Tough trek through paradise
'Paradise grasslands" is probably the most suitable description of Xilin Gol League in summer.
Driving from the league's capital Xilinhot, I see the landscape spread out before me like a green carpet decorated with wild flowers.
The road stretches beyond my eyesight, meeting the azure sky dotted with fluffy clouds.
After a three-and-a-half-hour drive, I finally reach Wulagai, a delight for the eyes and the photographer.
I even want to delete some previous photos I have taken because they pale into insignificance when confronted with the scenery stretching before me in Inner Mongolia's best-preserved grasslands.
This area covers more than 5,000 sq km but only has a small population of 24,000. It is less famous than other grassland areas, making it less crowded in the peak of summer.
However, this land, nicknamed by locals "the grassland on the edge of sky", is not totally free of tourists.
I join more than 120 hiking enthusiasts from all over the country to embark on a journey passing by Wulagai in mid-June.
The route of this annual event is more than 210 km and is scheduled to take seven and a half days.
After breakfast in a small town, the group sets off for an adventure, lugging huge bags. Some participants are outdoor sports veterans, while many are amateurs like me.
We soon enter the "green carpet", where grass covers our calves. It's a little cloudy in the morning, and we have a cool start. Nevertheless, unfriendly mosquitoes gather to attack us. Since we have prepared long-sleeve shirts to keep off the sunshine, our faces become their main targets.
We soon reach the first rest station after walking for 5 km. However, when we restart again, the path becomes rocky and tough.
When we get to the bank of Wulagai River - the 300 km river is among the longest in Inner Mongolia - it's high noon. It turns sunny and hot, and the boundless grassland immediately becomes brighter.
Photoshop is not needed for photos taken here, even with a poor camera. Nature has provided the best match of color and light. White herds in the distance look like white spots scattered on the vast green on the backdrop of mountains. Time seems to slow down, and it feels like only a few hours have passed.
Thanks to Meng Qingbao, our 48-year-old local guide, we are able to keep a line snaking forward to the destination.
"I have a compass in my brain," says the driver with 20-odd years' experience in Wulagai. "The grass may look the same in your eyes, but grass in each district is unique to me."
The afternoon breeze is a welcome relief after a tough day in the sun. I almost fall asleep when taking a quick rest. When the destination of first day's route appears on the horizon, I kneel on the grass and close my eyes.
I hope the spirit of Genghis Khan would give me more strength.
I drag my exhausted legs but refreshed mind to the finishing line and help my new friends set up our tents.
It is time to reward our rumbling stomachs with a banquet. The hospitable organizers have prepared lamb plus fine kumiss made from horse milk.
I wish I could ask for a week off work to test my stamina, but, sadly, I have to cease my journey at this moment. I enjoy the splendid sunset, for I have other work to do.
The itineraries in the following days look exciting: The hikers will hold a small sports meet on the grassland, drift on the zigzagging river and finally reach the forests by the Greater Hinggan Mountains.
Pioneers of the grassland: Bon voyage!