A Travellerspoint blog

July 2008

Leaving The Grasslands for Unfarmable Desert Lands

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya Today we were to leave the rolling steppes of land and the people who were once united by the ferocious Genghis Khan. Inner Mongolia, the 'big sky county' as it is known, where a town or village full of Yurts can fill a small pixel of a modern digital camera photograph on the endless grasslands. From pixels in grasslands to pixels in arid parched almost non-existent farm lands to endless drought stricken un-farmable desert plains. Ningxia Province lay just ten hours train journey away but those ten hours where to be spent on a four numbered train without a letter at the beginning and here in China that means a 'farmers train' where no one in charge cares to clean the toilet (and in some cases even bother to unlock it) or refill the hot water for the masses whom consume endless amounts of noodles and strange 'jam jars' full of green tea. And how strange it was't that all the above happened! And as usual the isles were filled with uncountable bodies These people had paid the same amount to stand as we had paid to sit. Just as I have paid the same to stand for the same amount of sleepless hours! Our arrival in Yinchuan city was as normal, a crowd of 'You Buy You Buy' or 'You Tour You Tour' people. We ignored all and grabbed a cab to the 'Old City' and around eight kilometers and several 'no foreigners allowed' hotels we arrived at a nice little hotel just off Zhongshan Beijie. A tired not and so peachy Luo Wei fell to sleep straight away and I headed out in search of some of new and exciting Chinese noodles. What I found was a Korean eatery that served a most delicious Pibimba dish that almost took me back to my favourite eatery on the Gold Coast in Australia or to some of the more remote places in Korea that I visited. Beers N Noodles toya.....shane _________________________________________________________ The soundtrack to this entry was by Motley Crue The album was 'Theatre of Pain' __________________________________________________________ <u>Ningxia Provice</u>[/i]</b> [/i]</b> 'Ning' is the colloquial term for the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. [/i] [/i] Find it on the map in northwest China and into the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River. It is bordered by Gansu to the south, Shaanxi to the east, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the north, and is one of the five ethnic minority autonomous regions in China. [/i] [/i] Ningxia covers a total area of 66,000 square kilometers (about 25,484 square miles) and has a population of 5.62 million; one third of who are Hui minority people. It has a temperate continental climate of long, cold winters and short, hot summers with the temperature being lowest in January, averaging from -10C to -7C and highest in July, averaging from 17C to 24C. [/i] [/i] Annual rainfall averages from 190-700 millimeters.[/i] <u> History </u>[/i]</b> [/i] Ningxia, a region as culturally rich as the entire area south of the Yangtze River, continues to be admired for its resplendent cultural heritage garnered from the long river of history. During the time of the Tang and Han Dynasties (206 BC - 907 AD) Ningxia was the main place for trade and transportation between the eastern and western regions of ancient China. Ruins of the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty can be found in east Ningxia.[/i] [/i] <u>What to see</u>[/i] </b> [/i] A unique landscape, unique local customs and habits, and ancient history, all add up to make Ningxia an interesting tourist area for those wishing to discover a rich and diverse region. [/i] [/i] Yinchuan City (also called 'Phoenix City') is the capital of the region situated in the remote northwest of China. The 1000-year-old city is a famous cultural city beyond the Great Wall. The old sector of Yinchuan City to the west is green and peaceful, and contains all the places of interest. It includes the 1500-year-old Haibao Pagoda; the famous Buddhist architecture from the West Xia Kingdom Chengtiansi Pagoda; and the West Xia Imperial Tombs known as the 'Pyramids of China'. [/i][/i] [/i] One can also find there the mystic Helan Mountain Cliff Painting, created by the ancient nomads who dwelled in the regions of the Helan Mountains in northwest Ningxia. They used a bold and descriptive chiseling and drawing technique, to which they added dazzling colors, to depict the history of a splendid Chinese civilization. [/i] [/i] Liupan Mountain[/i] is located in south Ningxia. This is an area famous for its picturesque scenery and it certainly lives up to its reputation as the 'green islet'.[/i] [/i] [/i] Sand Lake Scenic Resort is the national tourist trump card for those looking for a place with a lake, sand dunes, reeds, birds and fish. During the May-September period, the lake becomes a veritable paradise for a dozen or so varieties of precious bird species, such as swans, white and grey cranes, black storks, and wild geese. [/i] [/i] Shapotou on the southern rim of the Tengger Desert: There one will find the Desert Research Centre, established in 1956 to find ways of preventing the sands from encroaching onto the railways, and one of China's four singing sand dunes. Sliding down the sand dune gives one the ethereal feeling of descending from the sky. The peculiar geological structure of the place causes the sand to emit a resonance that reverberates like the tolling of a huge bell or the beating of a big drum. Limpid water flows gently in a knee-deep stream at the foot of the dune. [/i] [/i] Ningxia is the home of Chinese Muslems. [/i]

