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Ancient Silk Road in Gansu

The long and winding Silk Road in northwest China has a history of more than two thousand years. The opening of the Silk Road has contributed greatly to the exchange and development of ethical and material civilization between the East and West.The wild and desolate Gobi Desert, grassland, snowy mountains and the ruins of ancient cities on the silk Road remind visitors of mysterious legends that are closely associated with them, evidence of the rise and fall of successive dynasties.You can’t help heaving a sigh with emotion when you stand on the ruins of an ancient city which used to be so bustling and prosperous and is now reduced to yellow mounds. When you are warmly entertained by local residents, watch their unique art performances or stroll through their bazaars, you will find their life style and customs simple and yet colorful, strange and yet intimate.Today, when you are traveling along the Silk Road, you will no longer ride on camel back. Highways extend in all directions and flights are frequent. A ride by a coach or a train will ensure you a safe, convenient and enjoyable trip along the Silk Road.

In this pamphlet, CITS is pleased to introduce the eastern, western and southern tour routes, with Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, as the center. They show you the vast Gobi Desert, lofty snow-copped mountains and glaciers, green and lush pastureland, beautiful scenic region of rivers and lakes, as well as the cream of ethnic culture and the charming tourist resources peculiar to the region.

The province boasts the golden section of the Silk Road, which covers the following ancient towns and tourist centers from east to west, such as Tianshui, Linxia, Xiahe, Lanzhou, Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan, the Jiayuguan Pass and Dunhuong. They are the most frequent haunts of Silk Roaders. So many beautiful things are there to see along the Gansu section of the Silk Road that you may stay on with no thought of leaving once you are there.

Recommended Silk Road Tour Itineraries

Ethnic Culture and Customs Tour (4days/3nights)

Lanzhou-Yongjing-Linxia-Xiahe-Lanzhou (or Xi’an)

Day 1    Arrive in Lanzhou where you will spend overnight at Legend Hotel(4 stars). In the afternoon visit the Provincial Museum.

Day 2   Travel by coach to the Liujiaxia Hydropower Station in Yongjing Country, Linxia Prefecture, known as “China’s Small Mecca”, and then enjoy a 1-hour boat ride into the Binglingsi grottoes at the end of the reservoir. Lunch at Linxia before continuing to Xiahe (280km) where you will enjoy the beautiful view of sunset on the Sanker Grassland and bonfire party. Spend one night at the Tibetan style Labrang Hotel. On the way to Xiahe, you will pass Moslem area to visit Moslem markets and Mosques passing through terraced fields and Tibetan villages.

Day 3   Visit Labrang Lamasery, one of the six main lamaseries of the Yellow Sect of Buddhism and the largest Lamaism institute in the world with a large collection of scriptures volumes. The site of Labrang Lamasery is named Xiahe which is often referred to as “Little-Tibet”. Afternoon, travel back to Lanzhou where you will spend one night at legend Hotel.

Day 4   Visit the provincial museum in the morning and then take a cablecar to the top of Baita Mountain to have a bird’s eye view of Lanzhou. Afternoon, depart Lanzhou by air or extend your trip to Xi’an.

Golden Route Tour (5days/4nights)

Lanzhou-Jiayuguan-Dunhuang-Lanzhouz(or Turpan and Urumqi)

Day 1    Arrive in Lanzhou. Accommodated at legend Hotel (4stars).

Day 2   Leave for Jiayuguan by air. Spend one night at Jiayuguan Hotel (3stars). Visit Jiayuguan Pass, the western end of the Great Wall and ancient tombs of brick paintings dating back 265-420 AD.

Day 3   Travel by coach to Dunhuang (385km) where you will spend two nights at Dunhuang Hotel (3 stars). On the way, visit the newly-opended Yulin Grottoes.

Day 4   At Dunhuang, visit the famous Mogao Grottoes, Crescent Moon Spring and Mingsha Sand Dune.

Day5   Return to Lanzhou by air or travel by train for further visits to Turpan and Urumqi.

Hexi Corridor Tour (7days/6nights)


Day 1     Arrive in Dunhuang. Accommodated at Dunhuang Hotel (3 stars).

