A Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Lanzhou

Lanzhou

Lanzhou is the capital of Gansu province and about 3.5 million people call it home.  It was a major stopping point on the Silk Road and is one of the main crossing points of the Yellow River.

Lanzhou is also a pretty heavily polluted city and is a major industrial engine of western China. Petrochemical processing plants, textile mills, rubber processing, oil refineries, and metallurgical plants dominate Lanzhou’s economy.  If you have any breathing problems, the smog and the high altitude will probably give you some problems.  Keep your visit to Lanzhou short.

What to see:

From Lanzhou, you can get to a number of important sites in China’s Buddhist history, like the Bingling Thousand Buddha Caves, the Maijishan Grottoes, and the Labrang Monastery.  Also just a short flight away are the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang (which is about 1,000 km to the northwest).

Angry Majishan Buddhist Statue

Do not anger the Buddhist’s of Majishan (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I’d recommend making Lanzhou a stopping point for excursions to nearby Buddhist landmarks.  Other than the previously mentioned Bingling caves, Maijishan Grottoes, and Labrang Monastery, there’s not much else to keep you here.  There aren’t that many historical sites, nor is the city itself that great.  After you’ve hit the nearby Buddhist landmarks, continue on unless you’re really digging Lanzhou’s industrial vibe.  You’ve got much cooler sights to see further on the Silk Road.

Getting In/Out of town:

Lanzhou is on a major rail line from Xi’an, and also connected to cities by bus and plane.  As a city of nearly 3 million people, options for connecting to other steps on your Silk Road journey are pretty varied.

Next up:

If you’re heading east: the great imperial Xi’an

If you’re heading west: Dunhuang and the ancient Buddhist Mogao Caves

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Lanzhou Travel Guide

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Gansu Provincial Museum: 36.066314, 103.774620
Maijishan Grottoes: 34.348680, 106.009827
Bingling Thousand Buddha Caves: 35.826971, 103.020127
Labrang Monastery: 35.193337, 102.506433
Mogao Caves: 40.041476, 94.809133
Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport: 36.506049, 103.616867
Lanzhou Railway Station: 36.035921, 103.851581
Zhongshan Bridge: 36.062595, 103.817293
Waterwheel Garden: 36.062899, 103.845425
Sculpture of the Mother River: 36.066414, 103.798588
Lanzhou Huar Youth Hostel: 36.049684, 103.877737
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Gansu Provincial Museum
Gansu Provincial Museum

This museum covers both natural history of the region and historic exhibits. It houses collections of various color-painted potteries of Neolithic Age and treasures of ancient grottoes. In addition, the museum is home to precious linen and silk fabrics, books, wooden and bronze vessels, a great many bamboo slips for writing from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), frescos and many other artifacts.

There is a 4-meter-tall Mammoth fossil replica is stored in the museum whose remains were excavated from the Yellow River basin in 1973. Aside from the prehistoric presentations, there are also rare animal exhibits, such as pandas, golden monkeys and red -crowned cranes. The world-famous bronze Galloping Horse's Hoof Treading on a Flying Swallow, also known more simply as the Galloping Horse, is a treasure of Gansu Provincial Museum. Excavated in 1969 in Wuwei County, Gansu Province, the piece depicts a vigorous horse with long tail waving and head perking. Its three hooves are in the air, galloping like lightening. What makes this sculpture amazing is the right back hoof of this galloping horse lands on the back of a small flying bird. The whole statue is honored as a mysterious and rare treasure in the history of Chinese ancient sculpture art. You need to show a passport or Chinese id card at the street gate to get a free ticket to enter at the front door.

You can find it on TripAdvisor here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g297409-d500605-Reviews-Gansu_Provincial_Museum-Lanzhou_Gansu.html
中国甘肃省兰州七里河区西津东路甘肃省博物馆
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Maijishan Grottoes
Maijishan Grottoes

The Maijishan Grottoes are a series of 194 caves cut in the side of the hill of Majishan in Tianshui, Gansu Province, northwest China. This example of rock cut architecture contains over 7,200 Buddhist sculptures and over 1,000 square meters of murals. Construction began in the Later Qin era (384-417 CE).  Each cave (there are 50 on the west face of hte cliff, while the remainder are on the eastern face), is of a similar design, containing statues of the seated Buddha surrounded by attendants, monks, and bodhisattvas. 
中国甘肃省天水麦积区甘肃省天水市麦积区政协
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Bingling Thousand Buddha Caves
Bingling Thousand Buddha Caves

The Bingling Temple, also known as the Bingling Grottoes, or the Bingling Thousand Buddha Caves, are a series of caves some 100km southeast of Lanzhou that are filled with statues, sculptures, frescoes, and other artworks dedicated to the Buddha.  In all, there are 183 caves,694 stone statues, and 82 clay sculptures that remain.  The caves were first begun in 420 AD, and work continued on them for more than 1,000 years of successive Chinese dynasties.

