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.
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 other viewpoints.
While taking a gentle stroll around the area, we stumble upon the ‘village’ of Luming Shanzhuang (鹿鸣山庄), a tourist spot, set up for the sole purpose of eating. The village wouldn’t be out of place in the Mediterranean: it’s an idyllic collection of thatched wooden huts, overgrown with creepers and hung with strings of chilies, set amongst vegetable and flower gardens and fish ponds, with livestock roaming free.
This being China, everything you see can be eaten; just point and the sweet goat or cute bunny will appear on your plate. No offense to the squeamish; this is a great place to kick back for a few hours over a long, boozy lunch. The food is excellent, if a little pricey. You can eat outdoors, or in one of the private huts. As it is a beautiful autumn afternoon, we choose to sit under the sunflowers with views towards the peaks of Helan Shan.
The specialties are lamb, ‘wild chickens’ (whatever they may be) and various other types of ‘wild meat’, fresh fish (straight from the fish pond), and scorpions… Margie and David settle for the wild chicken (a small, quail- like bird from what we can gather), which is tasty enough, but a little hard to eat.
The Chinese style of smashing up the whole bird, bones and all, makes it rather difficult to work out what you are actually eating. The veggies on the other hand, thick juicy aubergine slices, fried peppers, potatoes and a kind of spinach, are all terrific!
Apart from us, there are several groups of Chinese tourists hanging out here, eating, drinking, playing mah-jong or cards, and generally having a good time. David proves quite popular with the ladies who all want to have their picture taken with him, and to a lesser degree, with us.
Judging by the folded-up sleeping bags outside the huts, visitors can spend the night here as well. And anyone wishing to be a little more adventurous than we were on this occasion could easily head up the various trails and explore.
Entrance ticket: 30 RMB
To get to Gunzhongkou from the Tombs you need to backtrack to the main road and then follow the signs to the Baisikou Pagodas and the Helan Shan Rock Paintings. The Turn off for Gunzhongkou is 10 kilometers before the road up to Helan Shan’s premier National park, the Suyukou National Forest Park (苏峪口国家森林公园). If you have a taxi, your driver will know where to go. There didn’t seem to be any public transport to Gunzhongkou.