Enclosed within a relatively narrow valley, Xining felt reasonably compact, easy to walk around. Steep paths led up hills such as Beishan and Nanshan, some with temples, either Buddhist or Taoist grottoes cut from cliff faces. I loved resting on those summits while looking out across the city and noticing how quickly, with altitude, the lower lying greens gave way to the browns of increasing aridity.
With such a city literally ‘on the edge’, bustling markets such as Shujing Xiang Shangchang on West Street provided endless sources of curiosity - I was certainly seen as a curiosity but such trading areas were stacked with traditional heavy clothing, headgear and domestic utensils seemingly brought down from surrounding plateaus. Stalls, or kiosks filled with the aroma of fried fish with red paprika were ideal locations to sit and watch life in so many forms passing slowly by. Hot clay pots brimming with mutton, peppers and noodles sat beside flat breads stuffed with roasted lamb.
Not everything was steeped in the past or ethnicity. At a traffic intersection a department store, the ‘Big Dipper’ had a small coffee shop where I regularly wrote up my notes. A smart restaurant on a recently opened food street served mouthwatering hotpot while, for me, they put on music CDs from the UK! Today there are much greater options for western-style fast food and cafes - virtually nothing existed during my early visits so dining then was very much with the locals, which is why I got so much out of each visit.