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China's Coal Base Opens Mine to Tourists

Datong City, a leading coal production base in north China's Shanxi Province, has opened one of its largest coal mines to tourists so that they can witness the entire mining process and experience the miners' life.

The 48-year-old Jinhuagong mine, located 12 km west of the city, covers 41 sq km and has an annual output of 3.8 million tons. Next to the coal mine is the Yungang Buddhist Grottoes, a World Heritage site built in the Northern Wei Dynasty, more than 1,500 years ago.

"We have opened up a platform 300 meters underground, where tourists can study the geological structure of the mine and see what coal was like back in the Jurassic period, 140 million years ago," said Liu Ke, an official with the mine.

According to Liu, the tour takes one and a half hours, during which time travelers donning miners' overalls and safety helmets are sent 300 meters underground in a "cage", squinting into the dim glow from kerosene lamps.

"Tourists will see how coal has been separated from earth at different periods of history, and can chat with the miners and join them for a brief lunch to find out more about the workers' life," said Liu.

Many travel services have included the underground tour as a new highlight in their plans outlined for domestic and overseas tour groups to Shanxi Province.

A local tourism official said the city had also launched hikes along the ancient Great Wall and tours to local power plants and volcanoes to draw holiday-makers during the traditional Chinese New Year.

Dubbed as China's coal capital, Shanxi Province is the country's largest coal producer and one of its major electric power bases.

(Xinhua News Agency January 24, 2004)

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