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Ningxia / Inner Mongolia / Yinchuan

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We are flying into Yinchuan for a few days to then drive over to Inner Mongolia and see some desert scenery. Unfortunately we only have a few days and can't make it to Badain Jaran or fly into Jiayuguan. We are thinking of going to Alxa Zuoqi (阿拉善左旗) and possibly spending a night there, with our other nights in the Kepinski in Yinchuan. Does anyone have ANY recommendations at all for this area? I will need a jeep to go to the desert, any recommended tour operators? I figure I'll just find one once we get to Yinchuan, but advice always appreciated. I've found information about this region is hard to come by, so recommendations for food, lodging, day trips....all appreciated.

Also any experiences at Shapotou? I can't decide if it's worth going to...looks way too built up, but could be fun.

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    It's been a while since I was up that way, and I reached everything by public transport or in one case hired taxi, but there's certainly plenty to see around Yinchuan. I made these notes before I had a font with full tone-markings available, so I'm afraid the umlaut counts as first tone, and the circumflex as third tone.

    Xï Xià Wáng Ling

    Promoted by China’s tourism agencies as the nation’s answer to the pyramids, these tombs of the Xï Xià emperors are not nearly as impressive, but certainly unique. A dusty area of 40sqkm on the edge of low mountains is dotted with mounds of various sizes including substantial pyramidal tombs with their own surrounding mud fortifications, some with corner watchtowers inhabited by owls. The plain is scattered with the remnants of tiles, layers of which can be seen like sandwich filling in the tombs, and which once were probably eaves on an outer casing of some kind. The tapering shape of the remains is probably just a matter of wind erosion, but they remain squat and massive, some as much as 15m high. Nine larger tombs are thought to be those of the emperors, and a further 200 or so of other worthies. The site is eerie and quiet, with just the odd shepherd and his flock, the singing of larks, and the chiding of smaller birds whose nests you may be disturbing. If your driver takes the first small turning to the site on an unmade road, then it’s possible to complete an anti-clockwise circuit leaving the largest tomb until last.

    Qïngtóngxiá Yïbäilíngbätä 108 Dagobas

    The 108 small squat dagobas resembling inverted goblets are arranged in 12 ever decreasing rows rising up the hillside, including a single larger dagoba at the top behind which is a small temple with modern Buddhist clay figures. Having undergone substantial repairs the brick dagobas are in excellent condition, and topped with metal caps. The date of their original construction is unknown, but they are the only ones of their kind in China. The views from the top across the fields and the river valley are pretty. Bring a picnic. Returning either to the town centre or the bridge, flag down any passing bus, and change at Qïngtóngxiá Shì.

    Nàjiähù Qïngzhënsì

    It has an impressive triple arched three storeyed entrance gate flanked by twin towers. The keepers are friendly and if asked politely will show you the quiet and pleasant interior, as long as it’s not Friday, when demand for space far exceeds capacity. Originally built in 1525 during the Míng, this is one of the oldest mosques in Ningxia. The village in which it stands has 5000 inhabitants, 97 per cent Huí, and 60 per cent from the same Nà family after which both mosque and village are named.

    Píngluó Yùhuánggé

    This is a smaller but still impressive version of Zhöngwèi’s Gäo Miào. Double and triple layered pavilions and halls are connected by aerial walkways making an impressive assembly of interlocking and overlapping roofs. The upper levels of the rearmost hall and connected walkways to other pavilions can be reached by climbing the left hand stairs at the very rear. The halls have modern or recently repainted statuary, and feature figures from Buddhism, Taoism, and Confuscianism. Probably Míng.

    There are two other brick pagodas similar in scale to those in Yïnchuán to be seen en route. One is immediately outside Píngluó, and the other at the 1197km marker about 37km from Yínchuän, both on east side of the road.

