The name Yinchuan translates to Silver River. The city itself is bisected by the Yellow River and backed by the stunning Helan Mountains, which separate it from the Gobi Desert. It’s a diverse city, where ethnic groups including the Han, the Hui and the Mongolians all maintain traditional customs.
For a brilliant introduction to the history and anthropology of the diverse Ningxia region – of which Yinchuan is the capital – head to the Ningxia Museum. Its exhibits cover everything Ningxia-related, from the Silk Road to Chairman Mao. There are also several notable pagodas in the area, including the Haibao Pagoda in the northern part of the city and Chengtiansi in the west. The Western Xia tombs are the city’s top sight, however: enormous, beehive-shaped tombs that date back a thousand years and offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.
If you’re an outdoorsy type, you’ll want to visit Sand Lake, about an hour’s drive north of the city. Its 80 square kilometres encompass both lakes and desert, and it’s a must for birdwatchers, who can spot 198 species here from the telescope-equipped Bird Watching Tower. It’s also a good day trip from the city for pretty much anyone in search of nature and fresh air.
For foodies, Yinchuan is one of the best places to sample Hui cuisine. The Hui are one of the ethnic minorities of China, and their food is famous for its variety and seasoning. Try salads made from wheat flour noodles, lamb cooked in what seems like a million different ways, and the famed wolfberry (known in the west as the goji berry), which is famous around the world for its purported health benefits.