Hoohot to Yingchuan Adventure

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Rainy Day at the Inner Mongolian Museum

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya Rain rain go away come again some other day! That's what we sang on the way to the desert and the rain did go away. Sadly for Luo Wei and I the bloody rain chose today to be that 'other' day. So, museums hey! What better day to go to a museum than on a rainy day. We were supposed to go several days ago but the sky was too blue to waste indoors. Little Turtle and Mantao had already visited the museum but Little Turtle loved it so much he wanted to come with us again. As far as museums go, for me this was my favourite. I loved the displays and the paintings behind them that gave them a more real effect. Each room was dedicated to a different theme and each room was better than the last. My personal favourite was of course the Dinosaurs! What kid can go past or choose a different room to be their favourite! I won't waste time on descriptions on each room as the photos will show most of what we saw. I tried searching the net for something descriptive but the paragraph below is all I could find. For those who do love museums it really is a great place. The building is also worth a walk around and best of all; The museum is free![/i] [/i]</b> <u>Inner Mongolia[/i] Museum[/i]. </u>Exhibitions of the flora and history of Inner Mongolian.[/i][/i] [/i] For those interested in history, the Inner Mongolia Museum would be a good place to visit. Located at East Xinhua Street, this museum covers an area of 5, 000 square meters (53, 821 square feet). The collection here has distinctive ethnic and local features. Cultural relics of Hun, Donghu, Wuhuan, Xianbei, Turki, Qidan, Nvzhen, Dangxiang and Mongolian nationalities have a large share in the total collection. [/i] [/i] Rare treasures include crown decorations of Hun kings, headgear of Xianbei, etc. [/i] Beers N Noodles toya.....shane _________________________________________________________ The soundtrack to this entry was by Collective Soul.. The album was 'The Best Of: 1994 to 2001' __________________________________________________________

Inner Mongolia Museum

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Tomb of Wang Zhaojun the Imperial Concubine

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya Princesses! You can't live with them and you can't live without them! Today we got to fulfill one of Luo Wei's dreams and that was the dream of visiting the burial grounds of Zhaojun. Luckily for us Little Turtle and Mantao also wanted to visit the site and even luckier for us all was the fact that Mantao had a friend who lives in Hohhot City. Even, even and one more even luckier for us all was the fact that he owns a car. For those who are wondering who the hell Little Turtle and Mantao are, they are a father and son who befriended us on the Grasslands and Desert Adventure. Little turtle got his name from a card game he lost and by losing he became a 'Little Turtle' and Mantao got his name as he magically would pull from his pockets several bread buns no matter what time of day it was. We met down stairs around eight and soon we were stting at one of the city's most famous Joutsa (dumplings) & Boutsa (bread buns) restaurants. We soon had before us a small soup of noodles mixed with sheep's stomach linings and for us all to share were several trays of large dumplings with a name than sounded something like 'champagne'. Even though they weren't full of bubbles they were in fact the best dumplings I've eaten in the entire time I've been in China. Now that is a big call since I have been to so many places and eaten dumplings in just as many. On the way to the Tomb the car had a bit of a hickup so soon we were piling out of the car into a auto-mechanic's that could rival any in Melbourne city. That is one thing I have noticed since arriving in Datong and Hohhot, car 'things' are everywhere just like at home. Places to groom your car. Places to take your car to have a peticure. Places to buy your car a new suit or dress. Meaning: I've seen shops that sell mag wheels, steering wheel covers, car seat covers, shammies, awesome car sound equipment and everything you need to take you, your family and your car around China in comfort. Believe me, it has been many years since I have seen such things. Maybe I walk past them in each big city I go to but just never notice them. Is the tomb actually worth your precious time? If you find yourself in Hohhot City then you're on holidays mate and almost everything and anything is worth a visit. Even if your time is limited and you have a spare afternoon then grab a cab or jump on a bus and check out the Princesses Tomb. There are several buildings, one full of artifacts and all things Zhaojun, another is a copy of Zhaojun's house she grew up in and the other is a theatre in which many beautiful girls dance around in sexy ancient clothes acting out the story of Zhaojun. Now that alone is worth a visit and I'd head there first if I was to return! The tomb itself is awesome. When you stand below it and look up it is amazing that this grass covered hill actually houses the bones of a princess who married to keep the world peaceful for her people. The views from the top offer a variety of different scenery. The strangest one being the healthy and happy dope plant! There are probably more photo's taken in front of that than the top pagoda! After a few hours rest we all headed out for a huge fun filled dinner and then returned to our palace sized room for more beer and many hours worth of chat about this and that.. I'm really happy we met Little Turtle and Mantao on the Grasslands and Desert adventure. We all get along so well and Little Turtle has taken to Luo Wei like a sister he has known for years. It is times like these that make travel even more special than what it already is! Beers N Noodles toya.....shane _________________________________________________________ The soundtrack to this entry was by Collective Soul.. The album was 'The Best Of: 1994 to 2001' __________________________________________________________ <u>Introduction to the Tomb of Zhaojun</u>[/i]</b> [/i] The tomb of Zhaojun (also known as the Green Grave' and 'Teimur Wurh' (in Mongolian, meaning an iron fortress) is located by the Da Hi River nine kilometers south of Hohhot City. [/i] [/i] Tomb of Princess Zhaojun. The resting place of Han princess who voluntarily married a nomad chief to secure peace. She is attributed with the ability to perform miracles. The tomb which was built in the Han Dynasty (BC) has a long history of around two thousand years. It is one of Inner Mongolia's major cultural relics under protection. [/i] [/i] The tomb is a colossal man-piled up earthen mound about thirty three meters in height. Covering an area of around thirteen thousand square meters, it is believed to be one of the largest existing tombs of the Han Dynasty. [/i] [/i] It is located near Hei He River, 9km (5.59 miles) from Hohhot. Zhaojun was one of the four ancient belles. She was married to the King of Hun by the Han Emperor for political reasons. Zhaojun Tomb is also known as Green Tomb since story has it that every autumn the grass on the tomb remains lush while all the rest dies with the season. The scenery surrounding the tomb varies from morning to evening, adding a touch of mystery to its beauty. [/i] [/i] Take bus No. 6 from the Muslim quarter and switch to bus No. 44 that will take you there. Fare is 1 Yuan each.

