Xiangshawan; Could I have a slice of Sahara, please?
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On Tuesday April the 8th, I woke up to a rainy, cloudy day. Nevertheless, a day off. Seeing that our school’s busiest days are the days that regular Chinese have off, we get our free time on Mondays and Wednesdays.
And there I was, waking up to some Chinese ‘talkshow’ radio station at 7 in the morning! Aaargghh!
For a good reason though; There was a minibus ready and waiting to take us all on a staff trip into Hohhot’s suroundings.
Itinerary: Mengnu milk plant, China’s most known milk brand, situated for a large part in Inner Mongolia, Mei Dai Zhao temple and part of the Kubuqi desert, a slice of Sahara dropped right into the Nei Munggul interior.
After a few cans of beer to start the new day, we arrived fairly quickly at the plant where the milk was being pasteurised and packed (and everything else in the process). It was a pretty impressive sight how seemingly in the middle of nowhere, they have managed to build a state-of-the-art factory that has been completely automised, apart from a few souls checking if everything goes smoothly.
Especially the part where the full pellets are automatically stored in the store house is impressive. I myself have worked in a few factories in the past, and always there was somebody at the end of the line with their pumpcarts and forklifts trollying the pellets into the store house. Along the walls of the walkway were large signs of which one jumped out and I’d like to quote here:
People with both talent and virtue can be exceptionally promoted
People with virtue with no talent can be trained for use
People with talent with no virtue should be restricted for use
people with neither talent nor virtue should never be used
I thought that was pretty cool, but somehow it sounds a bit rude as well. I mean, personally I believe every soul on this planet has talents or at least a talent, so to imply that there are people who are just ‘useless’, is a bit underestimated.
If I’m right, most of the livestock has all been imported from Down Under and even Europe and the US. I was told that in the surroundings of the factory there are close to 10.000 cows on the grasslands. That’s quite a few litres of milk I would guess.
Mengnu, literally meaning ‘cow from Inner Mongolia’, is one of the largest concerns in China, making milions of dollars a year.
After a 2 hour bus ride we arrived at the Mei Dai Zhao temple, located west of Hohhot. It dates back to 1606, when it was built for Andahan, a Mongolian leader of the Ming dynasty. The total area of the temple compounds is over 40.000 m2!
It was nice enough, but after spending a bit of time anywhere in Asia, you’re soon templed out, so pretty soon we were on our way to the desert. Which didn’t seem to be near at all, I sort of expected the scenery to be gradually changing, turning into a somewhat dryer and more barren landscape, but anymore than the usual ‘dry’ landscape of this time of year, it didn’t happen.
In fact it was quite unexpected, after crossing the yellow river (Yeeh!) we simply took an exit of the highay and drove for another ten minutes or so, and there it was, Xiangshawan, a massive tongue of sand.
Xiangshawan, about 60 km’s south of Baotou, is on the road to Dongsheng. It also fairly close to Ordos, a very rich, small city where a lot of Mongolians live. The town is wealthy mostly because of the mining industry located in the area.
Xiangshawan is the Chinese name for what is so romanticly called in English, the ‘Resonant sand gorge’. It gets it name from the sound that’s created by the wind echoing through the gorge. Therefore it’s also known as ‘the singing sand dunes’.
And a gorge it is, dropping at one end, (the end with the parking lot, shopping area, hotel, ”cable car station nr.1” and all other tourist facilites) where you can see colourful rock formations and rising at the other end in the form of a sand dune variating in size from 50 metres to around a 100 metres!
We took the cable car accross the canyon to the other side, where you are given very red, yellow or blue cotton boots to protect the sand from getting in your shoes. We were then hurded onto a massive army-like jeep that drove straight into the desert.
A bit touristy, but great fun nevertheless. They stopped the truck a bit further into the sand, where we all got out and had the chance to walk and fool around a bit. I actually really enjoyed this part. Besides from some screaming by the accompanying females in the group, it was absolutely silent. Staring accross that desert, that vast stretch of just sand as far as the eye can see, is really pretty amazing.
Looking at the north, you could see an electricity plant of some sort, with smoking chimneys to go with it, which does spoils the scenery a bit. All I could think of, was walking off, in the direction of the west, where the Kubuqi desert heads into the Inner Mongolia interior along the yellow river for about 400 km’s! How great would that be to spend the night under the sky, atop a cooling sand dune looking at the stars. (Hmmm, am I getting romantic here…?)
Most of our group then decided to do a camel trek. Down in the canyon is a large farm with holding pens that are full of camels. There must’ve been about two hundred of them. Every day (in the season) these poor creatures have to walk up the dunes and stand there all day overlooking the canyon waiting for tourists to ride their backs.
I can very well imagine how for most people that’s quite the ultimate desert experience that they want. Personally though, I preferred just staring at them. They’re pretty amazing creatures, their long hair was starting to shed with the spring now here, the two massive humps on their backs. The sight of them with all that sand in the backgorund……yeah this is something you don’t want to miss if you’re ever visiting Inner Mongolia.
After returning to Hohhot at ten p.m. (!) most of the group was pretty hungry by then, so we went to a 24-hout hotpot restaurant.
Yeah, that’s a change from your regular fastfood chains. I reckon it’s perfect.
Hotpot, Mongolian’s traditional food, is a large pot in the middle of the table with a boiling broth, in which you add veggies, meat (thin sliced mutton ot lamb) and whatever else is on the menu.
It’s great, only a little liquid. (Or is that all the Tsingtao I drink with it….?)
Anyway, a great day. I hope soon to be making a blog from the grasslands, till then!