Gansu Province: the Dramatic Landscape in North Western China


Gansu is a landlocked province in Northwest China. Lanzhou, a well-known ancient city in China, is the capital of Gansu. It is the second largest city in northwest China, and also the political, economic and cultural center of the province.

The State of Qin originated in what is now southeastern Gansu and went on to form the first known Empire in what is now China. The Northern Silk Road ran through the Hexi Corridor, which passes through Gansu, resulting in it being an important strategic outpost and communications link for the Chinese empire.

The city of Jiayuguan, the second most populated city in Gansu, is known for its section of the Great Wall and the Jiayuguan Pass fortress complex.

According to a 2012 survey only around 12% of the population of Gansu belongs to organised religions, the largest groups being Buddhists with 8.2%, followed by Muslims with 3.4%.


With a long history and brilliant cultures, Gansu is abundantly endowed with cultural relics and natural scenery. Vast and graceful natural scenery like endless desert and pure glacial landscape presents an impressive and breath-taking picture before your eyes. Take for example the world-famous Mogao Caves. It is the largest and most well-preserved Buddhist art palace and also a post along the ancient Silk Road; the grand Jiayuguan Pass, an important outpost in ancient China, is the western end of the Great Wall; the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist resorts in China while the Bingling Temple in Lanzhou is a treasure trove of Han Buddhism. All of these are commendatory points of interest for your tour.

Jiayuguan Pass of the Great Wall

Jiayuguan Pass, in Jiayuguan city, is the largest and most intact pass, or entrance, of the Great Wall. Jiayuguan Pass was built in the early Ming dynasty, somewhere around the year 1372. It was built near an oasis that was then on the extreme western edge of China. Jiayuguan Pass was the first pass on the west end of the great wall so it earned the name “The First And Greatest Pass Under Heaven”.

An extra brick is said to rest on a ledge over one of the gates. One legend holds that the official in charge asked the designer to calculate how many bricks would be used. The designer gave him the number and when the project was finished, only one brick was left. It was put on the top of the pass as a symbol of commemoration. Another account holds that the building project was assigned to a military manager and an architect. The architect presented the manager with a requisition for the total number of bricks that he would need. When the manager found out that the architect had not asked for any extra bricks, he demanded that the architect make some provision for unforeseen circumstances. The architect, taking this as an insult to his planning ability, added a single extra brick to the request. When the gate was finished, the single extra brick was, in fact, extra and was left on the ledge over the gate.

Mogao Grottoes

The Mogao Grottoes near Dunhuang have a collection of Buddhist art. Originally there were a thousand grottoes, but now only 492 cave temples remain. Each temple has a large statue of a buddha or bodhisattva and paintings of religious scenes. In 336 AD, a monk named Le Zun (Lo-tsun) came near Echoing Sand Mountain, when he had a vision. He started to carve the first grotto. During the Five Dynasties period they ran out of room on the cliff and could not build any more grottoes.

Silk Road and Dunhuang City

The historic Silk Road starts in Chang’an and goes to Constantinople. On the way merchants would go to Dunhuang in Gansu. In Dunhuang they would get fresh camels, food and guards for the journey around the dangerous Taklamakan Desert. Before departing Dunhuang they would pray to the Mogao Grottoes for a safe journey, if they came back alive they would thank the gods at the grottoes. Across the desert they would form a train of camels to protect themselves from thieving bandits. The next stop, Kashi (Kashgar), was a welcome sight to the merchants. At Kashi most would trade and go back and the ones who stayed would eat fruit and trade their Bactrian camels for single humped ones. After Kashi they would keep going until they reached their next destination.

Located about 5 km (3.1 mi) southwest of the city, the Crescent Lake or Yueyaquan is an oasis and popular spot for tourists seeking respite from the heat of the desert. Activities includes camel and 4×4 rides.

Silk Route Museum

The Silk Route Museum is located in Jiuquan along the Silk Road, a trading route connecting Rome to China, used by Marco Polo. It is also built over the tomb of the Western Liang King

Bingling Temple

Bingling Temple, or Bingling Grottoes, is a Buddhist cave complex in a canyon along the Yellow River. Begun in 420 AD during the Jin dynasty, the site contains dozens of caves and caverns filled with outstanding examples of carvings, sculpture, and frescoes. The great Maitreya Buddha is more than 27 meters tall and is similar in style to the great Buddhas that once lined the cliffs of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Access to the site is by boat from Yongjing in the summer or fall. There is no other access point.

Labrang Monastery

Labrang Tashikyil Monastery is located in Xiahe County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, located in the southern part of Gansu, and part of the traditional Tibetan province of Amdo. It is one of the six major monasteries of the Gelukpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, and the most important one in Amdo. Built in 1710, it is headed by the Jamyang-zhaypa. It has 6 dratsang (colleges), and houses over sixty thousand religious texts and other works of literature as well as other cultural artifacts.

