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On safari in Inner Mongolia

By Jules Quartly (China Daily)

10:21, July 26, 2012

From top: Traditions are maintained on Gegentala Grassland, even it is mainly for tourists these days. Mongolian wrestlers make their charge. Deluxe yurts for five star visitors. (China Daily/Jules Quartly)

Gegentala Grassland promises dazzling landscapes, fresh air and timeless entertainments. Now's the time to visit, Jules Quartly reports.

A trip to Gegentala Grassland in July is a bit like going on safari: Endless plains and a blue vault of sky, campfire and counting stars, lively local culture, and animals, lots of them.

It's where the annual Naadam Festival - Asia's equivalent of Greece's Olympic Games - is hosted from July 25-31; while the International Naadam Festival takes place in Ordos from Aug 27 to Sept 3.

It's bound to be a colorful experience, full of history and culture; while the clean air and unspoiled grasslands provide a physical and mental detox for city slickers.

Gegentala Grassland, in Siziwang banner, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, derives its name from the Mongolian for "summer grazing area" and historically huge flocks of sheep and herds of cows have descended on the plains to be fattened up in preparation for the slim pickings of the winter months ahead.

There's just a three-month window from mid-June to September when the weather is balmy, flowers bloom and the nights don't have a nip in the air, so this is the time to go.

It's a great little road trip of 140 km from Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia autonomous region, north over Mount Daqing. On the roadside are scattered smallholdings and farms dug into the loess soil (rich and sandy, hence its yellow color), while pigs root around outside and straw is stacked up for use as both insulation and fodder.

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