Squeezed 1600m up into a narrow valley along the Yellow River, and stretching out for nearly 30km east to west, gritty LANZHOU sits at the head of the Hexi Corridor, which means that almost everyone heading to Xinjiang from eastern China will pass through at some point. Many travellers break their journey here, but most head on before too long, thanks in no small part to Lanzhou’s awful air quality: the colossal assortment of factories and petroleum processing plants around the city, coupled with its location – hemmed in by large mountains – once earned it the unfortunate title of “World’s Most Polluted City”. Today, atrocious traffic means that the pollution shows little sign of abating.
However, the city itself is slowly becoming more attractive, especially with the tarting up of the Yellow River’s north bank. There are also a number of good day-trip possibilities, including the Bingling Caves, and Lanzhou forms the start or finish line for the fascinating Xiahe loop. Lastly, this is the best place in China to slurp down a bowl of Lanzhou beef noodles – a dish now available all around the country.