes. But we don’t mind, we’re just thrilled to be there. Continue reading “Yinchuan银川 to Bayan Khot (or Alashan Zouqi 阿拉善左旗) via Guangzong Si 广宗寺, or Nan Si南寺”

Zhongwei and Around: Shapotou 沙坡头

The Route of 2011, Stage 2: by Adam

Shapotou  沙坡头: Where Walt Disney meets Lawrence of Arabia

Shapotou 沙坡头

For more on Zhongwei and around click below:

Zhongwei Gao Temple

Sikou Scenic Area

Stage 1 Hohhot

Stage 3 Yinchuan & around

Arriving in Shapotou

There is something unreal about Shapotou沙坡头.  It should be, and probably once was, a remote outpost. Geographically, it is still a place of stark contrasts, where the harsh sands of the Tengger Desert are halted by irrigated fields; where lush green is separated from sparkling yellow by a dramatic bend in the Yellow river; and all of this comes with remnants of the Great Wall for added lustre.

sunset over Shapotou 沙坡头

It sounds like something straight out of Indiana Jones. That is, until you arrive at the massive tourist reception center and ticket office and then realize you´ve landed in China’s number one desert tourist hot spot where Walt Disney meets Lawrence of Arabia.

Shapotou 沙坡头

As you pass through the computerized turnstile you’ll need to take a deep breath and allow a few moments for your brain to assimilate the Continue reading “Zhongwei and Around: Shapotou 沙坡头”

Yinchuan & The Helan Shan Rock Carvings 贺兰山岩画

Helanshan Yanhua (贺兰山岩画)

Helan Shan Rock Carving

We have to hurry to get to our last stop, the rock paintings of Helanshan Yanhua, said to date back 10,000 years, before they close. Here as well, the local authorities have made a huge effort and developed a major tourist reception center, complete with a brand-new museum and little electric trains to take visors out to the rocks (with ticket prices to match).

Deer /鹿

On the positive side, the site buildings are all housed in tasteful, beige cubes that blend in very well with the countryside.

Animal Rock Carvings

The striking canyon cuts deep into the Helan Shan range and has its own small river running through it, and even a small waterfall. The whole place is exceedingly atmospheric, particularly in the late-afternoon light, and the carvings Continue reading “Yinchuan & The Helan Shan Rock Carvings 贺兰山岩画”

Yinchuan & The twin Pagodas of Baisikou (拜寺口双塔)

The twin Pagodas of Baisikou (拜寺口双塔)

Baisikou 拜寺口双塔

Nearby, about 9 kms further down the road, are two very well preserved pagodas, 13 and 14 storeys high and dating from the middle or late periods of Western Xia.  They are best visited in the late afternoon when they stand out impressively against the stony backdrop of the Helan shan mountains. Both pagodas have small shrines inside, where people still come and worship. When we were there, a Chinese family were helping their aged grandfather to get around the shrines.


Baisikou 拜寺口

It’s quite easy to enter the ground floor of the smaller pagoda and stare up into its hollow interior, while the tunnel leading into the taller pagoda is quite claustrophobic.
In a small temple behind the pagodas, a Buddhist monk will tell you your future and reveal all your strengths and weaknesses; for a (substantial) donation of course.

Baisikou kediao 拜寺口雕刻


Entrance ticket: 10 Yuan.

The pagodas seem to have similar opening hours to nearby Helanshan Yanhua (8.00 – 18.00).

The Pagodas are best visited as part of  a combined trip to the Western Tombs Gunzhongkou and the Helan Shan Rock Carvings by hiring a taxi from Yinchuan (250 Yuan for the day).

Yinchuan & Gunzhongkou / 银川与滚钟口

Gunzhongkou (滚钟口)

Sunflowers at Gunzhongkou


Our next stop is the historic pass village of Gunzhongkou, at the foot of the rough and rugged Helan Shan mountains (贺兰山) which dominate the area around Yinchuan, forming a formidable and protective barrier between the city and the barren wastelands of the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia.

Helan Shan near Gunzhongkou

Not so much a village, though there is a temple and a hand-full of houses, Gunzhongkou is a scenic area in which you can take walks (along marked trails) to pavilions and Continue reading “Yinchuan & Gunzhongkou / 银川与滚钟口”

Yinchuan & The Xi Xia Tombs / 银川与西夏王陵

The Route of 2011, Stage 3: by Margie

Tombs and ancient walls of Xi Xia Tombs

For more on Yinchuan and around click below:

Yinchuan & Gunzhongkou / 银川与滚钟口

Yinchuan & The twin Pagodas of Baisikou (拜寺口双塔)

Yinchuan & The Helan Shan Rock Carvings 贺兰山岩画

Stage 2: Zhongwei and around

Stage 4: Yinchuan to Bayan Khot

Baisikou Pagoda near Yinchuan

Stage three: Yinchuan (银川) and the Xia Tombs


This was the beginning of what was supposed to be the highlight of our China trip of this year: a visit to the Badain Jaran Desert near a town called Alashan Youqi. A few sentences in the Lonely Planet had put me up to this adventure; under the caption ‘Bayan Khot’ it said: “One daily bus goes to Alashan Youqi … at 7.10 am. “ Moreover, a boxed text in the Inner Mongolia chapter mentioned “… the remote but stunning Badain Jaran Desert…”, which was apparently a 30-minute drive away from this Alashan Youqi. However much I looked on the Internet, I found little else. In fact, there didn’t even seem to be a road on the maps I consulted.

