The Xilamuren Grasslands Adventure

Trip Start Jan 01, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya
What can I say?
I can say that I can't say it was ever one of my dreams.
But I know of quite a few people who would love to do what I have just done.
I rode a horse all over the endless plains of the Xilamuren Grasslands in Inner Mongolia.
I have always wanted to visit Inner Mongolia but after getting thrown off my horse on my horse adventure to Ice Mountain near Songpan a few years ago so I can't actually say that getting on the back of a horse was something I wanted to do again.  I'm in the way of thinking that if we were meant to ride horses they would be born with a horn, blinkers, saddles or maybe even a bike seat type of thing.
A set of brakes would be pretty cool.
Disk breaks would be a bonus.
Maybe even some roll bars!
As most people know, Mongolia's history is very much about its grasslands and near Hohhot city there are three Grassland Adventures to choose from.  One is the Xilamuren Grasslands.  We chose this as they were the closest and the cheapest.  The Xilamuren Grasslands are situated around eighty to ninety kilometers north of Hohhot city.  Secondly there is the Huitengxile Grasslands which are around one hundred and twenty kilometers west of Hohhot and lastly there are the Gegentela Grasslands which are around one hundred and fifty kilometers north of Hohhot City.
I only visited one but I honestly can't see how any of the grasslands could be different. 
Maybe the accommodation and food but as for the grasslands themselves, I'm sure all three would offer a large prairie with a splash of colour added by the wildflowers that grow in abundance as far as the eye can see.  Kind of giving it the whole 'Windows XP Wallpaper' experience.  Upon the treeless plains you will find large groups of Yurts and even larger gatherings of tourists, all of whom have grown four legs, learnt to whiney, neigh, canter and gallop.
All the while flicking their tails and proudly shaking their manes.
Adding to the entire 'Windows XP Wallpaper' adventure is the immense blue sky above which seriously, without any trees and buildings seems to become a giant ocean.  I remember staring at its splendor in total awe and feeling so enthusiastic about everything, I then remembered that I was on the back of a horse and my fear regained its control over my entire self. 
Strangely, everything not only was clean but it also felt over clean, hard to explain. 
The air was fresh and crisp and the amount of grass was overpowering.
There was so much of only two things, blue and green.
While you're out and about in Inner Mongolia there are plenty of other things you can sign up for; Mongolian wrestling, camel riding, rodeo competitions, archery, visiting traditional families and singing and dancing. The Xilamuren Grasslands are also known as Zhaohe because of its Lama Temple-Puhui Temple. Somewhere behind this temple you can splash about in the Xilamuren River (known as the Yellow River in Mongolian).
Halfway though your Windows XP Wallpaper adventure can be found Aobao. 
Aobao is a large pile of stones on a small hill that was originally used as a land mark upon the endless grasslands. As the grasslands were far away from mountains, people gradually began to regard Aobao as a mountain where they could worship gods. These ceremonies even now can last for several days and are also used as an opportunity for young people find new partners.  In times past this led to a famous folk song called A Date At Aobao.  It is also said that if you pick up a stone and walk around Aobao three times in a clockwise direction, make a wish, and then put the stone back at Aobao, your wish will be fulfilled.
I chose to watch some of the others do this...from the back of my horse.
I wasn't contemplating the idea of getting off and then struggling to get back on.
I simply sat where I was first placed and allowed my horse to wonder where ever it chose.
I'm still not quite sure about the whole tour thing, I know I would never do something like that on my own but I guess the small things that I allowed to be big things really were my own fault for not asking more questions.  Some of them I thought were answered but I guess I left a few words out like; how long etc.  On the whole Luo Wei and I really did have a wonderful time and to watch her ride a horse with such confidence along with such a big happy smile is more than worth my many hours of complete body tension due to huge horse fear...
Luo Wei has never had a chance to do anything like this in her life. 
This includes any type of travel, horse rides, going to the desert, visiting grottoes, and long bumpy bus rides etc.  It is such a wonderful adventure for her and one that I know will change her life.  I am so lucky and excited to be able to share it with her.  If she wasn't with me there is no way I would ever have ridden a damn horse on Mongolian Grasslands. 
I probably would have caught a local bus and walked around for a few hours.
The tour was actually really great and we got to meet some awesome people from all walks of life here in China, all of whom fell for Luo Wei before we even arrived at the grasslands.  The tour was for two days, one of which was spent at the grasslands where we got to spend the night in a Mongolian Yurt, ride horses, watch Mongolian horsemen do things with a horse that I never thought possible (without gumboots!) and pretty much relax and get to know new people. 
The second day was spent at a huge sand dune.
I won't write about that here, you will have to wait for the next blog for that.
For anyone wanting to book a tour like we did here is a short run down on things.  Your accommodation is very comfortable but/and shared with up to six people in the one yurt.  Don't expect a bed, just expect a very comfortable space.  The food is good, well I thought it was.  Of course drinks are not included and neither is the huge leg of lamb that each person has to pay an extra 50 Yuan for.  They also spring that one on you. 
Toilets and bathrooms?
HHhhhmmm do we really need to get into this one?
I in fact, I have no idea what to call these ones and that's saying something!
Maybe it would help if I just told you to bring your own, or bring someone else's!
They would have to be some of the worst I have ever used.  In fact they are worse than any 'Outback dunny' in Australia.  The swarm of flies can be both seen and heard from about thirty meters away.  I pretty much waited till dark to do what I needed to.  I've used many bad toilets all over Asia but I simply refused to use these ones. 
Of course if you choose a more expensive tour you will get better toilets.
That hopefully, come with a few million less flies.
Your tour cost doesn't include the cost of riding a horse and be careful to ask how long the horse ride is.  You are simply told it is 50 to 100 Yuan for 'the hour'.  When you get there and you are all ready to ride, 'They' then tell you it is a four to six hour ride and that it is not possible to ride for only one hour.
They then also tell you that you can't walk like I wanted too!
And that my friends was a real bugger for me!
I took one look at Luo Wei's big happy smile and chose the smallest horse possible, which of course 'They' then exchanged for a bigger one that threw me in Songpan.  This one also came without breaks or rollbars.  At least I could have dragged my feet along the ground on the small one and used them for breaks.  So began a nearing six hour horse ride that left me completely and utterly body numb afterwards.  Every step, every tail flicker, every ninny or neigh my gentle horse made, made me clutch tighter and tighter to my reins. 
You should have seen me whenever a bee began buzzing around my horse!
Within five minutes of starting my entire body was tense and by the time I finally got to place my feet back on solid ground my legs were so jelly like that I nearly fell over and if the horse wasn't right beside me I may have done so and then woken a few hours later. 
Even though I tried hard not to, I rode with expectations of being thrown
All the while Luo Wei would canter on past me laughing telling me to hurry up.
She would then double back and with an even bigger smile canter on past me again.
Beers N Noodles toya...shane
The soundtrack to this entry was by Sonic Youth
The album was 'The Best Of'

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