Welcome to my third installment of On the Road in Inner Mongolia, in which I give you a glimpse at life on Inner Mongolia’s Xilamuren Grasslands. After an action-packed day in Baotou and the Kubuqi Desert, Shirley and I traveled with our group to experience nomad culture in the grasslands.
Spending time in Baotou the day before had opened my eyes about industry and modernization in Inner Mongolia. Although I am well aware, from living in Beijing, that China’s development in recent years has been remarkably rapid, it is another thing to see it in action in other parts of the country on a day-to-day basis. Baotou was essentially a large construction site, as many second- and third-tier Chinese cities currently are. I could see its the growing pains as it tries to catch up with Beijing, Shanghai, and other Chinese supercities. Almost every block featured a construction project in progress.
Xilamuren was a eye-opening departure from the urban industrial feel of Baotou. Driving to the grasslands, I could clearly track the transition from urban hub to nomadic territory. Construction sites gradually melted out of the landscape; city centers distilled into smaller roadside strip malls; and eventually, all that was left along the road was grass and sky. As one might expect, the air was much clearer as we neared the grasslands. The gray, sunless haze that so often characterizes Chinese metropolitan centers was absent, with large clouds and soft sunlight in its place.
As we neared our destination for the day – a yurt community in which we would stay the night – pockets of nomadic communities began to pop up on the flat, green landscape. Some big, some small, these communities were all characterized by white and blue yurts – small dome-shaped structures that are typical of nomadic tribes in the area. After taking a few dirt roads to a more remote part of these grasslands, we finally reached our yurt community. Mongolian flags waved in the breeze over a wood-framed entrance.
Walking into the community, we were greeted by nomads dressed in traditional Mongolian costume (similar to that of the Mongolian dancers we had met the day before). Two lines of singing nomads ushered us in one by one. For the adults in the group, they offered a small cup of local Mongolian alcohol. Before drinking it, one had to first dip his or her ring finger into the alcohol three times: once, to flick it to the sky; another, to flick it to the ground; and finally, to touch the forehead. After this, the guest could finally drink the alcohol.
Once we had all been formally greeted, we set out to an empty space of land where we learned to construct yurts.
Stay tuned for more of my stories from Inner Mongolia on the WildChina blog.