Travel Journal #6 – Unexpected Delight

Hohhot, a city in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China, known for its expansive grasslands and deserts, is not where I expected to spend the week-long holiday after National Day. While I was sitting in my room perusing train tickets and flights to anywhere but another city, my classmates Rachel and Hunt stumbled across tickets online to Hohhot.
The rest, as they say, is history; a week later we were on a 22-hour train ride to Inner Mongolia. Upon our arrival in the city, we were bombarded by men who offered us taxi rides to our hotel. We decided upon the most trustworthy-looking driver and the seven of us piled into his cramped van and headed to our hotel. The honest-looking driver then proceeded to get lost—twice. But we made it to the hotel eventually, where we proceeded to sneak into our single room without being noticed by the hotel staff. We all went to bed feeling anxious and underprepared.camels
The next day after a quick breakfast we made our way to the bus station to get tickets to the grasslands. However, luck was on our side because another man with a van offered us and six other tourists a round-trip ride to the grasslands, which included lodgings and meals for the duration of the trip. Needless to say, we got into his van too. In the grasslands we were greeted by people in traditional Mongolian dress with a questionable blessing ceremony and shown to our yurt, a traditional Mongolian home. Even though all of the grass had died, it was still breathtaking to behold the gentle wave of the plains that surrounded us. I couldn’t have felt luckier.
I rode my first horse that day, which I affectionately named Chile, and promptly dropped my iPhone while riding. During our ride some locals treated us to tea and delicious candy before sending us back to our yurt home. As the midday sun slowly began to fall, we explored the grasslands. We discovered a stupa near the top of a hill, and in traditional Mongolian practice, we circled it in reverence. I said a small prayer and left something white behind, yet another tradition. After visiting the stupa, we made our way to dinner where we participated in traditional songs and dances by the people who were renting us our yurt. Dinner then led to stargazing; with all of the light pollution at least two hours away, the sky was brighter than I could have ever imagined. I saw two shooting stars, but I really didn’t need the wishes.
The next day we drove to a little section of the Gobi desert, where we rode camels (I named mine Cleo), played in the sand, and made our best human Centre sign to date. In the evening, we made our way back to Hohhot where we caught our train to Beijing at 2 a.m. After a short jaunt in the Beijing train station and a long subway ride back, Shanghai greeted us with a typhoon. But even the rain and flooded streets couldn’t dampen what had been a surreal few days.
Even if I had already traveled all over China, I don’t think that I could have hoped for a better trip. And who here expected it to happen in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China. Not me, surely!
 
by Morgan Whitehead ’15, currently participating in the Centre-in-China study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in China.
 
PHOTOS: A sunrise in Hohhot, a city in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China (top of page); me and my classmates riding camels in Mongolia (above right).

By |2013-10-16T14:25:46+00:00October 16th, 2013|News, Study Abroad, Travel Journals - China|