Long distances, beautiful landscape and tourist spots – Trip into Inner Mongolia

In the past days I have been sitting quite a few hours in our “Peking University” tour coach as we traveled for miles and miles in Inner Mongolia. Our four-day-trip included a night a yurt in the grassland (草原 caoyuan), a visit to the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Hohhot (呼和浩特) and a few hours in the sand dunes north of Baotou. As the province in the north of China is huge, it took us half a day to get into the grasslands, where we were welcomed by Mongolians in traditional costumes performing a special drinking ritual with us, honoring heaven, earth and ancestors. The drinking ritual was performed several times during our stay, at different places and different occasions, but it always included a cup of Baijiu.

Horse riding in the grasslands
Horse riding in the grasslands.

Today only one in every six inhabitants of Inner Mongolia really is ethnic Mongol, most of the rest in Han-Chinese. However, the policy on minorities that is carried out by the Chinese government is stressing the role of minorities. They are “allowed to dance and sing, as long as they are not opposing the control by Beijing” said a friend recently. So the government supports the efforts in preserving the culture and traditions and makes them visible for tourists – at least this is the goal. In reality this leads to a situation in what some kind of pop or even techno sounds are mixed with some Mongolian songs (sometimes sung in Mandarin Chinese, not Mongolian) performed in traditional clothes.

We also took part in a horse riding activity into the grassland, but the cold wind and the dense fog turned it into a freezing cold activity – after weeks of burning heat in Beijing we were simply not used to the cold any more. On the other hand the temperatures could climb very high. In the sand dunes of Xiangshawan (响沙湾) some of us got burned by the sun while riding on a camel.

Sand dune at Xiangshawan
Sand dune at Xiangshawan.

Xiangshawan is translated as “Resonant Sand Gorge”, but I think “Noisy Sand Gorge” would be more suitable (that would be a possible translation of the characters, as well, because “xiang” has more than one meaning). The dunes are not very big, but filled with tourists. There is a cable car that allows one to easily get into the sand without climbing the first steep dune, after that there are a lot of activities like camel riding, car driving or archery offered for extra-charge. The camel riding was all right, I did not participate in any other activities and preferred to walk through the dunes by myself. Once I left behind the glamorous tourist area, I saw beautiful dunes without having a jeep cruising through it.

Xiangshawan Sand Dunes
Lots of tourist attractions in the sand dunes – not much to see from the beautiful landscape…

Traveling with a bus seems quite convenient, the brand new highway (supported with a US$ 100 loan by the World Bank), is in a better condition than the German autobahn and allowed a smooth traveling as there was naturally little traffic (I guess not many people in the region can effort an own car, so there were some trucks and few cars on the highway). However, distances are very long. The stretch between the province capital in Hohhot and the largest city of Inner Mongolia, Baotao, is just a little more than 2 cm on my map of the province, but that stands for 250 km, a three-hour bus ride.
So there was a lot of time to relax in the bus, plan my China trip that will start next Tuesday, listen to music or watch the landscape outside. Generally speaking the landscape in Inner Mongolia is very beautiful, the wide grassland, that is a little hilly, must be even more beautiful if there would just have been a little less rain and fog…
When looking outside the window, I also noticed that all street signs both have Mongolian letters and Chinese characters. Shops in the cities also have their logo in two languages.

Street sign in Hohot
Street sign in Hohhot with both Mongolian and Chinese characters.

In Hohhot, we visited a Buddhist temple (大召寺, Dazhaosi), but besides one monk there only were tourists. In the mosque (清真寺), about one kilometer north, I just went with friend in the evening – we found a very authentic atmosphere: People were rushing to the evening prayer, just outside was a little street market. It was no problem to get into the mosque (no admission!) and nobody was really paying attention to the two foreigners that strolled the area.

The Muslim food on the market smelled really good, but we did not have enough time to give it a try since there dinner organized in the hotel. The food we ate was usually very good, in comparison to Beijing there were more dishes made from wheat (mantou, noodles) and as far as I can recall, all meals included a dish with mutton. When we were in the grassland, there was a whole mutton served for the group of us – just a lot of meat.
As I wrote earlier, drinking is quite important, in China there even is a saying “Drink like a Mongol” when referring to a person that can drink quite a lot. Another special drink from Mongolia is milk tea that is made with a little butter and salt. It first seems a bit strange to drink it, but after having a sip, it tasted not bad.

Mongolian yurt
Mongolian milk tea, cheese and other snacks in a yurt.

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3 Responses to “Long distances, beautiful landscape and tourist spots – Trip into Inner Mongolia”

  1. Terrific Trips: Places to go in and around Beijing « Beijing 2007 Says:

    […] Beijing 2007 « Long distances, beautiful landscape and tourist spots – Trip into Inner Mongolia […]

  2. leila Says:

    bonjour oui sava avec le loin

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