Bound by the Qílián Shān range to the south and the Mǎzōng (Horse’s Mane) and Lóngshǒu (Dragon’s Head) ranges to the north, the narrow strip of land that is Hèxī Corridor (河西走廊; Héxī Zǒuláng), around which the province is formed, was once the sole western passage in and out of the Middle Kingdom.
The fertile Dūnhuáng oasis has long been a refuge for weary Silk Road travellers. Most visitors stayed long enough only to swap a camel and have a feed; but some settled down and built the forts, towers and magnificent cave temples that are now scattered over the surrounding area.
Roughly at China’s cartographic bullseye, Gānsù’s elongated capital marks the halfway point for overlanders trekking across the country. Growing up on a strategic stretch of the Yellow River (Huáng Hé), and sitting between competing Chinese and Central Asian empires, Lánzhōu frequently changed hands.
Straddling the border between Sìchuān and Gānsù is Lángmùsì (Taktsang Lhamo in Tibetan), an expanding and modernising alpine Amdo Tibetan village nestled among steep grassy meadows, evergreen forests of slender pine trees brushing the sky, crumbling stupas, piles of mani stones and snow-clad peaks.
The booming regional capital of Gānnán (甘南) prefecture, Hézuò is a transit point for travellers plying the excellent overland route between Gānsù and Sìchuān provinces. The city is also the sight of the incredible Milarepa Palace, a bewitching Tibetan temple ranging spectacularly over nine floors.
A booming Chinese mid-sized town, Píngliáng is a logical base for visits to the nearby holy mountain of Kōngtóng Shān. The train station is in the northeastern part of town and the main bus station in the far western part. Xi Dajie is the main street in town and where you’ll find hotels, restaurants and banks.