Bordering Shaanxi, Gansu and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north central China, Ningxia is at an intersection of the Loess Plateau, the Inner Mongolia Plateau, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and northwest China’s desert areas. Ningxia is China’s smallest provincial area at just 66,400 square kilometers. If you drive across Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, it will take just a day.
Despite the area of Ningixa is not as large as that of the other provinces, there are various huge and magnificent views of mountains, rivers, desert, grasslands and lakes in the region. It is definitely the representation of “Magic Ningxia, Paradise beyond the Great Wall”. “Two Mountains and One River” (Helan Mountain, Liupan Mountain and Yellow River), “Two ‘Sand’ and One Mausoleum” (Sand Lake & Shapotou, and Western Xia Mausoleum) and “Two Cultures and the Scenery” (Western Xia Culture, Islamic Culture, and abundant resources beyond the Great Wall) are the iconic features of Ningxia. And the discovery of the Shuidonggou Remains was an evidence showing that human started living here since 30,000 years ago.
Helan Mountain, the Father Mountain of Ningxia people, is about 300 km ranging from north to south. There are more than 6,000 cliff paintings on the mountain, created by the nomads around 3,000-10,000 years ago. These paintings, ranging from herd, wars and worship to entertainment, are vivid descriptions of their everyday lives and their understanding of the universe.
The Mausoleum Complex of the Western Xia Kingdom is located in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningixa, and lies at the foot of the Helan Mountain. It is the biggest tombs of Western Xia Kingdom in China. The Western Xia Kingdom lasted for about 200 years and was annihilated by the Mongolian. No official recorded history of this kingdom was left because of the hatred of the subsequent ruler. Along the hillside, there are over 250 pyramidal buildings (including 9 tombs of the emperors), commemorating the history of the empire. Thus, the Western Xia Mausoleum is also called the “Pyramid of the East”. Ningxia is now the only place to explore the Western Xia culture.
There is a saying that goes: “You would not go for sand attractions after visiting Ningxia”. Ningxia boasts two attractions which are famous for their “Sand” – Sand Lake and Shapotou (sha means sand in Chinese). The Sand Lake, located in the north-western part of Ningxia, shines like a pearl around the desert and maintains the diversified eco-system. Shapotou (literally means “the top of the sand slope”) is the intersection point of the Yellow River and the Tengger Desert. The scenery here comprises desert, grassland, mountain and cliff. You can experience riding on the sheepskin raft, drifting in the Yellow River, sliding on sand, and enjoying the scenery of desert and oasis.
Ningxia, known as the “Museum of the ancient Great Wall”, is home to a total length of 1,500 kilometers of Great Wall dating back as early as the Warring States period. It was repaired or rebuilt later in the Qin, Han, Sui and Ming dynasties. Unlike the Great Wall in Beijing which was built of brick along mountain ridges, the Great Wall in Ningxia was constructed at the foot of mountains with rammed loess, often merging into the surrounding environment.
Shuidonggou lies in the Linhe Town along the Great Wall, about 24 km from the center of Yinchuan. It is the earliest Paleolithic relic in China, and is called “the cradle of Chinese prehistoric archeology” and “the evidence of the exchange of Chinese and Western cultures”. The relic has proved that the human existed here 30,000 years ago through the eoliths and animal fossils of rhinoceros, cow, pig, gazelle, and kiang.
The one-of-a-kind Ancient Troop-Hiding Cave is located at Hongshan Fort of Shuidonggou. The troops of the Ming Dynasty used to hide in this cave. Its endless burrows twist and turn in the precipice and are linked from all directions, making the cave like a maze. Inside there are numbers of rooms for the troops to hide and rest, as well as granaries, meeting rooms, kitchens, water wells, ammunition rooms, storage rooms for weapons, and traps and holes with hidden weapons which were used for defense.
Ningxia is home to China’s largest Muslim ethnic group, the Hui, who account for more than one third of its population. Arabic signs are everywhere in the region, as are Muslim restaurants and more than 3,000 mosques. Recommended attractions for Muslim travelers include Nanguan Mosque, Tongxin Mosque and Najiahu Village Great Mosque, each with a history of more than 400 years. Another must-see is the Park of Customs and Culture in the Homeland of Chinese Hui People, featuring Muslim architecture, customs, food, farming and trade.
Ningxia also has many other draws, such as the Mount Sumeru Grottoes, which is one of the 10 most famous grottoes in China.