Inner Mongolia: Part 1
This series of blog posts comes about seven weeks late, but I did something awesome for our October National Holiday break that’s still very much worth sharing.
Six other WorldTeachers and I took advantage of our week of at the beginning of the month and departed Changsha for Inner Mongolia, which was quite possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made. The Chinese National Holiday Week, or “Golden Week,” is notorious for being the busiest travel season of the year. If you’ve been on social media, you may have seen pictures and or videos of Beijing residents stuck in 50-lane traffic trying to get back into the city after visiting their hometowns. Luckily for us, Inner Mongolia is actually not really a travel destination for Chinese locals over Golden Week, so we were able to avoid some of the 750-million people who traveled that week.
On the first day of our National Holiday break, we hopped on a plane from Changsha to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region of China, not to be confused with Outer Mongolia, which is a separate country. By staying within the country and going to Inner Mongolia, we were not required to get visas for the trip. While Mandarin is the predominant language in Inner Mongolia, you’ll find that many people can also read and write Mongolian. It makes for an interesting sight while walking around cities, because many signs will have the two languages, and sometimes English as well. We spent our first day in the city exploring the area around our hostel, and saving up our energy for the next few days.
Part 1: Grasslands
On the morning of the second day, we woke up and gathered at Anda Guesthouse, a hostel that we booked our lodging and tour through. It is owned by Mongolian staff who are friendly and wonderfully helpful, not to mention great at English as well. We were loaded onto a bus with a few other foreigners, and we headed toward the Xilamuren Grasslands. Even once our minibus approached the grasslands, it wasn’t really apparent where our destination was. We were in the middle of nowhere with no real landmarks, and once we veered off the main road, we were on a bumpy “path,” if you could even call it that. Regardless, we were welcomed by the incredible, beautiful and vast grasslands, which has arguably the cleanest air I’ve ever breathed. At long last, our minibus pulled up to a cluster of yurts, where we’d been told would be our home for the night. A side note- the word for yurt in Chinese is Měnggǔbāo 蒙古包, which means “Mongolian steamed bun,” which might be most adorable translation of anything, ever. The yurt “village” was owned by a local Mongolian family, who were always willing to host 30+ foreigners a night. The seven of us WorldTeachers would share one yurt, as pictured below. I actually failed to mention earlier that this trip consisted of six females, and one male. We were about to get very cozy together, all under a portrait of Genghis Khan.
We spent the day in the grasslands practicing our (nonexistent) archery skills, and wait for it…picking up cow dung. We were to have a bonfire later that night and because there are no trees in the grasslands, dried up cow dung patties supposedly make for great bonfire fuel. We set off with a garbage bag and gloveless hands to go sacrifice our dignity, while the rest of the foreigners went horseback riding. Our trip was soon sidetracked when we came across many grazing animals, so we ditched the poop to go take some selfies.
By the time we had finished running around chasing horses and sheep, the sun was starting to set, so we all migrated to the top of the hill to capture pictures of the unbelievable sunset. Then once it was finally dark, we headed back down to the “dining yurt” to bundle up with 30 other foreigners for dinner. Our host family served us traditional Mongolian hotpot, which is a dish said to have originated from when soldiers used to place their helmets over a fire to cook broth, meat, and vegetables.
Now was the part of the day we’d all been waiting for: our cow dung fire. It actually was not very successful at all, because apparently we had screwed up and picked up dung that was “too wet,” perhaps because it had rained just a few days prior. It was still worth being outside in the freezing temperatures, though, because the Inner Mongolian night sky had the best star visibility I had ever seen. Our day on the grasslands winded down in true American fashion, as we continued to drink beer and baijiu until passing out (as we all spooned one another to conserve heat).
Look out soon for part two of Inner Mongolia: the desert.
The ideas and thoughts expressed in this blog are not the views or opinions of World Teach, the United States of America, or the People’s Republic of China, but rather my own personal views and opinion.