INNER MONGOLIA AUTONOMOUS REGION
It is an adventure to go to Alashan.
If you want to see the wide range of Gobi Desert stones and other types stones native If you want to see the wide range of Gobi Desert stones and other types of stones native to northern China, then Alashan and nearby Yinchuan are the places to go. Alashan is located in the far western portion of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of Gansu province, China. We first visited Alashan in 2004, and then again in 2013. The changes were remarkable. The city is situated on the Inner Mongolian Plateau at an altitude between 1000 and 1400 meters (about 3200 to 4600 feet) in the Gobi Desert. Late spring and early autumn are the best times to visit; by timing your trip you can avoid the harsh continental climate here. Alashan is now a city of about 140,000 people. In 2004, Alashan had only one permanent stone market. On our latest trip, we discovered five new areas where permanent stone markets are located. Alashan has become the viewing stone capital of Northern China. It has one of the three largest stone festivals held every year, and is one of the best places to go for Gobi Desert stones.
The new stone markets have been recently built or have taken over other business. A former indoor fruit and vegetable market has been converted into stone shops. The stones seen in these shops are primarily from the western Gobi. Most notable ones are food stones; that is, small desert stones that superficially resemble different types of foods. Ninety-five of the food stones are found in the Alashan region. Grape agates, obtained from a single mine in the western Gobi Desert, are also seen more frequently in Alashan than in any other stone market city in China. Multicolored examples of these agates command very high prices, some as much as $400,000 for a large natural piece. There are now several hundred indoor stone shops to visit.
We recommend that visitors travel to Alashan during the annual festival, typically in autumn, when hundreds of collectors come to the city to set up temporary shops in one of two large open areas. A wide range of ventifacts, jaspers, agates and other stones are abundant along with petrified wood. These range from small pieces that can be held in one hand to huge petrified logs weighing several tons. Not all of the fossilized wood seen here originated in the Gobi region. Large quantities are brought in from Myanmar and other southeastern countries to be sold in the higher priced stone boutiques.
The City of Alashan has ambitious plans to build a large viewing stone museum. If this is accomplished, Alashan will be the most important viewing stone center in northern China. The city now has nice very modern hotels. It is best to go to Alashan with a Chinese-speaking guide or friend, as limited English is spoken here. Stone connoisseurs may wish to fly to Yinchuan and visit the many stone shops there before hiring a car or taking a bus to Alashan. There is a new modern toll road leading from Yinchuan to Alashan that shortens the trip to about two hours. Along the way, you can see the western-most portion of the Great Wall. The scenery along the way is enjoyable.