When talking about Panzhi-hua, most Chinese would say it is nothing but an iron and steel base hidden in the mountains in southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Few people know it is also a place of brilliant sunshine and invigorating hot springs, with an environment that helps ease chronic respiratory ailments.
Located in a basin, Sichuan Province doesn't get much sunshine. An old Chinese saying states that even the dog will bark merrily if the sun rises in Sichuan.
Unlike the rest of the province, Panzhihua has an annual average of 2,754 hours of sunshine, with an average temperature of 20.6 C. From November to February its temperature routinely hovers between 14 and 17 C.
"After staying in the city for only one week, I feel much better because of its warm weather," said Shen Honglei, a middle-aged tourist from Beijing who has suffered from chronic bronchitis.
Panzhihua, which means kapok flowers in Chinese, is the only city in the country named after a flower. Kapok trees are ubiquitous on both sides of major streets in the city. When they bloom in February and March, the city appears to be blanketed in red blossoms.
Apart from its bright sunshine and warm weather, visitors will find another attraction - hot spring bathing.
Panzhihua, which has many hot springs, is best known for its Hongge Hot Spring, 30 kilometres from the downtown area.
Hongge Hot Spring contains radon, which is rare in other springs in China. The hot spring has a temperature of 57 C all year round, bolstered by fluorine, carbonic acid, various minerals and inorganic salts.
The subtropical climate in Panzhihua is also ideal for many species of rare animals and plants.
Many parts of the city are still home to prehistoric forests. There are 2,731 kinds of animal and plant species, including the lesser panda and the rare cycad tree, a 280-million-year-old species.
Botanists say that the cycad, which survived the destructive glacier of the Quaternary Period, is a living fossil and of great significance for the study of biology, geography, the climate of ancient times and the origin of plants.
There is a wild cycad forest covering 1,358 hectares in the suburbs of Panzhihua. At China's only State-level cycad nature reserve, the forest comprises 230,000 wild cycads.
Cycads seldom blossom, but those in Panzhihua blossom every year in May.
With 92 percent of its land being mountainous, Panzhihua is also referred to as a "geological museum."
The city boasts many karst formations. More than 80 karst caves have been discovered there including the Longtan Karst Cave, which is now open to the public. It reveals the natural wonders - caves inside caves, gushing waterfalls and amazing stalactites.
The city's deposits of iron, vanadium and titanium are respectively nearly 20, 63 and 93 per cent of China's total. On a global scale, its deposits of titanium are the largest and those of vanadium are the third largest in the world. Visitors interested in geology can marvel at the world's largest vanadium-titanium magnetite strip mine.
To exploit its rich mineral resources, the city began to take shape in 1965 when the Panzhihua Iron and Steel (Group) Company was established. It later developed into a large steel production base.
"It is believed to be one of China's largest vanadium and titanium product and rail steel making bases and one of the world's three vanadium producers," said Xie Xiaofan, a former publicity official in Panzhihua.
Before the mid-1960s, visitors could hardly find Panzhihua on a map, Xie said. But in the past 40 years Panzhihua has become a new industrial city in western China with a population of more than 1 million, specializing in steel, energy and vanadium and titanium resource development.
Panzhihua abounds in crystal, opal, agate, jade and ink stone in its mountain valleys and the alluvium of its river banks.
Located at the juncture of the Jinsha and Yarlung rivers, two tributaries on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, Panzhihua has 90 rivers and is abundant in hydropower resources.
Construction of the Er'tan Hydraulic Station in the city has created a large lake with an area of 101 square kilometers. The lake has five islands and 11 peninsulas.
"Boat trips on the lake give a good view of clean waters surrounded by majestic mountains covered with lush, tropical plants like a traditional Chinese landscape painting," Shen said.
The station, with its 240-metre-high dam and underground powerhouse, as well as the lake, are now important tourist destinations.
Since 2001 Panzhihua has hosted the annual International Yangtze Drifting Festival along the Jinsha River which has many dangerous shoals and rushing water, attracting over 100 teams from around the world.
Motivated by the event, more than 100,000 visitors have drifted on the Jinsha River, according to Panzhihua municipal government.
Apart from its own tourist attractions, Panzhihua sits directly en route to the ancient city of Lijiang and mysterious Lugu Lake, two of the hot tourist attractions in Southwest China's Yunnan Province. It takes only six and a half hours to reach Lijiang by car.
With the opening of the Panzhihua Airport earlier this month, visitors will find it convenient to reach the city, with regular connections from Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu and Guangzhou.
(China Daily December 26, 2003)