White prairies

In­ner Mon­go­lia of­fers tourists a unique win­ter won­der­land

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writ­ers through yangfeiyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Camel beauty pageants. Camel rides. Camel herd­ing.

Sheep­herd­ing. Mut­ton—lots of mut­ton—on ke­babs, in hot­pot and whole-roasted. Arm wrestling. Snow wrestling. Snow­mo­bil­ing. Snow­shoe­ing. Swim in -30 C. Boil tea in yurts. Herd rein­deer. Ski down vol­ca­noes. Shoot ar­rows. Ride sleighs. En­joy bon­fires in sub­zero tem­per­a­tures.

Oh, and don’t for­get to meet Santa. (He ap­par­ently lives in In­ner Mon­go­lia.) Get jolly.

This lengthy list of ac­tiv­i­ties is just the tip of the ice­berg of the In­ner Mon­go­lia au­tonomous re­gion’s win­ter­time itin­er­ar­ies.

It’s a list that ven­tures far beyond stun­ning scenery. And there is plenty of that. Land­scapes — ge­o­log­i­cal and cul­tural — are what the re­gion is cel­e­brated for.

Most peo­ple think of green grass­lands at the men­tion of In­ner Mon­go­lia. For good rea­son. But these are sheathed in snow from Oc­to­ber through May, when pink aza­leas pop through the white drifts. So, too, are the re­gion’s wood­lands, hot springs and deserts.

In­deed, In­ner Mon­go­lia of­fers eclectic land­scapes, cul­tures and ac­tiv­i­ties.

Prim­i­tive forests cover the Greater Hing­gan Moun­tains in the east. Volcano craters pock-mark many peaks of the Arxan Moun­tains in the west.

The di­ver­sity of win­ter­time of­fer­ings has en­ticed such travel agen­cies as CYTS-Link­age Pub­lic Re­la­tions Con­sult­ing Co to con­jure itin­er­ar­ies. The com­pany has worked with the re­gion’s tourism author­ity to de­velop win­ter routes, ex­ec­u­tive gen­eral man­ager Ge Lei says.

“The big­gest moon I ever saw was at Dal­in­uoer Lake, where birds sang and danced,” Ge says, re­call­ing his first In­ner Mon­go­lia visit in 2008.

“But most amaz­ing are the lo­cals. They’re tough enough to take down a bear but blush around strangers.”

They stage feats of snow wrestling, archery and horserac­ing, plus per­for­mances, folk-art demon­stra­tions and rit­ual sac­ri­fices, dur­ing the win­ter Nadam fes­ti­val from De­cem­ber to Fe­bru­ary.

A grow­ing num­ber of visi­tors spend Christ­mas and Lu­nar New Year hol­i­days in the re­gion to en­joy the cel­e­bra­tions, Hu­lun­buir tourism author­ity of­fi­cial Li Ji­etao says.

Hu­lun­buir is home to many eth­nic groups, in­clud­ing the Mon­go­lian, the Ewenki and the Oro­qen.

“Our eth­nic cul­ture sets us apart,” Li says. But it’s also es­pe­cially cold. Visi­tors snap pho­tos of them­selves toss­ing a cup of scald­ing wa­ter into the air that in­stantly freezes into a crys­talline pow­der and poofs onto the ground like a crash­ing cloud.

In­ner Mon­go­lia is mak­ing a par­tic­u­lar push to lure youth. This year it ear­marked a 100,000 yuan ($14,760) travel fund for col­lege stu­dents at a Bei­hang Univer­sity event in Bei­jing this month.

It has de­vel­oped routes fea­tur­ing­food, pho­tog­ra­phy and“snow leisure” for young ex­plore rs.

They can snow­mo­bile, “join the po­lar bears club” by swim­ming in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, paint in snowy fields and craft ice lanterns.

Chifeng’s Meilin Val­ley, Yakeshi’s Phoenix Moun­tain Villa and the Jin­long Moun­tains in Zha­lan­tun are pop­u­lar ski spots.

“China’s cold­est vil­lage” of­fers Christ­mas cul­ture, plus bon­fires, fire­works and Mon­go­lian dances.

In­ner Mon­go­lia has also de­vel­oped sev­eral driv­ing routes for trav­el­ers who take the wheel and steer their own des­tinies on the road.

Road trips through the Hingg an League-Hu­lun bu ir-Manzhouliw ind through birch forests, stop in at Rus­sian restau­rants and slip through rime-en­crusted land­scapes. That’s not to men­tion ice fish­ing, lava for­ma­tions and ice sculp­tures.

The Xilin­gol-Chifeng-Tongliao-Eren­hot route fea­tures a di­nosaur mu­seum, camel pageants and wildlife hunt­ing.

The Ulan Qab-Ho­hhot-Bao­tou-Er­dos itin­er­ary hosts auto-stunt shows, Mon­go­lian dairy and desert ex­plo­ration.

And the Bayan­nur-WuhaiAlxa axis of­fers an ice run atop the Yel­low River, camel rid­ing and hik­ing.

In­deed, those who jour­ney through In­ner Mon­go­lia at its most frigid will dis­cover a place that truly is a win­ter won­der­land— al­though per­haps not in the most con­ven­tional sense.

Rather, in a way in which wrestling in snow banks, swill­ing liquor from herders’ bowls and ski­ing down volcano es are what makes win­ter won­drous.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Top: Snow-coated forests in a north­ern city of In­ner Mon­go­lia. Most of the ar­eas in the re­gion are sheathed in snow from Oc­to­ber through May. Above: Herds­men cel­e­brate the win­ter Nadam fes­ti­val.

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