Zhangye Travel Guide, Gansu
Zhangye is a town that has lost much of its former glory. Located in the west of Gansu, midway of Hexi Corridor, about 450km northwest of the capital Lanzhou, nowadays it's most famed as both a small station on the Lanzhou-Urumqi rail line, and for its production of lethal liquor, including Zhangye Rice Wine (Zhangye huangjiu), Zhangye Nan Wine (Zhangye nanjiu) and Siluchun Spirits (Siluchun baijiu).
Dated back 5,000 years, Zhangye was a popular dwelling place, a natural area of plain, surrounded by Qilianshan and Helishan. At this time the area was considered Tibetan, part of the large area of influence that the present day province struggles to remember. Even today the Tibetan influence is still here, especially a little to the south around the village of Mati.
In 111 BC, during the Western Han Dynasty, Zhengye was officially designated as an administrative town. The town grew to prominence along with the famed Silk Road, when virtually every merchant and traveler planning on going to Xinjiang and beyond, from central China (Zhongyuan), had to pass through Zhangye. By the Ming Dynasty (1364-1644 AD), the town had grown into a critical garrison for soldiers guarding the Great Wall. For a period in the Ming, the town even served as the capital of Gansu province.
The signs of this glory are now all but faded in the city itself. A few attractions remain to memorize this, most notably China's largest indoor reclining Buddha, a large minority population, including a scattering of Tibetans, and the crumbling Great Wall that runs to the south of the town. Most visitors here seem content with no more than a day here. Of more interest are the areas out of town, and while the tourism industry is happy to promote the famous Horse's Hoof Temple (Mati si) some 60km away, of better value are the villages and little, lesser known temples, of the Sunan Yugu (Tibetan) Autonomous Prefecture, around Mati.
Getting there and away
For centuries, Zhangye has retained its footing as an important military fortress along the Silk Road. In ancient times, merchants making a journey to the west from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province,used Zhangye as their first major stop on route. Nowadays camels are few here, but to extend its influence into Xinjiang, Communist China has made railway lines and paved a State-level Expressway, G312, which both pass through this city.
Zhangye is a major stop along the Lanzhou-Urumqi Railway Line. Each day there are a few trains going to and beyond Zhangye. A blessing for travelers is that now there is a nightly express train that leaves Lanzhou at about 10pm and arrives in Zhangye 12 hours later. If you plan to travel further west to Jiayuguan, it is around 4 hours away.
Trains also leave to Jiayuan and take around 9 hours. Getting tickets at the station, however, can be a bit of a problem.
The railway station is 6km northeast of the city center, which costs around Y3 by minibus or Y10 by taxi.
The Eastern Bus Station, south down Donghuan Nanlu from the Hexi Hotel, dispatches buses in the evening to Lanzhou, 3 of which are with sleeper seats (Y90 /15 hours). There are also buses every morning to Jiayuguan (Y25 / 5 hours).
Buses departing from the Southern Station head to Jiayuguan in the morning and Lanzhou in the early evening.
Zhangye is also an easy way to get through to Qinghai. Xining, the capital, is just 347km from Zhangye on G227. Buses leave from the Xiguan Bus Station on Paoxuanlu for
Y32, twice daily.
Among all the hotels in town, Zhangye Hotel and Ganzhou Hotel offer the most reasonable priced lodging. The Zhangye, a few minutes from the bus station on Xianfu nanjie, is the most attractive, with pretty gardens and decent rooms in the new wing. This hotel also houses a CITS office, good for information and maybe tours to the Mati Temple. Dorms here is around Y30. The Ganzhou, on the main north/south street, offers the cheapest rooms in town with sparse dorms for Y15.
Of the more expensive hotels, the Hexi Hotel and the Jindu Hotel are good, and all rooms in these have baths. The Hexi, on the corner of Dong dajie and Donghuancheng lu,
provides good service and has doubles for a cheap RMB85. The Jindu, on Dong dajie near to the Drum Tower, is one of the newest in town and offers doubles for around Y150.
Many of the hotels here serve plain, but fairly decent food. The Zhanye Hotel's restaurant is best for both price and good taste. Restaurants can also be found along the main north/south street, more in the south (Da nanjie).
For an even cheaper and more interesting experience, try the stalls along the Night Market (ye chang) at Dongdajie or Qingniandongjie.
Giant Buddha Temple
Lies in the southwestern corner of the city, contains the largest indoor reclining Buddha in China. In 1098, the chancellor of the Western Xia Dynasty alledgedly excavated, although probably ordered to be built, a reclining Buddha covered with colored glazed tiles.
The existing complex consists of the Giant Buddha Hall, the Buddhist Classics Hall, and a Clay Pagoda.
Admission Fee: Y41
As in many ancient cities in China, there is a bell and drum tower in Zhangye, also known as Zhenyuan tower, located at a crossroad of four main streets. As the biggest drum tower in the Hexi Corridor of the silk road district, it was built in 1507. The tower consists of the foundation and a three-storey pavilion.
There is a decussate hole inside the foundation which points east, west, south and north and links with the four main streets. On each side of the pavilion, there is a stele which describes different nature scenes in Zhangye and its vicinity.
Admission Fee: Y10
Wooden Pagoda Temple
The Wooden Pagoda, or Muta Temple, stands on Nan jie of Zhangye. It is unknown in exactly which year the pagoda was erected, but people generally believe it was during the Northern Zhou dynasty (557-581 AD). After this it underwent renovations in the Sui (581-618 AD), the Tang (618-907 AD), the Ming (1368-1644 AD) and the Qing (1644-1911 AD) dynasties. The Muta is considered to be the one most harmonious pagodas in China, incorporating as it does careful carpentry, exquisite blacksmith work and delicate painting.
Admission Fee: Y10
At the foot of Qilian Mt., 62km south of the city, in the Sunan Yugu (Tibetan) Autonomous Prefecture, lies the Mati Temple, or Horse's Hoof Temple. This is a famous scenic spot integrating grotto art, mountain views and folk customs of the Yugu minority group. The temple got its name because legend has it that a Chinese Pegasus landed here, leaving a huge horseshoe imprint that can still be seen within the Mati Hall.
The temple itself has been highly touristified. Thankfully the region, centering upon the Tibetan village of Mati, has not been ruined. It is an area of mountains and grasslands, all littered with pine forests and various temples. Around the main temple there are winding passageways, caves, and stairwells that all generally lead to impressive balcony views, or to the temples. One of the nicest temples, Jinta si, or Golden Pagoda Temple, contains a mummified body that has been decorated in the form of Asparas, a Chinese flying goddess, kept in good condition by the dry climate of Gansu.
For those wanting to stay for a few days here, exploring and wandering, it is possible to stay in a Yugu minority tent, where you can drink chang (Tibetan wine, made of barley) and sample the traditional "hand eaten lamb". The nomads here lead a unique lifestyle and have many customs. Horseriding can be tried for the adventurous.
How to get there
Visiting Mati is a little bit troublesome for foreigners because an Alien Travel Permit is required from the local PSB at Zhangye. To apply for the permit, head directly to the fourth floor office on Qingnan xijie. The forms can be processed in no time.
Buses from Zhangye to Mati available at southern bus station, takes about 4hrs. Latest returning bus departing between 17~18:00 rom Mati.
If you are after cheap accommodation, the vicinity of the bus station in Mati is a good place.
Admission Fee: Y35