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Nestled in a mountain valley about 180 km west of Xian, the city of Baoji is a major metropolitan area in Western China. Due to its geographic location controlling a major pass in the Qinling Mountain Range, it has a long history as a trading and garrison centre. Baoji is the second biggest city in Shaanxi after Xi’an and a social and cultural hub of the region.
Today Baoji is a remarkably clean and pleasant city with a population of 3.5 million people, with a highly modern industrialized economy based on trading, agriculture, and tourism. Since 1996, the Chinese government has been relocating businesses and industries to Baoji, which has resulted in an economic renaissance for the region especially with regard to burgeoning foreign trade. Agriculture also contributes significantly to the local economy. Owing to the location of the city in Western Shaanxi province, Baoji is an important center for transportation and communication with the whole of Western China.
The people of Baoji are a mixture of predominantly Han, Hui, Tibetan, and Xinjiang nationalities. There is a very low resident expat population and little evident foreign influence beyond what came in on the Silk Road centuries ago. Baoji is a classic Western Chinese city and is little explored by Westerners. Its history enables it to maintain a sense of tradition as it pushes on into the modern age. It has innumerable market areas and a street life atmosphere that are often lost on other Chinese cities of similar size and development.
Just outside Baoji are several massive mountain ranges. Jiang Shan and Tai Bai Shan are both wonderful places to trek, both without the large noisy crowds that are typical of most tourist spots in China. These areas offer ample opportunity to get out into the countryside and experience life in rural, high mountain Asia. Baoji also has several public parks including Wei He Park which was chosen as a model for future parks in China for its beautiful layout along the Wei He River. The vast Wei He Park that runs parallel to the river of the same name dominates the city center. The park is one of the most attractive urban parks in China and runs for several kilometres from east to west.
The area around Baoji was also the home to one of the forefathers of the Han people, the legendary Yandi. His ancient tomb is located on one of the southern mountains overlooking the city. To the north of the city is the Yandi Si (Yandi Temple) where they have some grand processions during holidays set aside for ancestor worship. Fa Men Si is believed to contain of one of Buddha’s finger bones and lies to the east roughly half way between Xi’an and Baoji. Just to the south of Fa Men Si is Tai Bai Mountain, an ancient roadway north to Baoji and Chang’an (now Xi’an). There are several scenic spots in Baoji County including accessible mountains, waterfalls, monasteries, and temples making Baoji one of China’s secret treasures.
Traditional Chinese foods take center stage here in Baoji, with restaurants most commonly serving up cuisine from Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Hunan. Many other foods can be found wandering the city from street vendors cooking from the backs of their tricycles, or from the myriad of restaurants dotting the streets serving food from almost any province. Local fast foods in Shaanxi range from liang pir (cold tofu skin noodles served in a sauce of oil and pepper mixed with vegetables) to rou jia mou (diced pork sometimes mixed with peppers stuffed in a piece of fried Chinese bread) and dishes of fish and roast duck for fine dining. Shaanxi is justly famous throughout China for endless types of handmade noodle dishes and its Central Asian influences. Foreign foods such as Japanese and Western foods, and some popular seafood restaurants are also found throughout the city. Baoji is a fast growing city it also has a growing number of fast food style restaurants. McDonalds, KFC and similar Chinese fast food chains are to be found near the main shopping areas in the city centre.
Baoji is considered the gateway to Western China because the rail lines from east China passes through Baoji and over the mountain passes on their way to Gansu, Sichuan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Xianyang is one hour to the east; Xi’an is 2 hours in the same direction. Lanzhou is 6 hours to the west. Overnight trains depart from Baoji to destinations such as Yinchuan, Taiyuan, Zhengzhou, and Xining, giving access and allowing travel opportunities to very diverse areas of China. The international airport in nearby Xianyang has direct flights to destinations all over the nation; including very cheap ($30)1 hour flights to Chengdu and Chongqing.