Thursday, April 28, 2011
National Parks of Yinchuan: Playgrounds or Preserves?
The city of Yinchuan (38º30'N; 106º20'E) sits near the Yellow River, in the shadow of the Helan Mountains just south of Inner Mongolia. We visited several national parks in the area including Sand Lake, known for its birdlife. A huge entrance arch in the shape of a crane greeted us, along with a bank of fee collection stations. One must pay the entry fee, then also buy a boat ride, the only way to really see the lake. Dave, being a senior, got to go in for free to scope out the boat docks. We decided to enjoy the birds outside in the fish rearing ponds instead: Grey Heron, River Lapwing, Great Crested Grebe, Grey headed Lapwing and White Wagtail.
The same situation repeated itself in the other parks; massive entrances, beautiful fountains, gleaming buildings, marble staircases and plazas, along with high entry fees and extra costs for trams, boats, movies, etc. It is an interesting cultural contrast in park presentation, with grandiose facilities (plus fees) accompanying landscape preservation. At the Helan Mountain rock art preserve, thre were magnificent museum displays of petroglyph replicas. We were happy to get outdoor onto the canyon trail with the real petroglyphs. There, hundreds of intricate petroglyphs date back as much as 6000 years, and exploring the canyon became one of our favorite experiences in this region. The interpretive signs were well done. True to form, the stream through the canyon had been re-sculpted into a series of man-made pools.
A few miles away, two Buddhist Twin Pagodas sit on a windswept hillside true to the ideal of feng shui: with “the mountain behind and the river in front.” Hundreds of bells on the towers gonged, blown by the wind. Here there was a staircase with twin lions, but no grand entrance arch or high fee.
Our final stop was a “wetlands national park” located in the city, built for the 50th anniversary of the Ningxia Autonomous Province. A huge staircase led up to Romanesque arches framing a stadium, at the edge of an artificial lake, with water from the river that runs through the city. Birds and fishermen were enjoying the lake while wedding couples took photos amid the columns in the afternoon light.
Playground or preserve? China has impressive examples of both. Our next stop is the Shapatou National Nature Reserve, on the Yellow River south of Yinchuan.