Xia Xia tombs & Helan Shan

And so, while driving through the depressingly familiar mixture of white-tiled urban sprawl, manic traffic and choking pollution that took us from Yinchuan bus station to the centre of the Old Town, doubts kicked in. With a feeling of near panic I thought of my friend who I had persuaded to take a week off work from his job in Beijing (北京) to join us on this trip.


Would he not regret spending his holidays in gritty Yinchuan, rather than going back to sunny Spain? I began to have serious doubts if I had done the right thing, embarking on a journey I still wasn’t entirely sure was possible, and guilt set in. As it turned out, Continue reading “Yinchuan & The Xi Xia Tombs / 银川与西夏王陵”

Route 2011 North West China: Inner Mongolia / Ningxia / Gansu

Route 2011

Inner Mongolia / Ningxia / Gansu

Xi Xia tombs and statues near Yinchuan 西夏王陵

Over the next few months we’ll be putting up articles about the places we visited in China this summer.
The trip began in Hohhot (呼和浩特), in Inner Mongolia (内蒙古自治区), where we had arrived on the train from Ulaan Baatar (乌兰巴托) in Mongolia.

Stage 1: Hohhot
Stage 2: Zhongwei
Stage 3: Yinchuan (银川) and around
Stage 4: Yinchuan to Bayan Khot
Stage 5: Bayan Khot to Alashan Youqi and the Badain Jaran Desert
Stage 6: Zhangye and around
Stage 7: Xiahe and around

Hohot's Wutasi 五塔寺 / 呼和浩特

After exploring the city’s eye-catching Wuta pagoda 五塔寺 and Da Zhao 大召 and Xilitu Zhao 席力图大召temples, an overnight train took us to Zhongwei (中卫), in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Province (宁夏回自治区), where we visited the Desert Research Center at Shapotou ( 沙坡头) on the banks of the Yellow River (黄河) and also the Sikou Scenic Area(寺口风景区).

Shapotou /沙坡头

From Zhongwei (中卫), a quick bus ride led north to Yinchuan (银川), from where we explored the amazing sights that surround Ningxia’s capital.

HelanShan 贺兰山 near Yinchuan

From Yinchuan we headed off into Western Inner Mongolia, passing the isolated ruins of the Great Wall at Sanguankou (三关口), Continue reading “Route 2011 North West China: Inner Mongolia / Ningxia / Gansu”

Badain Jaran Desert (The world’s highest sand dunes)/巴丹吉林沙漠 (世界上最高的沙丘)

Badain Jaran Desert

(The world’s highest sand dunes)/巴丹吉林沙 漠(世界上最高的沙丘)

Amazing Dunes At Badan

(Badain Jaran Desert is the Mongolian name  / Badan Jilin Shamo is the Chinese name)

Getting to the magnificent Badain Jaran Desert, home to the world’s highest sand dunes, is far more straightforward than it appears on the map and in the guide books and can be done independently, with a bit of effort and determination. The desert can be approached from two directions: either from Ningxia’s capital Yinchuan via the Inner Mongolian town of Bayan Khot (also known as Alashan Zuoqi  阿拉善左旗), or from the Gansu town of Zhangye.

The base for visiting the desert is Alashan Youqi (阿拉善右旗), which is connected by a daily bus from Bayan Khot, or by two daily buses from Zhangye.
Below is the basic information you need to do the trip. In a few weeks we will be putting up a longer article about our experience there, illustrated with more photos.

Desert Lakes In Badan Jaran Desert


Getting there from Yinchuan

There are regular buses from Yinchuan’s main bus station to Bayan Khot, which should take around 2 hours. However, we decided to hire a taxi (400 Yuan) because that allowed us to stop at the ruins of the Great Wall at Sanguankou (三关口) and to make a side-trip to the Mongolian monastery complex of Guanzongsi (广宗寺). If you left really early, with a hired car you could also include a visit to Moon Lake, a desert playground for wealthy Chinese.

Desert Temple

Bayan Khot (Alashan Zuoqi  阿拉善左旗)


Bayan Khot has many hotels, but a fair few of them are somewhat run-down and/or don’t take foreigners, so it is worth looking for the wonderful,  Continue reading “Badain Jaran Desert (The world’s highest sand dunes)/巴丹吉林沙漠 (世界上最高的沙丘)”