Day 2    Morning visit to the famous Mogao Grottoes and afternoon visit to the Crescent Moon Spring and Mingsha Sand Dune, a wonder of the desert.

Day 3    Travel by coach to Jiayuguan (385km) where you will spend one night at Jiayuguan Hotel (3 stars). Visit Jiayuguan Pass and ancient tombs of brick paintings.

Day 4

Day 5 Travel by coach to Wuwei (235km). Visit Leitai Tomb of Han Dynasty in which many ancient objects were excavated including the famous bronze galloping horse and a group of carriages and horses. Stay overnight at Tianma Hotel (3 stars).

Day 6    Travel by coach to Lanzhou (260km) where you will spend one night at Legend Hotel (4 stars).

Day 7    A tour of the riverside avenue to enjoy the majestic view of the Yellow River. Visit the Provincial Museum or Five-Spring Park.
Depart Lanzhou for Xi’an by air or extend your trip southward to Linxia and Xiahe, known as Little Tibet, to learn about the local Tibetan and Muslim culture.

Tourist Centers & Scenic Spots


Tianshui (the Place Where Celestial Water Pours Onto the Earth) was the first stop of the Tang Dynasty(618-907) monk Xuanzang on his journey from the capital city of Chang’an to Western Region. It is an origination point of the Chinese nation and has many sites of historical interest. Those who stay one day in Tianshui can visit the Maijishan Grottoes and the Xianren Cliff. It takes eight hours to go by troin fronl Tianshui to Lanzhou. Before turning to the western and central routes at Lanzhou, tourists can spend a day visiting the Binglingsi Grottoes 80km from Lanzhou. It is one of the three largest grotto sites in Gansu, besides Maijishan and Mogao.


Capital of Gansu Province in northwestern China, Lanzhou sits on the juncture of the three tourist routes – eastern, western and central sections of the ancient Silk Road. Along the routes, tourists can see for themselves traces of primitive Chinese history, folk culture and natural scenery ranging from the temperate to sub-tropical zones. Rich tourism resources have made Gansu an important destination on the ancient Silk Road.
There are some interesting programs in Lanzhou, such as thrilling rafting along the Yellow River, ferrying across the river on sheep-skin rafts and visiting the water wheels. Tourist spots include the Wuquonshon, Baitashan, Lanshan and Water Wheel parks. There are eight flights a week from Lanzhou to Xi’an and one to Beijing every day.


150km from Lanzhou, the city sits between the Qilian and Qinling mountains and is a must see on the Silk Road. It once served as a strategic frontier town in ancient times. The city has a rich religious tradition and accommodates Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity. Islam is the most popular of all. For a stay of a few hours at Linxia, tourists can visit the noted Grand Mosque, Butterfly Tower and Red Garden, and walk across the Centrol Squore for some souvenirs.


About 130km further southward along the route, tourists can see Tibetan herdsmen and lamas in red kasaya. Known as Little Tibet, Xiahe City is famous for Labrang Lamsery of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Tourists usually spend half a day in the Lamasery and the rest of the day relaxing on the nearby Gesanghua and Sangker grasslands. In autumn and summer the grasslands are beautiful with herds of sheep and cattle in between lush grass and flowers and blue sky. Tourists can stay at the Labrang Hotel, composed of Tibetan, regular and yurt-style guestrooms installed with bed-room and bathroom facilities of a 3-star hotel. The average tourist usually stays a day or two in the city before they return to Lanzhou and continue westward. Xiahe, 2,900 meters above sea level, is on ideal destination for sightseers to enjoy its splendid temple, the colorful folk customs and lifestyles of ethnic people. ¡¡Labrang Lamasery
Located in Xiahe City of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southern Gansu Province, it is one of the six great lamaseries (the Yellow Sect) in China. It occupies an area of 70 hectares or more and has about 1O,000 rooms, which are enough to accommodate more than 3,OOO lamas. Big, tall ond elaborately decorated, the highly artistic monastery once functioned not only as a center of religious belief and authority but also China’s biggest seat of Lamaist learning next to Potala Palace in Lhasa.

