LANZHOU HALF-DAY WALK
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Head to Xiguan Mosque (
Cross over Nán Bīnhé Lù (南滨河路), and you will be at the Journey to the West statues. Below you, the riverbank has become a popular place for morning exercises, flying kites, and walking the dog. In the summer, tables are spread out, with draft beer, tea, soft drinks and snacks on offer. A nice place to spend the evening, if you decide to come back.
Head east for 200m to get to the Yellow River Ropeway (黄河索道 Huánghé Suŏdào). Tickets are 20 yuan for a single, or 30 yuan return. You'll be walking back down, so just get the single. The cable car takes you over the river to the north bank, where you will pass over the Waterside Mosque and the 'Golden City Pass' Culture and Customs Quarter, a new development of antique and local craft shops (which is also home to the China Qinqiang Opera Museum).
When you get out of the cable car at the top, head left (west) and walk for 5 minutes to reach the Lanzhou Steles Forest (兰州碑林 Lánzhōu Bēilín). Entrance is free, if you bring ID. For some reason this is very important to the people at the gate, who were very reluctant to let us in last time we were there without ID.
Built in 1907-09 by a German engineering firm (with an American engineer on the team), quickly became Lanzhou's earliest photo spot for visitors.
The bridge was pedestrianised in 2004, making it a nice link between the riverside parks on the southbank and on the northbank. It can get quite busy with tourists, photographers (who will offer to take your photo and print it on-the-spot) and speedboat owners offering short boat trips (departing from under the bridge at the south end - expect to pay around 10-20 yuan for a 10 minute ride).
At night, the view over to the northbank is impressive if the display lights are switched on at the 兰州金城关文化风情区 Lánzhōu Jīnchéngguān Wénhuà Fēngqíng Qū).
Huáng Miào is an old temple complex of four courtyards, converted into a huge outdoor and indoor antiques centre (古玩, gŭwán). There are also shops for the sale of calligraphy equipment, tea sets and local craft specialities such as carved gourds and 'luminous' wine glasses. Weekends are especially busy.
There are a couple of very popular noodle restaurants on the plaza outside the gate, as well as a Uighur Muslim restaurant (map) where you can get 'proper' lamb kebabs, flat breads, noodles and pilao rice (抓饭, zhuāfàn, slow-fried rice, baked with carrots and lamb).
Continue west for a few minutes, on the north side of the mosque, cross under the flyover, and immediately turn right (north). As you walk north, with the flyover to your right, you will approach the Yellow River (黄河 Huáng Hé), and arrive at the White Cloud Temple ( ) on the south side of Nán Bīnhé Lù (南滨河路).
Note: If you are here in the winter, the cable cars are not always running. In which case, you'll have to get yourself up into the hills if you want to visit the Pagoda and the Steles Forest. Continue east to Zhongshan Bridge, walk to the north bank. Here you have two choices: (1) enter White Pagoda Hill Park from the bottom entrance, walk up to the pagoda, continue up to the Steles Forest, then back down to the road, following the path below the cable car route. Or (2) walk west along the north bank, to the Waterside Mosque and look out for the path to your right, through a gate, that takes you up towards the Steles Forest, just to the east of the cable car route. The beginning of this path is a pretty rough dirt track (take care), but soon becomes paved.
Steles are stone tablets carved with poetry and calligraphy (in a variety of styles), related to life in the northwest of China. If you can't read Chinese you probably won't get much out of it. That said, the gardens are pleasant, and it's an impressive building.
Next, it's onto White Pagoda Hill Park (白塔山公园 Báităshān Gōngyuán). First, head back to the cablecar, then take the path that climbs up from behind the ticket office (if you find yourself on a road heading downhill, you've missed the path). Walk up and over the hill, then the path will take you gradually along and downwards, through the tree-covered hillside, to the top gate of the White Pagoda.
You can explore the other paths that lead off to either side (usually taking you to little outdoor tea gardens), but be careful not to start walking down off the hillside before you get to the Pagoda. The good news, is that you don't need to buy a ticket at the top entrance (regular price is 6 yuan, from the Zhongshan Bridge entrance).
The pagoda was built as a memorial for a Tibetan monk, who died in Lanzhou on his way to visit Mongolia several hundreds of years ago. When the weather is clear (a summer evening is best) the views across the city are great.
There are several winding routes back down to the river below, with more tea stalls and a Taoist temple along the way. On the route down, you will probably come across fortune tellers and occasional beggars.
Back at street level, you should now be facing Zhōngshān Qiáo Bridge (中山桥), which you need to cross to get back to the city centre.
From the south end of the bridge, walk east along the riverside, cross over Nán Bīnhé Lù (南滨河路), then take the second right intohere are plenty of local restaurants along here for noodles or Xinjiang food.
As you walk along the alley, look ahead and you will spot a high-rise which the main alley skirts around to the right. Turn left off the alley at this point and you will arrive at the gate of the Town God's Temple (城隍庙 Chéng Huángmiào), know to the locals more simply as Huáng Miào. The writing over the entrance reads: "Number 1 Worker's Club" (第一工人俱乐部 Dìyī Gōngrén Jùlèbù).
One of the things I like doing at Huáng Miào is going up to the 3rd floor tea-house, where there are sometimes afternoon performances of the local Chinese opera . Look out for the flight of stairs on the west side of the second courtyard. Entrance is free, but you will be expected to order a drink. Sānpāotáichá tea (散泡台茶) is 5 RMB with constant refills. You will probably be approached by the organisers, or even the performers, and 'invited' to give a donation. 10 RMB is acceptable. Click on the play buttons to hear some recordings.
This half-day walk ends here. Walk south from Huang Miao gate, and you will be at Zhāngyē Lù Pedestrian Street (张掖路步行街 Zhāngyē Lù Bùxíngjié). Turn right (west) to get back to