Squeezed between Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Shanxi, Ningxia is the smallest of China’s provinces, and an autonomous region for the Hui minority. Geographically, the area is dominated by coalfields and the Yellow River, without which the hilly south of the province, green and extremely beautiful, would be barren and uninhabitable desert. In the west of the province, however, the river does actually run past desert dunes at Shapotou, near the city of Zhongwei – one of the most visually arresting sights in China. Other sights include the capital Yinchuan, which makes a pleasant stopover, and one relic from an obscure northern branch of the Silk Road, the delightful Xumi Shan Grottoes, located well away from the Yellow River in the southern hills.
Despite a certain degree of industrialization in modern times, Ningxia remains an underdeveloped area. For visitors, the rural scenes provide the charm of the place, but this province is one of the poorest in the country.