Fifty six kilometres from Yinchuan, near the Helan mountain, is the little oasis of Shahu set amid the sand dunes. The clumpy reed marshes that dot the clear waters of Shahu Lake are home to tens of thousands of birds and one of Ningxia’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Shahu (meaning Sand Lake) Scenic Resort is a theme park that revolves mostly around sand, looking at sand and doing stuff in or on the sand.
The park is reached by crossing the lake, either on a slow long boat, or for an additional fee a much quicker jetboat ride.
The park itself is a 22sq km collection of sand dunes, divided into zones offering all sorts of sand based activities. The most popular seems to be the camel rides and sand carvings. Between these lie a short cable car up to a sand slide, and a series of 4×4 routes. Less popular are the ostrich racing and a very scary looking one-person balloon ride.
If all the heat gets too much there are a number of options for boating out on the lake: pedalos vie for space with jet skis, zorbing balls and water-skiers. Some of the rides are very expensive and short lived, such as the 2 minute waterplane ride, or 1 minute parasailing experience, both of which cost 150rmb.
Despite it being a sunny Saturday morning I seemed to be the only foreigner there and became as much of an attraction as some of the rides. The temptation was to charge people 150RMB for a 1-minute piggy back ride, but with all the sand underfoot it was a bit too hot to be bothered.
Other rides are in the 20-30rmb each range, but if you went with large family for the day, all the costs could mount up rather quickly. It’s also worth taking your own packed lunch – snack food options are limited to salted duck eggs or sandy sausages on a stick.
For those tired of sand and water there is also a Chairman Mao badge museum, which is a museum dedicated primarily to badges depicting Chairman Mao. Yep…
Some of the attractions are great fun, such as the 4×4’s, others are a touch underwhelming, such as sliding down a small sand dune in a baking tray. The most fun is to be had just watching people trying something entirely new in a place where Health & Safety hasn’t fully taken hold.
Whether it’s riding a well maintained camel or taking off in a badly maintained water plane, everyone is giving off a mixture of genuine excitement at the new experiences and genuine terror at the quite real possibility of serious injury.