The city of Zhongwei is located in the most westerly part of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (aka Ningxia), in that triangular-shaped stretch of land where Ningxia meets Gansu Province to the south and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (aka Inner Mongolia) to the north. The Liupan Mountains, which straddle Ningxia and Gansu Province, lie some 50 kilometers roughly due south of Zhongwei. Inner Mongolia's Tengger Desert and Helan Mountains lie just across the border to the north. Zhongwei is one of the major transportation hubs in the Northwest. Its interweaved highway and railway network link Zhongwei to the rest of China, helping to keep the avenues of commerce as well as the communication links between this corner of Ningxia and the rest of the country running smoothly.
The Yellow River, which was a major transportation route for this part of the country during ancient times, runs through the area of Zhongwei where the city borders Inner Mongolia. The agricultural significance of the river for the entire region cannot be overemphasized. It is thanks to the Yellow River that the area can produce one of the staples of Chinese agriculture, rice. Parts of the land formerly lost to the Tengger Desert have been reclaimed, thanks to extensive sand control, and now produce rice. In addition to rice, the area around Zhongwei also produces, among other crops: the Chinese wolfberry; the golden thread jujube (Ziziphus jujuba, aka Chinese date); the sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), a tangy-tasting edible berry – also used also for medicinal purposes – that is harvested from a hardy bush which thrives in sandy soil (it plays an important role in arresting the spread of the Tengger Desert); the scented pear, which is not only delicious but is reputed to work wonders for relieving a cough; and the exquisite Jinsi date.
Another important agricultural contribution to the economy of the region is the rearing of goats. Zhongwei goats provide not only food, they also provide cashmere wool. Moreover, Zhongwei goats subsist on plants that thrive in arid climates such as the climate in the Zhongwei area.
Attractions in Zhongwei
Some of the major attractions in the area of Zhongwei include things to do as well as places to see. The former include camel safaris in the Tengger Desert, where one can experience the haunting "siren song" of the sand dunes, i.e., the eerie noises produced by the shifting of sand dunes. One can also take a boat ride down the Yellow River on a raft made of animal hide.
Zhongwei's most prominent place to visit is the "multidenominational" Gao Miao temple that hosts religious ceremonies for Buddhists, for Confucians, and for Taoists. During the Cultural Revolution, a bomb shelter was constructed beneath the temple, which has now been converted into a Buddhist vision of Hades (hell). Another place to visit is Dragon King Palace Lake, a highly-welcomed cool oasis in a sea of sand. Note that many place names here include the word dragon. This is because, according to legend, a Taoist priest once killed a dragon here that was threatening the villagers. In addition, there is Sikou Scenic Area with highlights such as Yellow Dragon Bridge and Sikou Grand Canyon, the latter of which offers some breathtakingly beautiful vistas. The famous petroglyphs (rock carvings) of Mount Helan are only 50 kilometers to the north, in neighboring Inner Mongolia.
Zhongwei also offers some unusual culinary experiences such as sour-hot soup; Shahu fish head, various tofu dishes; and Mihuangzi, a crispy-crunchy pancake (perhaps more akin to a waffle) that is made of rice flour. In summer the specialties include steamed dovefish and stewed camel's paw [pickled pig's feet not being available since this is a Muslim community