As we continued driving west, it became noticeably more hilly, the altitude had increased to 1500m. At Hongsibao 紅寺堡, Ningxia Hui (Chinese Muslim) Autonomous Region, we got on the Jingzang Highway 京藏高速 that runs from Beijing to Tibet. It took only a few hours to travel cross Ningxia and soon we found ourselves in Gansu province where the terrain became drastically different – the loess country disappeared and shrubs of the Maowusu Sands (毛烏蘇沙地) that stretches into Inner Mongolia came into view; remains of the Wall still appeared from time to time at a distance. We turned southwest toward Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu, and crossed the Yellow River again at Pingchuan 平川 where orderly rice fields flanked the north-flowing current, alongside goji berry plantations.
Left: the rice fields lining the bank of the Yellow River. Right: sandstone cliffs in Gansu.
Our pitstop for day three was Xining 西寧, the capital city of Qinghai province. At 2200m above sea level, Xining is a major commercial hub in western China. Perhaps due to its altitude, the air was still clean and crisp when we arrived at six in the evening. I was keen to try the local Hui cuisine and thanks to my fellow travelers who were familiar with the culinary scene in Xining, I was taken to a Hui eatery widely acclaimed by the locals. Although not a big meat-eater and a fan of spicy food, I was impressed by the various mutton specialties that they offered (see picture below; note that it is common to find complimentary raw garlic in restaurants in western China where meat dishes are especially popular since it is an effective antiseptic). The ‘mutton sausage’ (bottom right dish in picture below) was particularly tasty, it is made by emptying and refilling intestines with mutton and then frying them with spices. After dinner, we felt ready for the next leg of our journey – to traverse the Tibetan Plateau.