Xining 西宁市 is the capital city of Qinghai province in western China and the eastern gate of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. Xining is a great city to fly into then branch off on adventures to other places of interest such as Zhangye’s Rainbow Mountains, Qinghai Lake, Silk Road tours, and of course the train to Lhasa, Tibet.
Xining was a major trading hub along the Silk Road and western stronghold resisting attacks from the west. There are many Muslims and Buddhists who first arrived for trade and eventually settled in the area. Dongguan Mosque is quite famous for being one of the oldest and largest mosques in China.
Xining is a big city of around 2-million or so people and it’s spread out along the valley. Most of the city is new construction indistinct from anywhere else in China. Therefore I spent most of my touristy wandering near the city center which is mostly a Muslim enclave radiating out from the Dongguan Mosque.
There is defiantly a Muslim vibe and you’ll see many people in traditional clothing, restaurants, mosques, etc. I also think it very interesting and cool to see men sporting long beards which is something you don’t normally see in eastern China. Xining’s strong Islamic vibe is due to many Hui people who make their home here and outside the city, there is more Tibetan feel.
I stopped in Xining for a few days on my way to Lhasa, Tibet. Xining is at 2275 meters elevation and makes a good half-way stop to get acclimated to the altitude. I experienced only mild effects of high elevation in Xining and, in my opinion, it is better than going straight up to Lhasa.