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Inner Mongolia: where mystery meets magic


Prior to dinner we watched the terribly brief horse racing performance on the steppes. Disappointment filled us because the Mongol men only raced once before we even had the chance to prepare our cameras. By contrast, the wrestling match proved more interesting. The brave warriors equipped with thick, heavy vests struggled and aimed to get their opponent on the ground first. They even requested volunteers from the audience to have a try. I didn’t have the guts or gusto to indulge in this rugged activity; spectatorship is more of my affinity. I learned about the three most popular sports of Mongolian culture: archery, equestrian and wrestling. Unfortunately, we didn’t witness any flinging bow and arrow excitement because it wasn’t included in our tour package.

Twilight materialized when we gathered for dinner in the canteen, situated in a large yurt. As we sat waiting for the show to begin a small goat darted into the room and jumped on the table. He was ready to chow down with us. What an image! Our hosts planned a festive performance that involved conventional Mongolian music, dancing, and the presentation of our complimentary gifts, white silk scarves placed around our necks by the hostess. As dusk grew closer the temperature dropped. It was October 1st but felt like late autumn, early winter. Our itinerary stated that we were going to “participate in the night on the steppes evening campfire [while] watching the beautiful stars.” Truthfully, we weren’t so astounded by the small campfire, but the stars lit up the night sky as darkness blanketed the remote land. I couldn’t help but think that we were in the most isolated place on earth, completely opposite from my Beijing experience.

Desert Thrills

A four hour drive was in store for us after departing Xilamuren. Where to now? It was time for fun in the sun at Kubuqi desert, China’s seventh largest. En route to this biome we saw giant mountains, crossed the Yellow River, and repeatedly noticed the corn crops being harvested by the farmers. Before entering desert turf we had to put on long boots that came in various colors. The boot strings held the boots together on our legs. They managed to keep sand out of our shoes and socks and it worked. Avoiding the long walk to meet our camels, we hopped on a jitney and drove through much of the enormous desert. We held on to our beltless seats tightly, as the jumpy ride felt like being on a rollercoaster, especially when we scurried down the semi-steep sand dunes. But it was fun! I couldn’t stop laughing.

Making our way to the camel section, we each took a seat on our own camel. I couldn’t believe how big their heads were. They were sitting down, relaxing, some of them moving their jaws as if chewing something. Then the camel trek leader commanded them to stand up; suddenly we were 20 feet tall. We started on our trek through the desert, awestruck by the bliss of it all. Waving to the other camel riders, we moved at a steady pace, not too fast or too slow. Then we stopped, rested on our camels, while our guide took individual photos of us. This seemed like Heaven to me; I loved every moment of it. New and exciting activity delighted the adventurer in me. After riding the camels, some members of our group chose to glide through the desert on speedy four-wheelers. Our frolicsome fun ended in the desert hill slide where we each took a wooden board and slid down this long hill. What a way to end a daredevil day in the desert!

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