    > Also any experiences at Shapotou

    Pure tourism. But if you are doing that far round the bed of the Yellow River, then I'd recommend a visit to Zhongwei for the Gao Miao:

    Gäo Miào

    Originally built in the Míng dynasty during the reign of the Emperor Yônglè (1403–24), this tightly-knit group of temple buildings has been through the usual exhausting cycles of destruction and repair, being damaged by earthquake in 1710, expanded again in in the 19th and early 20th centuries, damaged by fire in 1942, repaired between then and 1947, damaged again in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), and repaired again. Nevertheless, this is a larger and more impressive version of the Yùhuáng Gé in Píngluó, and is Buddhist architecture at its most flamboyant and gothic. Each separate building has multi-pinnacled roofs, their ridges carved into sequences of flowers, with each ridge and pinnacle topped with perforated brick carved dragons. The buildings are connected by aerial walkways and stand compactly close together so that the shapes of the roofs merge into one vast, feathery mass. Almost every square inch of every building has been carved or painted. Doors and screens have beautifully carved wood, walls have panels of stone relief, and even the roof tiles are very elaborate.

    As you enter there is a plan of the temples’ layout to your left. Behind the first hall (Bâo’än Sì) steep stairs lead through a fine decorated brick archway to a towering gate with a superb relief of a tiger that seems to spring from the wall. Beyond is a magnificent triple level hall connected to the gate through which you have just walked, and on to further pavilions by aerial walkways, reached by climbing stairs at the rear. Further stairs on either side lead to the top floor, where you may see a chanting monk in full lotus position, and you can look down on the intricate roofscape.

    The temples have a history of being multi-purpose, and although now dominated by Buddhist statues, there are elements of Taoism and Confucianism here, too.

    To the right of the first hall, stairs lead down to Hell. Imagine a pre-animatronics Disneyland show called Danteworld, and you have an idea of this garish, grostesque, tawdry, and bizarre display. Underground passages contain a series of tableaux with inept son-et-lumière, and show the ten halls of hell and its 18 jails. Much of the imagery will also be familiar to those brought up in Western traditions of punishment after death for wrongs committed when alive. Jails in which people are sawed in half, have their eyes cut out, or their tongues extracted, have a familiar Edgar Allen Poe quality, although according to Amnesty International accounts in China it’s not always necessary to die before having similar experiences. The jails for reincarnation in which people are condemned to be reborn as pigs and dogs make you wonder whether the Chinese are in fact aware of the horrific cruelty they often casually visit upon animals. The ‘Jail for Confusing Spirits’ looks altogether more delightful. Altogether this is a must for lovers of fairground attractions and kitsch in general.

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    Thanks!!! This is helpful. The itinerary given to me focused basically on the Tengger Desert, with the Xi Xia Tombs. It includes Swan Lake, Moon Lake and Helan Mountain. I'm not sold on Helan Mountain as the few photos I've found of it make it look not as impressive as the desert.

    The agent I found wants to charge me an absurd 2500 RMB for a transfer to Alxa Zuoqi/Bayanhoate from Yinchuan and then a transfer back. Is it easy enough to get a taxi to take me from Yinchuan to Bayanhoate where I can then have a hired Jeep pick me up? I figure on my own I can get it for 600 RMB each way since it's just a 2 hour drive. I can speak Mandarin that is typically understandable though I know people in this region certainly won't have a standard accent and might be hard for me to understand.

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    I haven't done that particular journey, but I have to admit slight astonishment that you'd think it would cost as much as ¥600 for such a short trip. I wouldn't expect to pay much more than a third of that per journey. Half as the absolute upper limit. It's merely a matter of flagging down cruising taxis the day before, or dealing with any driver taking you around town you happen to like. As everywhere else, for every driver who tells you that no one will take you for less than ¥1000 there's always another who'll do it for ¥200. It just takes a little persistence, and not dealing with drivers standing around in groups, but only individuals (but I'm sure you're aware of that kind of thing).

    I don't recall having any particular problem with the local accent in Ningxia, and I travelled extensively in rural areas, not just the cities. There's always someone who speaks reasonably biaozhun Mandarin.

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    Well the drivers always have the argument that they have to go both ways, but you're right, it should probably be around 2 - 300 RMB. I've never had problems with drivers except for situations when I really have no choice but to pay up - Jiuzhaigou taxi racket, and once arriving in Pudong at 2am. It takes a bit more persistence when you're not Chinese, as unfortunately many drivers in China think that just because you're white, you're also clueless.

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