The city of Lanzhou is nestled between mountains to the south and the Yellow River to the north. It was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road and is now the capital of the province of Gansu. Lanzhou runs along the banks of the Yellow River for 20 km. Although it has had contact with other nationalities for over a thousand years it retains much of old China. MacDonalds and Starbucks are nowhere to be seen! Instead, it is filled with small restaurants selling the famous Lanzhou beef noodles, these are freshly-made, hand-pulled noodles served in a flavorsome beef soup (the locals add a teaspoonful of ground chillies to complete the meal!) Although the old legend of Marco Polo taking the recipe for fresh pasta from China is a myth, the similarities of cuisine of some of the Italian and Persian food is remarkable!

The population of Lanzhou is over 3 million including significant numbers of people from the Hui, Tibetan and Mongolian ethnic groups. There are about one thousand foreigners in the city. In 1949 the population was only 200,000 so the majority of the present population have moved in over the last 60 years. This means that the language generally spoken on the street is standard Mandarin rather than the local dialect, making it a good location to learn Chinese.

Several big department stores carry a range of Western food including cheese, spaghetti, olive oil, breakfast cereals, cookies, etc. Gansu province has begun to grow olives and there is now a chain of shops in the city selling local olive oil.


There are several green parks and temples around the city. The interactive Waterwheel Park has interesting examples of ancient irrigation methods which you can have a go at operating. The White Pagoda Park has a series of temples built up the hill and is topped with an interesting pagoda. The river banks have also been turned into a lovely place for a refreshing stroll. Lanzhou is 1600 metres above sea level and Gaolan mountain beside it reaches 2000 metres above sea level. A chair-lift departing from the main entrance to Five Springs Park will take you to the top if you do not feel fit enough to hike it!

Another interesting thing to do is to visit the Gansu Provincial Museum. Though to get the most out of it you will need an English speaking guide. It is closed Mondays, but entrance is free. Just remember to take your passport as they make a record of visitors.

About five hours drive south of the city there is a big Tibetan temple of the Yellow Hat sect. Near to it are beautiful grasslands with nomadic Tibetans and their herds of yaks. This is a good place to visit in the summer when the grasslands are covered with wild flowers and the tea-house tents are serving Tibetan specialities. Horse-riding and sipping tea in the colourful tents are enjoyable ways to pass the time on a weekend break from city life. For those interested in archaeology, two hours drive away in Hezheng county is a museum with ancient fossil exhibits from the cradle of ancient Chinese civilization, the Yellow River Basin.

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