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.
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.
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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