Helan Mountain (Helan Shan) is an enigmatic and mysterious place. The evocative names of the sights here: ''Sun Rising from a Writing-Brush Stand'', ''Moonlight Bidding Farewell to the Tolling of the Bell'', and ''Stone Peaks Piercing Through White Clouds'' give some idea of how this area has inspired and captivated visitors since the Western Xia period (1038-1277) and continually drawn nomadic tribes of northern China.
Helan Shan is actually a range of mountains, which ancient Mongolians named 'fine horse,' as when viewed from a distance the range seems to resemble a herd of horses running south between the Yinchuan Plain and the Alashin Desert (lying to the east and west of the range respectively).
To the east of the Helan Mountains, only 35 Kilometers from Yinchuan is an intriguing site sheltered on three sides by the mountain with an opening to the east, giving the area the appearance of a bell. A tiny hill in the center of this opening represents the ball on the end of a pendulum within the bell. The area was named Gunzhongkou accordingly, which means ''Mountain Pass in the Shape of a Rolling Bell''. An immense summer resort was built here during the Western Xia Kingdom and added to in the Ming & Qing dynasties, resulting in a gigantic complex of temples, pavilions, pagodas and terraces built to compliment the flows and curves of the mountain. The three peaks were crowned with exquisite white Tibetan Buddhist Pagodas. This site has also been significant for Muslims in the area, thanks to a mosque built amongst the various structures.
It comes as no surprise that this site has been attracting people for hundreds of years, but the unique rock paintings and carvings on the Helanshan Rock-painting Scenic Spot record prehistoric lives far older than that, from an estimated 3000-10000 years ago. The ''paintings'' are broadly in one of two styles - the first is a series of shallow engravings cut into the rock. In the second style, the cuts are deeper and the channels have been rubbed smooth. They represent a wide variety of themes, and are expressive imaginative works. Half of the works depict humans with the remainder covering an array of animals from cows and horses to birds and wolves.
Getting there: take bus from Yinchuan Tourist Bus Station
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