[/i] [/i]

The Tomb of Zhaojun

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Resonant Sand Gorge Adventure

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya Deserts! Let's talk about deserts! Where do you go if you want bright blue skies, sand that will scorch your naked feet, a billion other tourists that want the same and most importantly of all, no rain? You go to the desert right? No you don't. You don't go to the desert. Why don't you go to the desert? You don't go to the desert because it rains in the desert! After yesterday's awesome weather and the locals boasting that they haven't had rain for many many years we awoke at half past five to a very gloomy sky. Yes, I was awake at half five because the locals also boasted about their spectacular sunrises so what best to do than wake to see such an event. Mate I could have sworn I was home in Victoria on a happy winter morning. There was no sunrise, the sky just got brighter which in turn made the overcast sky look more dreadful and grey. Around seven, Beauty Tour Girl dropped in and we all headed to the only restaurant for pretty much the same as the night before. Though the food was the same the group was completely different. We had all bonded and happily it was a close and infectious bonding. The Aunties and bonded with Lou Wei like it was for real and Father and Son (Mantau (big bread bun) and Xiao Wugui (Little Turtle)) and taken to her like father and brother. I was caught somewhere in the middle. Everyone had taken to me but as usual upon such a short meeting no one really knew what to do with me. I knew enough Chinese to answer many question but not enough to sit and have a conversation so thankfully Luo Wei was near and all were happy! Around nine found us one the road passing through some of the most amazing scenery. As we passed beneath huge, green and strangely shaped mountains for most of the journey drifted somewhere between being awake and asleep. Around eleven our happy little tour van arrived at the Resonant Sand Gorge (Xiangshawan). The first thing you say when you see this place is pretty much the same as I said when I arrived at Yongding and saw my first Tolou (Hakke People's Earth Building) and that was; What the f*&k! Wouldya look at that! Here we were in Inner Mongolia, upon the endless grasslands and right before our eyes (or tour van) was a part of the Kubuqi Desert with sand dunes that rose up to one hundred and ten meters high. Somethings are just a little hard to take and this was one of them. Thankfully our tour price included the entrance fee along with the delicious lunch that we sat for prior to digging my sandals into what were supposed to be, never ending shifting sands. But today it would take more than our foot steps to shift these rain drenched sands! Anyhow, I found this on the net and it pretty much says what I began to write. You all read enough of my jibber so it will be nice to read someone elses for a change. The Resonant Sand Gorge is a very popular destination in this region of Inner Mongolia, which in China always means there is both an unbelievably big assortment of tourist facilities as well as a similarly unbelievable big assortment of entrance tickets. The cheapest option to enter the gorge and adjoining sand dunes by buying an entrance ticket and crossing the steep canyon walls on foot. This is what we did, but it is really quite dangerous. (Ha Ha, as we were in a tour van we were dropped off at the front gate and after lunch we all jumped in the big sand jeep and had a blast as it took us up the one hundred and ten meter sand dune. It was totally awsome...kind of like being in a speed boat but on sand...shane) There are no stairs, just some kind of rickety old rope ladder which is certainly unsuitable for small children and the elderly. Of course there is another option; you can cross the valley using the cable way which costs extra. On a hot day, this is money well spent, because after a rope ladder descent along the rocks, the next challenge of climbing the one hundred and ten meter sand dune in the burning sun is one you can do without. I expected a magnificent view of the desert scenery, once over the top of that sand wall, but in fact (and I could've guessed that!) there was nothing short of desert theme park. There are jeeps, karts, sand ski's, sand sleds, ball games and so on. There's even a modern desert hotel building, a supermarket and large souvenir hall. So much for a serene nature's wonderland... (I'm a bit confused with the above paragraph as the hotel, supermarket and souvenir hall are actually all down the bottom of the sand wall near the front gate and ticket box...shane). The two most interesting things to do are the jeep trail, which takes you on a wild ride over some of the steep sandbanks and secondly, the camelback tour to an ancient desert village. Although I always feel that a whole range of tourist facilities like this are rather unfavorable to the natural experience, some of them are quite useful. It was a sunny August day when we visited the desert and the scorching heat was really beyond imagination. It doesn't matter how many bottles of water you carry with you, it's never enough. When the warm wind that blows over the barren dunes it dehydrates you like a giant hairdryer so bless the drink vendors! The Resonant Sand Gorge carries this odd name, because it is said that the echo of the sand that moves in wind creates a Shhhh-sound that reverberates through the gorge. And because of the structure of the rocky left side of the gorge and the changes in the wind, that sound can become very melodious with tones similar to that of a pan flute. Just as all the other visitors there, I was very keen on hearing the song of the sand (as the signs poetically call it) and we all listened very carefully at various places in and around the gorge. Maybe the wind wasn't right, maybe the buzz of the many tourists to loud, or maybe it's just one more of those fantastic Chinese folk tales; but the sand was as quiet as a mouse. Beers N Noodles toya.....shane _________________________________________________________ The soundtrack to this entry was by.the powerful Slayer The album was 'Reign In Blood' __________________________________________________________