The site is extremely remote and can only be reached during summer and fall by boat via the Liujiaxia Reservoir. Boats leave from near the Liujiaxia Dam in Liujiaxia City (Yongjing County's county seat), and sometimes also from other docks on the reservoir.

You can view the caves on TripAdvisor here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1793660-d2088632-r208441288-Dunhuang_East_Thousand_Buddha_Caves-Guazhou_County_Gansu.html
Binglingsi-Grotten, Linxia, Gansu, China
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Labrang Monastery
Labrang Monastery

Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located in Xiahe County in Gansu province, in the traditional Tibetan area of Amdo. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside of Tibet Autonomous Region.  It is about four hours southwest of Lanzhou.  The monastery was founded in 1709 by the first Jamyang Zhaypa, Ngawang Tsondru. It is Tibetan Buddhism's most important monastery town outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

You can find Labrang Monastery on TripAdvisor here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g528733-d324050-Reviews-Labrang_Monastery_Labuleng_Si-Xiahe_County_Gansu.html
Labrang, Renmin East Street, Gannan, Gansu, China
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Mogao Caves
Mogao Caves

The Mogao Caves are also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas and form a system of 492 temples 25 km southeast of the center of Dunhuang.  The caves are near an oasis that was strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China.  The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.

While the Mogao Caves are about 1,000 km northwest of Lanzhou and not technically anywhere near the city, there are several daily non-stop flights between Lanzhou and Dunhuang.  They are well worth the detour.

They were recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage list and represent a fascinating and important part of China's Buddhist history.
中国甘肃省敦煌市莫高窟
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Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport
Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport

Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport serves Lanzhou and is the primary airport in Gansu province. It is located 67 kilometres (42 mi) north of downtown Lanzhou.  It is a major hub for Hainan Airlines.
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Lanzhou Railway Station
Lanzhou Railway Station

Lanzhou station is served by Longhai Railway, Lan-Xin Railway and Baotou-Lanzhou Railway as a major provincial first class station. The average daily handling capacity is for passenger trains is about 100 trains, including various types of originating and through passenger trains.

Destinations from this station include: Beijing, Chengdu, Golmud, Guangzhou, Lhasa, Urumqi, Xi'an, Xining.
Lanzhou Railway Station, Huochezhan East Road, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
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Zhongshan Bridge
Zhongshan Bridge

The Zhongshan Bridge was the first permanent bridge over the Yellow River. The bridge located in Lanzhou, Gansu. Construction of the bridge began in 1907 and the bridge was completed in 1909.  Before the Zhongshan Bridge, the only bridges across the Yellow river near that point were flotillas of barges that were chained together.
中山桥, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
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Waterwheel Garden
Waterwheel Garden

The Waterwheel Garden was constructed in 1994 and covers an area of of about 3.5 acre. The park contains two waterwheels, a cofferdam, the recreation area and a water mill.
Waterwheel Expo Garden, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
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Sculpture of the Mother River
Sculptures of the Mother River

The Sculpture of the Mother River measures 6 meters long, 2.2 meters wide, 2.6 meters tall and weighs over 40 tons. It is a granite-structured full relief that’s composed of a mother and a baby boy. The pedestal of the sculpture is carved with patterns of ripples and fishes, which derive from the ancient painted pottery patterns of Gansu, fully reflecting the long history of Gansu Province.  It was designed by He E and sculptured by artists from the Beijing Sculpture Factory in 1986.
中国甘肃省兰州七里河区黄河母亲像
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Lanzhou Huar Youth Hostel
Lanzhou Huar Youth Hostel

Huar's Features a LOFT Hostel with Modern Theater and Library.  They are situated in Lanzhou Creative Industry Park.  Dorms run about $7 USD per night.  You can book with them here.
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