Gansu (甘肃; Gānsù) is a province in the North West region of China. Historically, it is the combination of the two regions, gan (甘) and su (肃). On the Silk Road Gansu marked the end or beginning of China proper depending upon if you were traveling east towards Xi’an or west towards Central Asia and Europe. Gansu’s western frontier thus juts right into the borders of the vast steppes of Mongolia, the unforgiving deserts of Xinjiang and the high mountain wastelands of the Tibetan Plateau.
The Province of Gansu in the People’s Republic of China has a population of 26 million inhabitants. The Yellow River passes through the southern section of the province of Gansu and the province is located between the Huangtu and the Qinghai Plateaus, at the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Gansu Province has Mongolia to the north and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to the west. The capital city of Gansu Province is Lanzhou City which is in the southeastern part of Gansu Province.
Lanzhou – 2,000 years of history, the capital of Gansu Province Dunhuang – Buddhist grottoes, colossal treasure trove Jiayuguan – Fort at the western end of the Great Wall, nicknamed “Last Fort Under Heaven” Jiuquan Linxia – colorful market town known as the Mecca of China for its mosques and madrasahs Longxi Pingliang Tianshui – more Buddhist grottoes, 194 cave shrines, nicknamed “Gallery of Oriental Sculpture” Xiahe (Sangqu) – a little piece of Tibet for those who don’t get to Tibet Wuwei – former garrison town on the Great Wall of China Zhangye – former garrison headquarters on the Great Wall of China
- Kongtongshan National Park – important site in the Taoist religion
- Maijishan National Park – Buddhist statues, botanical gardens
- Mingshashan—Yueyaquan National Park – Singing sand amid oases
Gansu spans the Qinghai-Tibet, Inner Mongolia and loess plateaus in the upper reaches of the Yellow River. The topography is complex and the climate unpredictable. The river valleys in the south belong to a subtropical zone while the north is an arid temperate zone. The province was a centre for East-West cultural exchanges as early as the Han and Tang dynasties. Many people go to Gansu to seek out the roots of world civilization. The Silk Road of the Han and Tang dynasties brings visitors to such places as the grottoes at Dunhuang (a world-class treasure house of art), the Jiayu Pass on the Great Wall of China, Majiishan Grottoes of Tianshui, the Labrang Temple of Xiahe, the Great Buddha Temple at Zhangeye and the bronze sculpture of galloping horse in Wuwei.
Gansu contains some of the largest and most important Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet. Travel by local bus across high, frigid plateaus to reach them. Ride horses across the plateaus past yurts. Share lunch with Tibetan monks. Share yak butter tea with monks. This part of China bears almost no resemblance to Eastern, Han China. Empty, wild, culturally and ethnically distinct, it offers some of the most exhilarating travel in the world.
Imagine seven hours of travel across a high plateau in a rickety bus dating from 1970. Every few hours, one of your neighbours, swathed in yak wool, stops the bus, dismounts and starts walking to the horizon. You can see for 30 km in all directions, with no towns in sight. It is an empty and riveting land.
Beware of the time of year you travel there. It is cold even in May. In rural areas, which are the most interesting areas are rural, very few housing options are available. Probably, there will be no heat so bring layers or buy a yak wool coat.
There is a Tibetan region in Southwest Gansu bordering Qinghai province, where both Chinese and Amdo Tibetan are spoken. Local dialects are used across the province, but in general most people can talk standard Chinese.
The History of Gansu Province
Gansu Province has a great history of the former Chinese Empire during the Han and the Ming Dynasty.
The Great Wall of China was extended through Gansu during the Han Dynasty. The Yangguan Fort and the strategic Jade Gate Pass was also constructed during the Ming Dynasty.
In the past, many residents of the Province of Gansu embraced Islam from 848 to 1036AD when a Uyghur nation was founded.
Due to to the fact that Gansu was situated along the Silk Route it was converted into a very important economically province.
Local Economy of Gansu Province
The Province of Gansu has been well known throughout the years for Chinese medicinal herbs. Agricultural production in Gansu are melons, millet, maize, wheat and as well cotton but a large part of the economy in Gansu relies heavy on mining.
Today the Province of Gansu has a large amount of zinc, tungsten, platinum, chromiu. The oil producing fields of Changqing and Yumen are contributing to the economy of China’s Gansu Province.
Tourist Attraction in Gansu Province
There are many tourist attractions in the Province of Gansu for both international and as well local tourists.
The Jiayuguan Pass
The Jiayuguan Pass is the largest entrance to the Great Wall of China. The Jiayuguan Pass was built during the Early Ming Dynasty around 1370AD.
The Mogao Grottoes of Lo-Tsun
A monk by the name of Lo-Tsun came near the Echoing Sand Mountain. One day he had a vision with golden rays of light that shined on him and that looked like a thousand Buddhas. The monk in the year of 336AD started the carving of this grotto.
The ancient Silk Road of China
The ancient Silk Road of China started in the province of Gansu and ended in Constantinople. The Silk Road was the only way for merchants to travel from the East to the West world. Merchants would get fresh supply and travel across the Taklamakan Desert.
The Bingling Temple which are also known locally as the Grottoes is a complex of caves at the Yellow River. The large Maitreya Buddha is more than 25 meters tall and the only way to access the Bingling Temple is by boat from Yongjing during the summer months.
The Labrang Tibetan Monastery
The Labrang Tibetan Monastery is one of the main monasteries of the Tibetan tradition. The Labrang Tibetan Monastery is located in the Prefecture Autonomous Region of Gannan in the Xiahe County in the south of Gansu Province.
- Water Curtain Thousand Buddha Caves – located at Luomen, temple built in a cave and a 30 m high Sakyamuni Buddha carved into the cliffside.
What to do in Gansu
- South Ride horses for days on a trek; hike through the hills; hang out in monasteries. If you don’t like the outdoors, this is not the place for you.
- North Camels are an option for short trips in tourist locations.
The main airport of Gansu is Lanzhou. Some train access, but to get to the interesting sites local buses are a necessity. Best to consider it as an adventure, and get ready to use non-verbal communication.
Foreign tourists are supposed to get insurance for bus trips and are normally charged twice the regular fare paid by locals. This occurs in the main parts of Gansu with many visitors, but less so in the outlying areas. CITS sells a policy as well as the Peoples Insurance Company of China.
Southern Gansu: Yak meat, butter, yogurt. In places catering to foreigners they often have scrambled eggs with tomatoes. Beware of local rice whisky.
The most famous food not just in Gansu, but all around China is 兰州拉面 (Lánzhōu lāmiàn), noodles: available everywhere in Gansu from ¥2.
Another choice is lamb (羊肉; yángròu).
Yak milk. Zhangye local spirits.
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