Hohhot Desert Adventure

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Xilamuren Grasslands Adventure

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya What can I say? I can say that I can't say it was ever one of my dreams. But I know of quite a few people who would love to do what I have just done. I rode a horse all over the endless plains of the Xilamuren Grasslands in Inner Mongolia. I have always wanted to visit Inner Mongolia but after getting thrown off my horse on my horse adventure to Ice Mountain near Songpan a few years ago so I can't actually say that getting on the back of a horse was something I wanted to do again. I'm in the way of thinking that if we were meant to ride horses they would be born with a horn, blinkers, saddles or maybe even a bike seat type of thing. A set of brakes would be pretty cool. Disk breaks would be a bonus. Maybe even some roll bars! As most people know, Mongolia's history is very much about its grasslands and near Hohhot city there are three Grassland Adventures to choose from. One is the Xilamuren Grasslands. We chose this as they were the closest and the cheapest. The Xilamuren Grasslands are situated around eighty to ninety kilometers north of Hohhot city. Secondly there is the Huitengxile Grasslands which are around one hundred and twenty kilometers west of Hohhot and lastly there are the Gegentela Grasslands which are around one hundred and fifty kilometers north of Hohhot City. I only visited one but I honestly can't see how any of the grasslands could be different. Maybe the accommodation and food but as for the grasslands themselves, I'm sure all three would offer a large prairie with a splash of colour added by the wildflowers that grow in abundance as far as the eye can see. Kind of giving it the whole 'Windows XP Wallpaper' experience. Upon the treeless plains you will find large groups of Yurts and even larger gatherings of tourists, all of whom have grown four legs, learnt to whiney, neigh, canter and gallop. All the while flicking their tails and proudly shaking their manes. Adding to the entire 'Windows XP Wallpaper' adventure is the immense blue sky above which seriously, without any trees and buildings seems to become a giant ocean. I remember staring at its splendor in total awe and feeling so enthusiastic about everything, I then remembered that I was on the back of a horse and my fear regained its control over my entire self. Strangely, everything not only was clean but it also felt over clean, hard to explain. The air was fresh and crisp and the amount of grass was overpowering. There was so much of only two things, blue and green. While you're out and about in Inner Mongolia there are plenty of other things you can sign up for; Mongolian wrestling, camel riding, rodeo competitions, archery, visiting traditional families and singing and dancing. The Xilamuren Grasslands are also known as Zhaohe because of its Lama Temple-Puhui Temple. Somewhere behind this temple you can splash about in the Xilamuren River (known as the Yellow River in Mongolian). Halfway though your Windows XP Wallpaper adventure can be found Aobao. Aobao is a large pile of stones on a small hill that was originally used as a land mark upon the endless grasslands. As the grasslands were far away from mountains, people gradually began to regard Aobao as a mountain where they could worship gods. These ceremonies even now can last for several days and are also used as an opportunity for young people find new partners. In times past this led to a famous folk song called A Date At Aobao. It is also said that if you pick up a stone and walk around Aobao three times in a clockwise direction, make a wish, and then put the stone back at Aobao, your wish will be fulfilled. I chose to watch some of the others do this...from the back of my horse. I wasn't contemplating the idea of getting off and then struggling to get back on. I simply sat where I was first placed and allowed my horse to wonder where ever it chose. I'm still not quite sure about the whole tour thing, I know I would never do something like that on my own but I guess the small things that I allowed to be big things really were my own fault for not asking more questions. Some of them I thought were answered but I guess I