Maijishan Grottoes

The Maijishan Grottoes lies to the southeast of Tianshyui City on a hill named Maijishan. The hill, which literally means “Wheat-pile Hill” is 142m high. It looks like a stack of wheat. Work on the grotto started in the late 4th century and continued through successive dynasties until 19th century. There are 194 existing caves, in which are preserved more than 7,000 sculptures made of terra cotta and over 1,000 square meters of murals. Most of them are carved on the sheer precipice overhanging some 20 to 80 meters above the earth. The statues are all lively shaped with rich flavor of life.

BingLingsi Grottoes

Situated in Yongjing County within half a day’s distance from Lanzhou by car, the Bingling Monastery has one of China’s best grotto clusters. The grottoes are next only to those in Dunhuong and the Maijishan hill in magnitude and the value of their historical relics. Among the survivals are 183 grotto niches displaying 694 stone and 82 clay sculptures, in addition to more than 900sqm of murals and other historical relics. The age-old tone-carving art is considered a gem of history and culture in China.

Hexi Corridor

The Hexi Corridor starts at Mount Wuqiao in the east and ends at the basis of Dunhuang in the west. To the south of it are the rolling Qilian Mountains, which demarcate Qinghai and Gansu provinces. To its north are Heli and Longshou mountains. Beyond them is a desert. The strip of land flanked by the southern and northern mountain ranges is like a corridor. It is to the west of the Yellow River, hence the name Hexi (West-of-the-River) Corridor. To Westerners, however, it is known as the Gansu Corridor.
There is usually only one route that one can take in the corridor, from Wuwei, to Zhangye, to Jiuquan and then to Dunhuang. They form the Western Silk Route in Gansu.


Wuwei, the eastern gate of the Hexi Corridor, is 280km from lanzhou. It is the first oasis city in the corridor and has a long history. Sites of interest include the Wen Temple, Kumarajiva Pagoda and the Desert Park. Here you can see the most famous Galloping Horse Overtaking Flying Swallow, a bronze sculpture, which is used now as the emblem of Chinese tourism industry, and Leitai(Thunder Terrain), a Han tomb. You can also see the completely well preserved and unmatched Western Xia Monument dated back 21st-16th century BC and the delicated and unique Tang Dynasty big bell.


After driving six hours from Wuwei in the desert, you will se another ancient town – Zhangye Prefecture. In the Sui dynasty(581-618), it was the largest international trade center in China. The prefecture is noted for its many cultural relics. Among the famous historical sites are the biggest indoor clay sleeping Buddha of China, the remains of the Black River kingdom, Han tombs, Wooden Pagoda, and Ganquan Spring. Shandan Horse Farm, where the imperial horses were raised 2,000 years ago, is ranked as the largest horse farm in Asia; it is also a popular site for film-making.
As it is a Yugur nationality region, delicious milk tea and beautiful folk songs lure you to the tents where cheese, butter and mutton eaten with the hands, all entice you to have a taste. Traditional arrow-shooting, horse-racing, hunting, and wedding ceremonies demonstrate the particular national features.


The origin of the city’s name is steeped in legend. A general named Huo Qubing of the Han Dynasty(206BC-220AD) launched a successful expedition against the Huns in the Hexi Corridor. Emperor Wu commended him by presenting him with imperial wine. Huo poured the wine into a spring to share it with his troops. The spring was then known as the Wine Spring (Jiuquan) and the place was nomed after it. Today at the site of the spring is a park. There is generally only a half-a-day stay in Jiuquan. But before leaving the city, one should not forget to buy a set of luminous wine cups, which are made of jade stones from the Qilian Mountains. 20km west of Jiuquan is a newly born industrial city – Jiayuguan.

Jiayuguan Pass

It is the western terminus of the Great Wall, built more than 600 years ago. Its majestic and solid construction is so full of power and grandeur that it has been praised as “Mighty Pass No.1 Under Heaven”. Unlike the Shanhaiguan Pass or the Jurongguan Pass on the Gret Wall, it nestles against the Qilion Mountains and the Gobi Desert and is therefore imposing in its own way. It was a strategic point at the western section of the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and is the best preserved pass along the entire length of the wall. It is a magnificent costle, composed of an inner and an outer section, on enclosed gateway, a gate tower, watch towers and parapets.

