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Though Lanzhou's image has been tarnished by a reputation for heavy pollution, bear in mind that media coverage of China is often laced with hyperbole. Lanzhou sees blue skies fairly regularly, thanks to new environmental reforms, and the place to be on days like those is White Pagoda Park. The orginal pagoda is rumored to have been built in tribute to a monk who died on his way to an appointment with Genghis Khan. That pagoda toppled, but was rebuilt by the Ming Dynasty's first emperor, military genius Zhu Yuanzhang, with later additions..

If you only have time to see a single sight in Lanzhou proper, the Gansu Provincial Museum is a fine choice. Recently reopened after major renovations that conceal its Russian-designed origins, the museum hosts a collection as impressive for its quality as for its diversity. Among the items you'll find are samples of neolithic painted pottery from the 8,000-year-old Dadiwan culture. You'll also see evidence of Silk Road cultural diffusion (or maybe an as-of-yet undocumented Chinese trade missions to the Roman Empire?) in the form..

Travelers with the patience and money to endure the journey and entrance fees are well rewarded when they finally reach the Bingling Caves (Bǐnglíng Sì Shíkū, 炳靈寺石窟). Featuring a massive 27-meter (89 ft) statue of the Maitreya Buddha, fantastic frescoes, 183 caves and statues painted in strikingly vivid colors, Bingling is considered one of the top four Buddhist grottoes in the country. Travel to the caves is fairly involved but worthwhile. The trip starts with a 2-hour bus ride from Lanzhou to the Liujiaxia Reservoir..

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