Tale as old as the grass­land

Hailar is not just fa­mous for its scenery. The tran­sit city is home to many leg­ends, as Wang Kai­hao finds out.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE TRAVEL -

Hailar sits in the cen­ter of Hu­lun­buir in the far north­east of the In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

This city with a pop­u­la­tion of 340,000, where Hu­lun­buir mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment is lo­cated, is a com­mon pit stop for vis­i­tors on long jour­neys across the world-renowned grass­land.

Since I have only two days here, I have to race against time to catch the unique cor­ners of Hailar.

As the car drives out of town into fresher air, sud­denly all the weari­ness brought by travel is gone. I could not stop tak­ing pho­to­graphs of the beau­ti­ful lay­ers of clouds against the azure sky.

Ob­serv­ing me, the driver sur­named Zhou smiles with pride. “I al­ways won­der why you guys from cities like th­ese clouds. It is nor­mal for us.”

As we en­ter the grass­land, the clouds be­come too heavy and it starts to rain.

“The cli­mate is get­ting drier in re­cent years,” Zhou says. “It is rare to see such heavy rain in this sea­son. It is good for the grass.”

As the rain re­duces to driz­zle, I im­me­di­ately ask the driver to stop the car so that I can feel the grass.

Un­named yel­low flow­ers have just be­gun to bloom. It is hard to walk across the high grass. A large herd of cows rest in the cool weather, obliv­i­ous to my pres­ence.

Grass is not the only nat­u­ral won­der of this place. Hills in the west of Hailar of­fer a national for­est park, cov­er­ing an area of ap­prox­i­mately 150,000 hectares. Pines spread rest­lessly on the slopes and val­leys.

Men and women of the Mon­go­lian eth­nic group twist col­or­ful khatag — bless­ing silk piece — on the branches of a 500-year-old plant, nick­named “God of Tree”.

The air is ex­tremely fresh af­ter the rain. I climb up to the high­est point of the park, 664 me­ters above sea level. The scene of Hailar’s down­town looks like a mi­rage.

If I had not read the tourists’ brochure, I would not have guessed the many leg­ends buried un­der the mar­velous land­scapes.

Hake Cul­tural Relics, lo­cated 30 km to the east of Hailar, is the site where nine Ne­olithic relics were dis­cov­ered in 1985.

I wan­der into the 1,500-squareme­ter mu­seum, which ex­hibits items in­clud­ing jades, daily ar­ti­cles and weapons, from 4,000 to 5,500 years ago.

There are more than 280 Ne­olithic relics around Hu­lun­buir, con­sid­ered by arche­ol­o­gists to be the ori­gins of many no­madic civ­i­liza­tions in north­ern China.

The city of Hailar was first built in 1734, and has be­come the po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural and eco­nomic cen­ter of Hu­lun­buir since then.

I con­tinue my ex­plo­ration of lo­cal his­tory and find the relics of a huge un­der­ground fortress that was com­pleted in 1937 by Ja­pan’s Kwan­tung Army dur­ing its oc­cu­pa­tion of Hailar un­til the end of World War II in 1945.

The fortress once cov­ered an area of 21 square kilo­me­ters and had a com­plex struc­ture to guard against the for­mer Soviet Union. It is one of the big­gest for­ti­fi­ca­tions built in North­east China.

The relic is now re­named An­tiFas­cism War Me­mo­rial Park to honor the united ef­forts of Soviet Union, Mon­go­lia and China against Ja­panese in­va­sion and in mem­ory of the vic­tims of the war.

In the park is an ex­hi­bi­tion hall with ar­ti­cles from both sides of the war. Part of the maze-like fortress is open to the pub­lic.

The cold and moist un­der­ground re­minds me of the mis­er­able his­tory. I pray in front of a site with re­mains of Chi­nese la­bor­ers forced by Kwan­tung Army to dig the tun­nels.

It is al­ready dusk when I ar­rive back in down­town Hailar.

Yimin River qui­etly flows in the sparkling neon lights, which also out­line the town’s sky­line filled with Rus­sian-style con­struc­tions.

Mon­go­lian ele­ments can be found on ev­ery cor­ner. The street lamps are dec­o­rated in the shape of morin khuur (Mon­go­lian bowed stringed in­stru­ment). Totems of Ewenki, Oro­qen and Daur, three other ma­jor eth­nic groups in Hu­lun­buir, dot the fa­cades of the build­ings by the main thor­ough­fare.

Al­though phys­i­cally tired from a day spent in the beauty of na­ture and the vi­cis­si­tude of his­tory, I’m happy.

Sit­ting by the river with a bot­tle of cel­e­brated Hailar beer, I’m filled with a sense of peace as I en­joy the breezy night scene. Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

Be­low: Hu­lun­buir is home to some of the coun­try’s best grass­lands.

WANG KAI­HAO / CHINA DAILY

Hake Cul­tural Relic at­tracts vis­i­tors with its Ne­olithic relics.

WANG KAI­HAO / CHINA DAILY

An un­der­ground fortress built by Ja­panese army dur­ing World War II.

WANG KAI­HAO / CHINA DAILY

The 280-year-old Hailar is now a mod­ern city in In­ner Mon­go­lia.

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