left a few words out like; how long etc. On the whole Luo Wei and I really did have a wonderful time and to watch her ride a horse with such confidence along with such a big happy smile is more than worth my many hours of complete body tension due to huge horse fear... Luo Wei has never had a chance to do anything like this in her life. This includes any type of travel, horse rides, going to the desert, visiting grottoes, and long bumpy bus rides etc. It is such a wonderful adventure for her and one that I know will change her life. I am so lucky and excited to be able to share it with her. If she wasn't with me there is no way I would ever have ridden a damn horse on Mongolian Grasslands. I probably would have caught a local bus and walked around for a few hours. The tour was actually really great and we got to meet some awesome people from all walks of life here in China, all of whom fell for Luo Wei before we even arrived at the grasslands. The tour was for two days, one of which was spent at the grasslands where we got to spend the night in a Mongolian Yurt, ride horses, watch Mongolian horsemen do things with a horse that I never thought possible (without gumboots!) and pretty much relax and get to know new people. The second day was spent at a huge sand dune. I won't write about that here, you will have to wait for the next blog for that. For anyone wanting to book a tour like we did here is a short run down on things. Your accommodation is very comfortable but/and shared with up to six people in the one yurt. Don't expect a bed, just expect a very comfortable space. The food is good, well I thought it was. Of course drinks are not included and neither is the huge leg of lamb that each person has to pay an extra 50 Yuan for. They also spring that one on you. Toilets and bathrooms? HHhhhmmm do we really need to get into this one? I in fact, I have no idea what to call these ones and that's saying something! Maybe it would help if I just told you to bring your own, or bring someone else's! They would have to be some of the worst I have ever used. In fact they are worse than any 'Outback dunny' in Australia. The swarm of flies can be both seen and heard from about thirty meters away. I pretty much waited till dark to do what I needed to. I've used many bad toilets all over Asia but I simply refused to use these ones. Of course if you choose a more expensive tour you will get better toilets. That hopefully, come with a few million less flies. Your tour cost doesn't include the cost of riding a horse and be careful to ask how long the horse ride is. You are simply told it is 50 to 100 Yuan for 'the hour'. When you get there and you are all ready to ride, 'They' then tell you it is a four to six hour ride and that it is not possible to ride for only one hour. They then also tell you that you can't walk like I wanted too! And that my friends was a real bugger for me! I took one look at Luo Wei's big happy smile and chose the smallest horse possible, which of course 'They' then exchanged for a bigger one that threw me in Songpan. This one also came without breaks or rollbars. At least I could have dragged my feet along the ground on the small one and used them for breaks. So began a nearing six hour horse ride that left me completely and utterly body numb afterwards. Every step, every tail flicker, every ninny or neigh my gentle horse made, made me clutch tighter and tighter to my reins. You should have seen me whenever a bee began buzzing around my horse! Within five minutes of starting my entire body was tense and by the time I finally got to place my feet back on solid ground my legs were so jelly like that I nearly fell over and if the horse wasn't right beside me I may have done so and then woken a few hours later. Even though I tried hard not to, I rode with expectations of being thrown All the while Luo Wei would canter on past me laughing telling me to hurry up. She would then double back and with an even bigger smile canter on past me again. Beers N Noodles toya...shane _________________________________________________________ The soundtrack to this entry was by Sonic Youth The album was 'The Best Of' __________________________________________________________

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)