The Western Xia Tombs, which resemble giant beehives, are Níngxià’s most celebrated sight. The first tombs were built a millennium ago by Li Yuanhao, the founder of the Western Xia dynasty. There are nine imperial tombs, plus 200 lesser tombs, in an area of 50 sq km – there are electric carts if you’re not up for walking. The tomb you’ll see belongs to Li Yuanhao; it's a 23m-tall tomb originally constructed as an octagonal seven-storey wooden pagoda. All that remains is the large earthen core. Permits, usually organised through local tour operators, are required to visit other tombs in the area.
The examples of Buddhist art in the good site museum (8am to 5.30pm) offer a rare glimpse into the ephemeral Western Xia culture, and point to clear artistic influences from neighbouring Tibet and Central Asia. There are also many fascinating artefacts excavated from Li Yuanhao’s tomb.
The tombs are 33km west of Yínchuān. A return taxi costs from around ¥150 (including waiting time). Regular buses (¥12, every 30 minutes, 7am to 7pm) run past the tombs from the bus station next to the Nánguān Mosque (南关清真寺; Nánguān Qīngzhènsí), not far from South Gate Square (南门广场; Nánmén Guǎngchǎng); you will need to tell the driver you want to get off at the tombs. From the South Gate, you could also take bus 2 or 4 to its terminus in Xīxià Qū and then take a van (around ¥40 each way) from there. As the site is on the road towards Bayanhot, you can get off any bus heading that way.