Beautiful Landscape

Landforms at Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in Zhangye City, northwest China’s Gansu Province, on July 7, 2014. Danxia, which means “rosy cloud,” is a special landform formed from reddish sandstone that has been eroded over time into a series of mountains surrounded by curvaceous cliffs and many unusual rock formations. 

    • Tourists climb the Singing Sand dunes near the Crescent Moon Spring on July 20, 2010, in Jiuquan, Gansu Province, China.

      Flowering rapeseed plants blossom in a field in Minle, Gansu, China, on July 14, 2015.

      A Chinese rocket takes off with the Venezuelan earth observation satellite Miranda from the remote Gobi Desert in Jiuquan, Gansu Province, on September 29, 2012.

      The Maijishan Grottoes in the city of Tianshui, Gansu Province, on August 12, 2015. The Maijishan Grottoes are a series of 194 caves cut in the side of the hill of Majishan in Tianshui. 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).

      Closer view of the Maijishan Grottoes in the city of Tianshui on August 12, 2015. The tallest statue is 16 meters tall and the smallest is only 10 centimeters tall.

      A train speeds through a gap in a section of the Great Wall of China, past Jiayuguan Pass, in front of the snow-covered Qilian Mountains in Jiayuguan, Gansu Province, on April 28, 2007.

      Gansu’s Zhagana Stone Mountains, photographed on September 14, 2014.

    • Autumn scenery on Dongshan Mountain in Dingxi City, Gansu Province, on October 7, 2015.

      Monks gather to pray at the Labrang Monastery prior to Tibetan New Year in Xiahe County, Gansu Province, on February 21, 2012.

      Yardang landforms in Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, on May 24, 2015.

      Night view of a Danxia landform under the starry sky in Sunan County, Zhangye City, on November 26, 2013.

      Chinese workers harvest dried salt in Yanchi Village, Gaotai County, Gansu Province, on August 24, 2015.

      A solar eclipse, seen above visitors at the Jiayuguan Fort on the Great Wall of China in the town of Jiayuguan, Gansu Province, on August 1, 2008.

      A farmer walks past a terrace of codonopsis pilosula, a traditional Chinese medicine also known as dang shen, in Min County, Gansu Province, on May 31, 2011. Rows of white plastic shields have been installed to protect the roots of the dang shen to keep it warm and moist. Commonly used as a cheaper substitute for ginseng, the herb is believed to lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and improve appetite.

      Motorboats moored at the Liujiaxia Reservoir, on the Yellow River, near the Bingling Si caves, in November of 2006.

      Yueyaquan, or Crescent Lake, in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, on May 12, 2013. Formerly a silk route hub and center for trade between China and the West, Dunhuang relies heavily on tourism and features a number of historic sites dating back to the Han Dynasty. The city has an arid climate and is surrounded by sand dunes, a result of increasing desertification.

      Visitors walk on the Mingsha sand dunes on the outskirts of Dunhuang, Gansu Province, on April 29, 2007. According to local sources, the Mingsha sand dunes stretch more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) long and 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) wide, reaching heights of 1,715 meters (5,630 feet).

      A worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, on September 16, 2013. China is pumping investment into wind power, which is more cost-competitive than solar energy and partly able to compete with coal and gas.

      The Danxia landform in the Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park in Zhangye, Gansu Province, on October 19, 2015.

      A crumbling section of the Great Wall of China is seen near the rebuilt Jiayuguan fort, at rear, in China’s Gansu province on October 11, 2005. Though parts of the Great Wall have been fully restored, much of it is in disrepair, with many areas crumbling or even buried under sand.

      Visitors walk outside the Jiayuguan Pass Town in Jiayuguan, on April 28, 2007.

      Rock formations in the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park in Gansu Province, on January 19, 2013.

      A sandstorm hits the Shandan Horse Ranch in Zhangye, Gansu Province, on March 5, 2013. According to eyewitnesses, large amounts of black dust and sand were pushed by strong winds, resembling a wall rolling across the horse farm from the west.

      A herder drives her sheep through a gate of the Yongtai Ancient City in Jingtai County, Gansu Province, on June 20, 2015.

      Terraced fields in Dingxi, Gansu Province, on July 4, 2014.

      Ethnic Tibetan women pray around the Labrang Monastery ahead of the Tibetan New Year in Xiahe County, Gansu Province, on February 21, 2012.

      Tibetan monks at the Labrang monastery in Xiahe, Gansu Province, on February 22, 2009.

      An aerial view shows people traveling along a road inside the Danxia National Geological Park, in Zhangye, Gansu Province, China, on July 5, 2015. The national geological park, covering an area of 510 square kilometers (197 square miles), is known for its colorful rock formations.

      Edited by staff


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