The Qiyi Glacier

The Qiyi Glacier, 116km from Jiayuguan, is the world’S closest to a city. It is 30.5km long, with an area of four square kilometers suitable for sightseeing. The average slope is less than 45 degrees, easy to climb. One can take a bus from Jiuyuguan to the glacier camp and then walk five kilometers to the site.


Dunhuang is the last stop of the Silk Rood in Gansu and is the gateway to Xinjiang and the area beyond. Though it is much more arduous to go by land instead of by air to Dunhuang, it is a very special and an unforgettable experience. The highway is 380km long. A city ruin along the way is worth seeing. Along the highway you may also see mirages, which led many ancient merchant caravans astray into the “desert of death.”
In the past ancient caravans from central China to the Western Region stopped at Dunhuang to replenish before they went into the Taklimakan Desert. The caravans coming out of the desert from the other end also stopped there before they continued eastward into central China.

The Mogao Grottoes

The Mogao Grottoes, commonly named Thousand-Buddha Caves, and praised as “a glittering pearl that adorns the Silk Road,” are the most famous grottoes in China. Located 25km southeast of Dunhuang County, these caves are carved out of the sand stone cliffs of Mingsha Mountain, extending some l,600nl from south to north. Constructed in 10 dynasties from the fourth to the 14th century, its 45,OOO square meters of mural paintings and more than 2,OOO color statues are regarded as the greotest treasure-house of Buddhist art existing in the world.
They were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in December 1987.

Mingsha (Sighing) Sand Dune

Dunhuong has a spectacular natural scene: Mingsha (Sighing) Sand Dune. The dune, a sandcrusted hill about dozens of meters high, is 40km east to west, and 20km south to north. When people slide from the hill, they hear the sighing of the sand. Hence the name.

Crescent-Moon Spring

The spring lies at the foot of the Mingsha Sand Dune and is named for its shape. It is about 1OOm long and 25m wide, and has fish and water weeds that are said to be good for the health. The area is often hit by windstorm, which drives up sand to shut out sun-light. Interestingly enough, however, for hundreds of years people have never seen the spring filled up with or covered by sand.

Yumen (Jade Gate) Pass

Situated 75km northwest of Dunhuang, the Jade Gate Pass was a strategic pass on the ancient Silk Road. It was so named because the jade of Hotan in what is now Xinjiang region was transported to central China through this pass. In his poem Go North of Great Wall, the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Zhihuan had the famous line, “Beyong the Yumen Pass the breath of Spring has never crossed.” The mention of Yumen in the poem has made the pass all the more famous.

Tourist Festivals in Gansu

Molem Festival

From January 4 to 17 in the first lunar month, during which “Free Captive Animals” falls on 8th, “Sunning Huge Portrait of Buddha”, the climax of the festival, falls on 13th, “Masked Cham Dances” performed by monk students on 14th, “Display of Yatbutter Sculptures” on 15th, and “Maitreya Statue Parade” on 16th. Buddhist scripture debating and praying activities are also held during the festival.

Buddhist Festival

From June 29 to July 15 of the lunar calendar, during which the religious sutra-debating falls on June 27-28 and monk student’s dance for Living Buddha Milariba’s story-telling on July 8.

Shanglang Festival

This grand Tibetan festival (going for an outing) is held from July to August lasting one month on Sangker Prairie. During the festival, many Tibetans put up tents on the hillside or on the grassland to experience the old days of nomadic life, and traditional Tibetan performances will be staged.

Fuxi Cultural Festival

At Fuxi Temple, Tianshui in May of the lunar calendar. Activities include Fuxi memorial ceremony, Fuxi cultural exchange and trade fair.

Matisi Tourist Festival

In mid-August every year at the Matisi Tourist Zone, Zhangye. Activities include folk song and dance performance of Yugur, Mongolian and Tibetan nationalities, sports games, horsemanship show and trade fair.

Summer in Dunhuang

From June to October every year, at Dunhuang Hotel. Flexible performances are available on request, including song and dance show of traditionally cultural characteristics.

Gliding Festival

In mid August at Jiayuguan Airport. Activities include gliding and ballooning performance above Jiayuguan Pass, the western end of the Great Wall.

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