Saturday, April 13, 2013

Travel destinations: Zhongwei, China

Nestled between the sand dunes of the Tengger Desert (Tenggeli Shamo) and the Yellow River, lives the little city of Zhongwei in Ningxia Province. Although not a destination most travellers have in mind, Zhongwei is much more relaxed than other Chinese cities, something much appreciated after exploring the busier cities China is known for.

Zhongwei may not have much to offer in the way of cultural attractions, but the ones it does offer are beautiful and the surrounding area is beautiful. Why not start your trip to Zhongwei with a visit to Gao Temple. This is the main attraction in Zhongwei; it is a diverse and multipurpose temple which once served as the place of worship for Taoists, Buddhists and Confucianists. It has been restored in recent years and because of this, much of the original Taoist features have been replaced by Buddhist and Confucian elements.

One very interesting detail to this temple is the fact that during the Cultural Revolution a bomb shelter was built underneath. Later, it was converted into a Buddhist haunted house. This is a great place to visit, as once you descend into the underground tunnels, you are ‘haunted’ by the screams of the damned! Simply wonderful!

As mentioned, Zhongwei doesn’t have much in the way of cultural attractions in the city herself; you will need to go outside her borders to experience more sites. A trip to the desert playground, Shapotou, is not to be missed. It lies about 10km west of Zhongwei, where the desert dunes, the Yellow River and farmlands all meet. It was based on the Shapotou Desert Centre, founded in 1956, to find new ways to battle desertification in the north-west of China.

Coming here allows you to experience a desert amusement park; you can take camel rides, boat rides, zip lines, bungy jumps, sand sleds and climbing walls. Despite the fact that the scenery has been somewhat commercialized for tourists, it is still absolutely beautiful.

As well as the desert amusement park, you can also take a boat ride up to Shuangshishan and then raft back downstream in a traditional yangpi fazi (a raft made of leather).

Another great place to visit is the Sikou Scenic Area (Sikou Fengjingqu). This is a beautifully spectacular sandstone area. It is full of temples, caves and gorges for you to visit. The only way to get here, however, is by hiring a taxi for the day.

Zhongwei is a beautiful place in the north west of China; although it doesn’t offer much in the way of historic sites, it does offer some amazing experiences and scenery that should not be missed.

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