China Daily (Hong Kong)

Tourists find new worlds among sands of Shapotou


In the spring of AD 737, on his way to a border town where garrisons were stationed, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) poet-official Wang Wei and his entourage stopped off at what is now Shapotou, 16 kilometers west of Zhongwei county in the northweste­rn Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

Struck by the raw beauty of the desert and the Yellow River, the weary poet composed a work that would become a timeless classic.

Perhaps one of the most memorable lines is this: “In the vast desert rises straight, lonely smoke, the grand, long river reflects the round setting sun”.

After centuries of exposure to natural elements and human activities, the oncebarren and bleak Shapotou has evolved into a must-see destinatio­n for tourists to the wild west of China.

Since 1984, a Shapotou sand-themed park has been in the making.

It covers an area of more than 200 hectares.

Nestled in the junction where Yellow River meets the Tangeer Desert, it is reputed to be one of the most beautiful scenic spots in China.

Shapotou has rich natural wonders, such as the contrast between the leafy, shady 6-km-long banks of the Yellow River and the harsh desert just beyond. And here can be found the singing sand dunes.

When Marco Polo first encountere­d China’s singing sand dunes, he attributed the noise to evil spirits living underneath the sand, which “at times fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instrument­s, and also of drums and the clash of arms”.

Seven centuries later, the sand fields at Shapotou, one of four such slide fields in China, are still an object of fascinatio­n.

Additional­ly, the Shapotou Desert Research Institute has been based here for more than 50 years, working on ways to conquer the sands.

Traveling either by bus or train between Zhongwei and Shapotou, tourists will see the fruits of their labor in the form of checkerboa­rd grids of straw thatch inserted into the ground to hold the sand in place and provide irrigation.

Shapotou has plenty of fun activities to offer during the daytime, including camel rides, sand skiing and driving, sand sculpting, sheepskin-raft ferry rides, a cableway slide along the Yellow River, a visit to ruins of the Great Wall, Qing Dynasty (16441911) ceramic kilns, Neolithic rock carvings, and a desert botanical garden that is home to 422 wild plants and the habitat of more than 150 wild animals.

The sheepskin raft is arguably one of the most unpretenti­ous vehicles.

A trip on one takes great courage, but that does not mean it is dangerous.

An experience­d skipper ensures travelers are safe onboard while they feel the excitement and enjoy the scenery.

Thrill seekers can try the aerial cableway as well. The cable is 820 meters long, about 59 meters high above the water, and the blade moves at an average speed of about 26 meters per second.

The cable slide here is unique because it depends entirely on gravity to set it in motion. Most tourists come on a day trip, but they may easily spend an enjoyable night or two at nearby hotels. They may also spend an evening in a Mongolians­tyle camp or sit by a bonfire enjoying an ethnic-style performanc­e or even take part in a dance. Shapotou is an ideal choice for people looking for an escape during the National Day holidays.

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