Dinosaurs and Genghis Khan: My Inner Mongolia experience
The author photographed in front of two dinosaur statues in Ereenhot, Inner Mongolia autonomous region. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
The first thing that comes to mind when you think about traveling to Inner Mongolia is the pristine, seemingly endless, rolling grasslands that cover swathes of the northern Chinese autonomous region. However, for me, a fan of all things off the beaten track, the main draw was the unusual cities it has to offer. Arriving in the regional capital Hohhot, I set out to experience the two most interesting and unique destinations I could find: the city of Ordos and Ereenhot, home to some impressive dinosaur fossils.
Hohhot, although cold in terms of weather, was a very warm and welcoming place. The hospitality, which started with shouts of “hello” from passers-by, continued at my accommodation with offers of traditional blood sausage upon arrival and a short concert of morin khuur music from the owner’s friend in the evening. The city itself is filled with opportunities to learn about the history of the autonomous region at large and the Inner Mongolia Museum is a particular treat. It takes you through thousands of years of local history all the way up to the role that the autonomous region has played in China’s space program.
The highlight of Hohhot was the food, specifically at a restaurant chain called "Grandma". The colorful interior and attentive staff added to the authentic cuisine on offer. I tried sweet cheese, camel meat pie and roasted local lamb, all of which were a delight. The local milk tea delivered the same warmth that I had felt from the city and its people since my arrival.
Next stop, Ordos – somewhere I was keen to see after hearing about its rapid development. I would have to hold on a little longer, however, as I first visited the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, around 50 kilometers to the south. The monument to one of the world’s most well-known men is as grand as his empire was vast, yet at the same time feels deeply somber. Discovering the many buildings, shrines and statues really gives you a proper overview of the man's achievements.
The entrance to the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos, Inner Mongolia autonomous region. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Ordos offers a number of amazing experiences, such as history and science museums, and the food, as with most places in China, is mouthwatering. But despite its many attractions, the city never felt crowded like many tourist draws do. Ordos has been carefully designed, with city planners ensuring its streets and public areas provide ample space for locals and visitors alike.
After an overnight train back through the tundra, the final stop during my brief escapade to the autonomous region was Ereenhot, a small city, especially by China's standards, of around 80,000 people near the border with Mongolia. Built around the border crossing, Ereenhot's main claim to fame is that it houses some of the world's oldest dinosaur fossils in the China Ancient Biology Museum. First, however, was to be a quick trip to one of the more surreal attractions I've had the pleasure of visiting.
Guarding the highway just outside of town are two giant brontosaurus statues that tower over the road and provide a stark contrast to the barren tundra that extends for miles around. Built as an attraction intended to bring people to the "Dinosaur City", the noble creatures are truly a sight to behold.
After snapping a few photos, I headed back into town and spent the afternoon at the dinosaur museum which sits on the edge of town, backing onto the expanse where so many of its fossils had been found. Afternoon turned to evening and with my trip already coming to an end, I sat staring out at the sunset from the raised walkway around the museum. The burnt oranges and distant clouds gave the impression of an alien landscape and I lost myself in the unusual, poignant, and generally fascinating experiences I'd had during my short trip to Inner Mongolia. It was an unforgettable end to a unique journey exploring the mesmerizing delights of northern China.
Paddy Body is a Shanghai-based writer and editor from the UK. He regularly travels to cities across China to experience the country's cuisines and culture.