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Published: October 5th 2008
I took a group tour with NaraSaraOd travel. (www.TravelInnerMongolia.Com)
This sure was a good idea, although I was scared. Although I have been to Beijing before, this was far away. It took me off the tourist path. I thought that Hohot would be better, but it turns out that this is not the case. There are direct flights from Shanghai to HoHot, but not to Hailar. You must change planes in Beijing.
I learned that this "isolation" has kept Hailar one of the last true Mongolian places in Inner Mongolia.
The grasslands there are famous throughout all of China, the HulumBuir grasslands.
So, this was a very special area. We went to several beautiful Mongolian dress making factories in Hailar.
We went to the famous Japanese caves where a secret Japanese Army unit conducted cruel medical experiments on
We rode horses on the vast grasslands. This was amazing. Unspoiled grasslands. As far as the eye can see, grasslands, lakes, rivers, and nature. The man who had horses had 200 horses and can take you to all these places. You can ride to a Chinese village so remote that the Chinese government has listed it as a living treasure never to be demolished. You can ride for days or an hour. I only had a half day. It is the rural China and Inner Mongolia you want to see, but never do.
I must admit that the horse riding was amazing. Be careful. Just riding for an hour or two is not good. You will not see much. Better to do horse riding for a full day or at least half a day. That way you can get to the really beautiful areas. Inner Mongolia is not only Grass. There are beautiful streams, rivers, mountains, and nature. We rode for a half day. We had a Mongolian horse rider/guide. Out on the grasslands you only hear nature.
The isolated Mongolian tents we stayed at had an archery range, but just watching the lake and fish was more interesting. Archery range meant some targets on the grasslands.
The man with the 200 horses has a hotel of sorts. It is a collection of Mongolian and Ewenki tents in the middle of nowhere on the grasslands by a lake. You can just sit and look at the lake for hours. There is total isolation. The tents have no shower, but you can walk to a nice toilet. Fine for me. We passed some "tourist" Mongolian tents, so I know that an attached toilet and shower is close "next time". It is like KOA camping in the States, if you know KOA. You can even bring your own tent here, I am told.
Nara has a network of friends who can drive you around, but they speak no English. Cheaper, yes, but not practical for many.
We visited a small Mongolian village (population 200). This was amazing. Very rural. Very isolated. Here we ate lunch, cooked by all of us. Fresh vegetables. And they killed a fresh sheep for us. So much food. Fresh lamb and vegetables. I learned that the lady here can help you make Mongolian Cheese or Mongolian Yoghurt if you want. But I did not know this. "Next time".
There was a river there. I learned that, if I had asked, Nara has real good spinning rods and spinning reels to fish. So if you like to fish in wilderness, give her a call. I did not know this so I did not fish. I walked down the dirt road and it started to rain. Really rained. Unusual for this time. People came out of houses and had me come in to avoid the rain. A man people call "The Wolf Man" carried me on his back to avoid the torrents of water on the dirt road, and I arrived back at the house we ate at. The small van we used almost got stuck several times, but we made it. Exciting to say the least. I met a man whose wife spoke only Mongolian. He is an artist. He carves wood. So beautiful that he has been offered jobs in Beijing and Shanghai, but prefers here watching sheep and cows.
I learned that there are many places to fish in Inner Mongolia. But some lakes are private. Don't only do a fishing trip with Nara, there is too much else to see. Sure you can fish with excellent fishing gear, but the area is spectacular.
Then we drove North to the Russian border. We passed through a mid way city to get fresh Russian bread and pick fresh vegetables from a friends farm.
Then more North. All the way to GenHe. Here we stayed in a forest hotel that can only be described as a lodge. Amazing. I could have easily spent several days seeing the bears, turkeys, deer, and other animals. But I only saw the animals quickly, ate fresh venison and rabbit, saw the amazing lakes, an old locomotive, a swinging bridge, then we were off again to see the Ewenki.
The Ewenki are the ONLY reindeer people in China. Yes, they have herds of real, live reindeer with all the beautiful antlers. The "red tape" to see these protected people is amazing, but somehow NaraSaraOd does it. They live deep in the forest. Deep. Even "guides" in Hailar do not know about these people. Only Nara somehow does, and knows the people like brothers.
Then we actually went further North to a town famous for an ancient people who shaped the history of China. The XianBei people. They migrated south to help carve the beautiful carvings at Luoyang. There is a small wonderful museum where I learned all this.
Zoom. We were off South now. Again passing through GenHe with its amazing open market where you can see Silk Worms sold as food. LOTS of blueberries. Lots of Hazelnuts.
South back to Hailar where we had pizza, hamburgers, and Cokes. Then North again to ManZhouli on the Russian border. This is a good city for Westerners, as sizes for clothes fit. You can get lots of real mink coats, fur hats, shoes, boots, and delicious Russian food. Nara (our guide) sure knew where to go. Right to a delicious, clean, and prosperous Russian restaurant. This is Inner Mongolia so there is a lot of cream. Russians like cream with bread. My favorite meal was borscht, fresh cream, coffee, and Russian bread. (You eat the cream with the bread. Of course I put a little in the coffee.)
We visited old trains, still used, built in the 1930's, about to be retired in two years, in a town about an hour away. The trains are used in a huge open pit mine. There is a museum there showing things they found in the mine including a whole dinosaur. The museum was undergoing decoration, so I did not go inside.
We drove back to the city of ManZhouli and walked around. Lots to see. More Russians than Chinese. Nice leather goods.
Then back to Hailar and to AerShan. This was a longer drive. We were able to stop at old Japanese airfields. The Japanese invaded all Northern Chinese cities from Manchuria on their march South. They built airfields, bunkers, railroads, and fortifications. We spent two days in this area of rest, but I did not have time to rest. AereShan is a famous Mongolian hot Springs area. There is a hot spring for every body organ. The area is all beautiful mountains. We went for a drive into the mountains and wow. Wild flowers. Rivers. Mountains. There is not much to see in the town, so this is an area to relax, use the hot springs, and learn the history. I did not know that the Japanese did medical experiments on Chinese. I thought that only the Germans did these things. There are pictures, Ughhh, to prove it.
Then back to Hailar to fly home. My 14 days was MUCH too fast. Needless to say this tour was beyond my wildest dreams and expectations. Not only did I stay mostly off the tourist path, I had a real Mongolian guide. She was scrupulously honest, polite, was always trying to help me, and I quickly learned to trust her 100%. I know she would have given her life for me. I learned she has travelled extensively through Laos, Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka, so she really knows what foreigners want, and it shows.
I learned that she also goes to Outer Mongolia (since she speaks Mongolian), other very rural parts of China, and can even tell you how to take a boat from China to Thailand. Maybe I will call her "next time".
What's the bad? Well, it is the system. Sometimes we were promised a hot shower, but when we got there we were sometimes told "Sorry, it is the end of the season and the boiler is closed down.", or "Sorry, no hot water today", or simply "What?". Sometimes we were told that a museum was closed, even though a sign on the building says they are open. Their reply was just "Sorry". So, some things do not go according to plan. It was not Nara's fault. Goodness sake, one time she cried. I guess travelling a lot makes her "know" what should happen.
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