After spending two days in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, Cathy and I went to the different tourist agencies to negotiate for a tour to the famous grasslands. There were several grasslands to go to, but I was particularly looking for a tour agency that can offer us with an English Interpreter. No such luck! Well... not at the amount I'm willing to pay anyway. The popular travel agencies charge exorbitant fares on tours for foreigners! So, we embarked on a tour with a group of 8 other chinese tourists. And then off we went to the famous "Xilamuren Grassland".
After travelling several hours, we made a turn from the paved road into a dirt road. The bumpy road was soon tucked away at the back of my mind to be replaced by the striking sight of the prairie , the bluest sky and herd of cattle dotted here and there like moving white clouds.We also drove past hundreds of the largest and most conspicuous white wind-mills I've ever seen!Wow!
We reached at about 3:00 pm in the afternoon. As we got down from the van, I noticed several Yurts, traditional Mongolian houses called "pao". We were to stay in these Yurts.We were welcomed by several Mongolian youths at the gate all attired in the colourful Mongolian traditonal dress. They started singing songs and each of us were given a drink in a tiny china cup. On enquiring about the drink, I found out that it was a traditional drink of liquor offered to visitors. I told Cathy that I don't drink and was about to hand over the cup back. Cathy explained to me that it would be taken as an offense not to drink. I eventually gave in and thought that just one small peg wouldn't be of any harm or have effect on me. I downed it in one gulp!! Ooops....a big mistake!! The drink turned out to be VERY strong, or so I think. My head started to spin and I felt like throwing up! We were immediately shown to our room in the Yurt and the rest of the day is spent feeling pretty sick. I urged Cathy to go on ahead with the others. There's no point in staying with me, who's quite whacked because of one little 'harmless' peg of Mongolian traditional drink! Tsk tsk!
I felt a little better by supper time. We were served special traditional dishes including a whole-roasted-lamb! After supper, they made a bonfire and there were traditional singing and dancing. We were also entertained with the traditional 'horse fiddle', a stringed musical instrument which has a horse head carved on the top. The strings are made of horse hair!It's quite chilly outside in the evening though. The sky lit up with millions of stars, a sight to behold in itself. I haven't seen so many stars in my life!
The next day, we went horse-riding. We paid 100 RMB (about Rs. 520) for 2 hours, to go to another village and back. It was just as I imagined. As a child it was my dream to own a horse :) I have always been facinated by horses and riding on one in this vast and beautiful land felt almost...surreal. We headed for the village which comprises of more Yurts. We were offered milked tea inside the Yurt with Genghis Khan's picture peering right down at us from the wall. As an ardent tea lover, I found the tea a bit yucky which was lukewarm and has no or little tea-leaf on it. Yuck! But then it was all part of the culture experience.
I also rode a camel, yay! The local youth performed horse race and traditional wrestling which was very entertaining. I especially enjoy the time we went out walking. There were wild-flowers everywhere and I could see horses and other cattle grazing nearby and in the far horizon.The kind of feeling I had at that moment was total freedom...just myself and nature....nothing else..and it was definitely rejuvenating and invigorating. I wished I could stay on for a few more days. But all too soon, it was time to head back to Hohhot again.