Helan Mountain Drive: Rugged Beauty, Ancient Sites and Scorpions

Helan Mountain Drive: Rugged Beauty, Ancient Sites and Scorpions

The rugged mountains and open plains just west of Yinchuan city receive very little attention in travel guide books. However, the bare, yet striking mountain range is every bit deserving of attention and admiration as many other natural sites in China. The Helan Mountain range (贺兰山) not only provides a dramatic backdrop to an otherwise flat landscape, but it acts as a buffer between the Tengger Desert and Yinchuan, protecting the city from the onslaught of certain desertification. A drive along the mountains is a truly breathtaking experience, not just for the striking beauty of this natural phenomenon, but also because of the historical and cultural attractions peppered along the way.

The stretch along the Helan Mountains.

There aren’t many ways to get here however, so your best choice is to hire a driver for the day or to rent your own car. The mountains are only about a 40 minute drive from the Old Town (about 25-30 minutes from the New Town) and are beautiful to visit any time of the year. We went in January when the roads were covered in snow, causing treacherous driving conditions; we therefore strongly recommend going during the milder months between March-November instead.

Sights and attractions

This drive offers more than just views of mountains and open flatlands; many historical attractions can be found along the route. One such attraction is the Baisikou Twin Pagodas (拜寺口双塔).

Baisikou Twin Pagodas.

These pagodas were once the summer resort of the Emperor Li Yuanhao (a.k.a. Emperor Jingzong) of the Western Xia Empire. Legend has it that one year, during the turmoil of war and hardship, a monk suddenly heard a voice from the sky. As the old monk went outside to locate the source of the voice, he suddenly noticed that two slender pagodas had “flown” to a spot in the distance. And so, the pagodas were nicknamed “the flying pagodas”. These mythical structures quickly brought luck to the land: crops began to flourish once again and livestock thrived. Today, despite being lashed by the elements for over 900 years, the pagodas have been preserved surprisingly well. Stretching 13 and 14 stories high, these ancient buildings are a must-visit sight along the Helan Mountain drive. Entry costs 10 RMB and the pagodas are open from 08:00-17:00.

Look out for these stalls selling local treats.

Another area of interest along the route is the Suyukou State Forest Park (苏峪口国家森林公园). This state protected park officially came into being in 2004. The reserve occupies 30,000 square metres and features 13 different museums including a Himalayan Blue Sheep Museum, a History and Culture Museum and a Mineral Resources Museum. However, if it wasn’t for the stalls set up outside the park’s sign, you would be forgiven for driving right past it. These stalls are attraction in their own right, and are among the few places that sell real scorpion liquor. Bottles stuffed with dozens of scorpions collected around the Helan Mountains, sell for around 25 RMB a bottle (caution is recommended). Other local delicacies sold here include dried mushrooms, jujubes and walnuts.

Scorpion liquor sold at the entrance of Suyukou State Forest Park.

Just a stone’s throw away from Suyukou Forest Park is the entrance to the Helan Mountain Rock Carvings. Here, hundreds of rocks are adorned with mystical carvings and imprints dating back thousands of years. For more information, read our guide to must-see attractions in Yinchuan.

Finally, as you drive along this isolated road and peer into the seemingly endless stretch of flatland, try to appreciate the tumultuous history that shaped this region of China: in the 13th century Genghis Khan and his army traversed these very grounds, eventually massacring every inhabitant of the Xia Empire and destroying what remained of the ancient city. As you gape into an open void, take a deep breath and let your imagination roam with the winds…

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Keywords: Helan mountain Yinchuan scorpion liquor helan mountain drive Baisikou twin pagodas Yinchuan


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We had an AMAZING experience with this tour in Yinchuan! Of course It was khard for us to get around Yinchuan ourselves because almost no one spoke English so we decided to go to this guy who could at least communicate with us and it was more than what we expected! So they took us to sites such as Shuidonggou, Helan Mountain, Zhenbeibao TV & Movie city, Shapotou desert etc., I highly recommend you guys go to at least two of these sites. They might be far from each other but there is a lot of nature and culture to see in these places. Other than that, we did cool local things such as: Hike Helan Mountain and camp there; BBQ and dumpling-making in a traditional Chinese yard; Exploring local night markets where all the local people go. I think they organize other things such as biking the city and villages, and learn how to draw Chinese calligraphy etc. but we didn’t have time to do those. Seriously go to these guys, They offer a low price too! Eric whatsapp +86 182 2237 6633

Jun 11, 2018 23:45 Report Abuse