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China Daily - - TRAVEL - Xulin@chi­nadaily.com.cn PHO­TOS BY XU LIN / CHINA DAILY AND SHEN JIE / FOR CHINA DAILY

f you want sam­ple de­li­cious food, an ex­otic cul­ture and en­joy pic­turesque scenery in a less-crowded des­ti­na­tion, the Xun­hua Salar au­ton­o­mous county is the place to visit.

In­hab­ited by a China’s Salar eth­nic group, the county is about two hours’ drive from Xin­ing, the cap­i­tal of Qing­hai prov­ince.

Your ex­pe­ri­ence starts with Babao Tea, which means Eight-Trea­sure Tea in Chi­nese, from a cov­ered teacup. The eight trea­sures in­clude Chi­nese wolf­ber­ries, raisins, red dates and green tea. Use less crys­tal rock sugar if you don’t like your tea too sweet.

There are also a range of ap­pe­tiz­ers on of­fer — from nuts and pre­served fruits to fried snacks.

The lo­cals, how­ever, pre­fer steamed buns with minced car­rot and mut­ton stuff­ing and deep-fried dough cake dipped in sugar. Red dates are also bat­tered and deep­fried in mut­ton fat and dumplings are stuffed with pre­served fruits.

If you want some­thing dif­fer­ent, you can also dip boiled mut­ton into a plate of lo­cal chili pow­der.

The county’s red chill­ies are fra­grant, but not very spicy.

An­other pop­u­lar main dish is hot­pot, with beef, mut­ton, veg­eta­bles and noo­dles in a soup.

Af­ter a hearty meal, you can stroll along the street to buy yo­gurt made from yak’s milk.

China’s mo­bile pay­ment fa­vorites like WeChat and Ali­pay work well here.

Lo­cal cus­toms

Later, you can go hik­ing to the Mengda Tianchi Lake, which is at an al­ti­tude of 2,504 me­ters.

You may have an aching back the next day af­ter spend­ing half an hour rid­ing a mule along the path to the moun­tain top. But the beau­ti­ful scenery — blue skies and heavy clouds mir­rored in the lake sur­rounded by hills — is worth it.

The lake is about 350 me­ters long and 400 me­ters wide, with a depth of 25 me­ters.

You can also visit the for­mer res­i­dence of the 10th Panchen Er­deni Mengda Tianchi Lake; deep-fried red dates; dumplings stuffed with pre­served fruits; Camel Spring next to Jiezi Mosque; steamed buns with minced car­rot and mut­ton stuff­ing; Eight-Trea­sure Tea. Chos­gyi Gyantsen in Xun­hua, which is well-pre­served.

In the yard is a poplar more than 500 years old, while in the room where the Panchen Lama was born is a pil­lar cov­ered by col­or­ful khatag.

It is also a good place to learn about the lo­cal cus­toms. For ex­am­ple, the bot­tom of a brick bed and the kitchen range are con­nected, so they could be heated at the same time by fire in win­ter.

In the early 13th cen­tury, the Salar peo­ple left Turk­menistan, trekking through dif­fi­cult ter­rain and set­tled in Xun­hua.

When they came they brought with them an 867-page Qu­ran man­u­script, which is one of the old­est copies of the Mus­lim holy book in the world. It’s now pre­served in the Jiezi Mosque.

Ex­perts be­lieve that the man­u­script is from be­tween the 8th and 13th cen­tury.

Leg­end has it that the peo­ple to­gether with a white camel were lost for a while and when they found that the camel had turned into stone next to a spring they de­cided to stay there. The spring is lo­cated next to Jiezi Mosque.

Unique cul­tures

In 2010, the last cen­sus by the State Coun­cil and the Na­tional Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics, showed that the Salar pop­u­la­tion was about 130,000.

In China, 28 eth­nic groups with pop­u­la­tions of less than 300,000 are de­fined as “eth­nic groups with less pop­u­la­tion”. And the Salar is one of them.

In 2016, the State Coun­cil mapped out a plan to boost the de­vel­op­ment of the 28 eth­nic groups through tourism in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

The plan aims to re­duce poverty via tourism, with em­pha­sis on de­vel­op­ing des­ti­na­tions with unique cul­tures.

Ma Cheng­wen, a Salar, who is the head of the tourism bu­reau in Haidong city, which also cov­ers Xun­hua, says: “We are work­ing with travel agen­cies within Qing­hai prov­ince. As of now, tourists from Qing­hai prov­ince and out­side are 50-50. But we ex­pect more tourists from out­side due to the high­way net­work,”

“Xun­hua county is a per­fect des­ti­na­tion for those who want to know about the Salar eth­nic group. You must try our de­li­cious cui­sine and see our tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture,” he says.

Ac­cord­ing to him, Xun­hua plans to build a mu­seum for its in­tan­gi­ble her­itage such as wed­ding ceremonies and cos­tumes.

Also, since 2005, the county has been hold­ing an an­nual chal­lenge for swim­mers from home and abroad to cross the Yel­low River.

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