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Will the Real Mongolia Please Stand Up?

Do you know that the temperatures in Ulaanbaatar start going negative from October onwards until end of March? In the middle of winter, the temperatures at night can go as low as -30C on average. By the way, that’s excluding the wind chill factor. And mind you, the wind speed on Mongolian grasslands can be fearsome. No wonder tourists are hard to come by in a capital city affectionately known as UB, Khot, or Lanbaatar.

But don’t lose heart! You can still experience (nearly) the same mongol culture and feel the experience elsewhere, in the province of Inner Mongolia, a province and autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. Even though the province is dominated by the Hans in major cities, such as Hohhot (in Chinese, Hu He Hao Te), the vast grasslands with sparse density were all occupied by the Mongols, sharing the same culture and way of life as their cousins across the national boundary.

The temperatures are milder significantly, infrastructure more advanced and with obviously shorter travelling time from hubs within China, you would be hard pressed not to put your priority ranking on this, comparatively speaking. If you do take a bullet train from Beijing, it would set you back by a couple of hundred RMB, depending on the class of travel and you will reach the capital of Inner Mongolia region within two and half hours. The geography of the suburban areas comprised of unending horizons flat grasslands and deserts, a smaller replica of the greater Mongolia.


The capital of Inner Mongolia autonomous region is filled with captivating places of interests even without venturing out to the intricate world of Mongol cultures yet. The visit to Hohhot would not be complete without seeing the attractions of both heaven and earth in infusing the two great cultures, the Chinese and the Mongols.

Even in the era of the Mongol empire, peace between the northern tribe and the Han emperor was preserved by one famous woman, Wang Zhaojun.  One of the four famous beauties of China, Wang sacrificed herself by volunteering to be the wife of the leader of the northern tribe. She was a  3rd or 4th ranked concubine of the Han emperor. The emperor never noticed her and by the time he realised what he had lost, Wang has been promised to the leader. Wang made the arduous journey to Mongolia. Along the trip, she sang and the flying geese looked at her and the legend has it that they all fall from the sky, after seeing Zhaojun’s beauty. Even though, the leader promised to send her back to China, after he died, that promise was never fulfilled. She was forced to marry his eldest son as one of his wives. She was never allowed to go back to China. Eventually they let her live close to China, in the current region of Inner Mongolia and she eventually passed away there. There was never a war between the Mongols and the Hans during the time Zhaojun was with the tribe leader. In addition to being a legendary beauty, she was a genuine heroine of the Han dynasty. Together with Xi Ji (Warring period), Diaochan (Three Kingdoms) and Yang Guifei (Tang), Wang Zhaojun (Han) was one of the four beauties of ancient China and she is the only one with a museum dedicated to her for her invaluable contributes towards the great Han.

Now that the earthly part of Hohhot is complete, we can now move onto more heavenly affairs. There is the famous Dazhao temple and well known five pagoda temple, evidencing the spread of Buddhism in mainland before the advent of communism. The former is the largest Buddhist temple in Inner Mongolia, constructed during the Ming dynasty. The latter is another noteworthy addition during the following Qing dynasty.

Grasslands and Deserts

Those who are into outdoors can check out the grasslands and deserts that Genghis Khan and his hoard of horsemen roamed one thousand years ago. Nearby the capital, there are some famous grasslands, namely, Xilamuren, Hulunuir and Gegentala. Observe the Yurts, or Gers, as they are called. These dwellings or houses of Mongols may be small, but the circular structure protects the strong winds from all directions. Once you reach the grasslands, you would instantly comprehend the power of such powerful gusts, accompanied by occasional mini tornados that could take away all of your loose possessions from hats to gloves while enveloping you with the dust, dirt and sand. Mongol culture can be observed in these dwellings from paying respect to Genghis Khan, infusion of Buddhism, keeping artefacts of wild animals to use of silverware for meals.

If that is not sandy enough for your liking, there is always the fringes of the world 3rd largest desert that you can explore. Kubuqi desert features many touristy attractions including camel rides, 4×4 driving, sand surfing, etc.

The costs are reasonable too. The tours are sensible so long as you do not crave for the add-ons such as horse riding or motor bike experience on these outdoors. Accommodation costs are also extremely value for money, probably due to the sparsity of regular visitors. As usual in China, infrastructure is flawless. Just make sure you got a google translator or similar device. And don’t forget to preload your VPN if you want to use any of the google services!

So, here you go! Without having to freeze your body along with your adventure, Inner Mongolia can surely give you a real taste of Mongol culture and travel back in time to figure out how the barbarians from this part of the world manage to amass the biggest land holding on earth while surviving such inclement weather in their homelands. May be all empires started while looking for better pastures elsewhere.