This region, that includes the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang, covers third of China's land area. These territories lie mostly beyond the Great Wall. Ancient Chinese used to call “barbarians” to the people of this region because they didn’t speak their language, it was very remote and subject to extremes of weather.
Some ethnic minorities still live in the Northwest where the land is composed of vast areas of steppe and grassland, desert and mountain plateau.
However, Chinese have always been present in the area. Imperial armies were already in control of almost the whole northwest region by the time of the Han dynasty two millennia ago and since then; Gansu, Ningxia and the eastern part of Qinghai have become the core of the Chinese empire. The uncultivable plains of Inner Mongolia have been associated with China despite the invasion of Genghis Khan early thirteenth century.
This region has historical been underprivileged, isolated land of China. Nowadays, there is a more significant presence of the government in terms of education and patriotism; and also there is an important transfer of wealth, in the form of industrial and agricultural aid, from the richer areas of eastern China to the poorer zones.
Tourism in these areas has increased in the last years. Travelers, are drawn by the Silk Road, a series of ancient towns built in the middle of the desert, running from Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, through Ningxia, Gansu and Xinjiang, and finally on into Central Asia. You can also enjoy the last great remaining wildernesses of China - the grasslands, mountains, lakes and deserts of the interior - far from the loud massive population cities of the east.
You can begin your travel in the Inner Mongolia, famous for its grasslands on which Genghis Khan trained his cavalry and where nomads on horseback still live today. As well as visiting the tomb of Genghis Khan Conqueror. Another great natural feature of Inner Mongolia is the Yellow River (Huang He). In the resort of Shapotou, you can see the impressive river running among desert sand dunes.
Rural region of Ningxia, which is little visited by tourists; offers quiet, beautiful cities and a variety of views ranging from terraced, fertile hillsides in the south to pure desert in the north. In the west is Gansu, the historic edge of antique China.
This rugged land of high mountains and deserts is crossed from east to west by the Hexi Corridor, a thin pathway through the mountains, traditionally the only road from China to the West. In this route, you will travel close to the Great Wall until the fortress of Jiayuguan. Then, you will continue by the Silk Road towns finishing in Dunhuang, with its magnificent Buddhist cave art. South of the Hexi Corridor, the mountains extend all the way to the plains of northern India.
Qinghai is an ancient borderland between the mountains and China and it is probably the least-explored province in the whole of the Northwest. Qinghai offers mountains, monasteries, the immense lake of Qinghai Hu and, principally, the road to Tibet, along one of the highest mountain routes in the world.
Finally, protecting the westmost passes of the empire is Xinjiang, where China ends and another world - once known in the West as Chinese Turkestan - initiates. This immense and remote region of searing deserts and snowy mountains is the most complicated and fearsome section of the Silk Road in Central Asia.
Geographically and culturally extremely different, in Chinese Turkestan, Turkic Uigurs are more numerous than Han Chinese, mosques replace temples, and lamb kebabs replace steamed dumplings. Highlights of Xinjiang include the desert resort town of Turpan and, in the far west, fabled Kashgar, a city that just in recent years had ever reached by Westerners.
Travel in the Northwest is still very difficult, with vast distances and an extremely hard continental climate to contend with. Winter is particularly harsh, with average temperatures as minus 15° or 20°C in Inner Mongolia, Qinghai and Xinjiang.
On the contrary, in summer, Turpan in eastern Xinjiang is China's hottest city. Despite the wild, rugged land and the long distances, however, facilities for tourists have developed significantly in recent years.
In nearly all towns, there are now hotels and restaurants catering for a range of services -in general, the price of accommodation is cheaper than in eastern China-. Where there aren’t rail lines, nearly everywhere is accessible by bus and some towns by plane as well. Now, there is also the possibility of traveling from China's Asian neighbors - the Republic of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzistan and Pakistan-.