"Nei menggu: the place beyond the wall" Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region by mke1963

Mountains and a great plateau

Such is the size of Inner Mongolia, it takes two hours for the sun to rise over the entire region - the third biggest in China after Tibet and Xinjiang. Inner Mongolia conjures up images of grasslands and arid deserts, men on horseback herding horses, cattle and sheep, and Mongol warriors held at bay by the Great Wall of China.
Most maps appear to make Inner Mongolia flat and featureless, which is not the case. While much of the region consists of the Mongolian plateau, it is not all flat like Kansas or East Anglia, as the land varies by a few hundred metres around 1000 metres: those few hundred metres are enough to create substantial hills and deep gorges. At the eastern end, the Great Hinggan Range are forested, semi-humid mountains, In the centre, the Hulan and Yinshan mountains fringe the northern loop of the Yellow River. Between the Yinshan and the Dahingganshan the grasslands form a rolling countryside, with some true desert and semi-desert area. To the east of the Yinshan and the Yellow River, there is a succession of desert areas and semi-arid steppe; among them, the notorious Galbyn Gov' (or Galpin Gobi) and Zungarian Desert.
To the south of the Yellow River loop is the Ordos Desert, which has always been one of the most significant strategic locations in the whole of China, governing the western and northern apporaches to central China, Tibet and Central Asia.
The Yinshan and Dahingganshan are really the jagged, forested step down from the Mongolian plateau to the lower levels of the north China plain and the centre of China
However, it still surprises most visitors to find that - for much of the year, at least, most of Inner Mongolia is a verdant green rather than sand brown.

Rain, sand, sun and history

Climatically, Inner Mongolia is best by climatic extremes with long bitterly cold winters, and fearsome hot summers. River beds are dry for much of the year, filled with snow-melt in spring, and overflowing after summer thunderstorms that sweep across the region quickly and unepxectedly. Spring winds can be very strong, especially west of the Yinshan and bring nasty sandstorms.
Even in summer, the evening temperatures can drop quite low.

Historically, Inner Mongolia has seen almost constant migration, and each group has absorbed and blended with sucessors and contemporary migrations, from the early Dayao cultures and Xianbei tribes to themore recent Han, Hui and Russian immigrants.
Inner Mongolia has been the homelands of the dreaded Xiongnu (or Eastern Huns), the Tartars, the Khitan, Jurchen/Liao and Jin, as well, of course, as the Mongolians themselves, after whom the area is named.
After the 14th Century, the more tradiotionally pastoral Han Chinese started moviing, undre population pressure further south, into areas where agriculture was possible. The Mongolian herders initially were not particularly troubled by this migration, and even tacilty welcomed the potentially troublesome exiled White Lotis buddhist sect members. In the last three centuries, Hui muslims also appeared in the area. In the last 100 years, significant Han migration put signifiant pressure on the ethnic mix. Today, the region is administered as an "autonomous region" rather than a Chinese province, with more than half of China's 56 nationalities represented. Less than 15% are Mongolian, significant numbers of mainly urban Hui, a handful of Daur, Ewenki, and Oroqen, and a smatering of others including Russians.
To the north lies the Republic of Mongolia, and if you want to see true Mongolian culture, this is where you need to head. Within Inner Mongolia, you are most definitely in China: it looks and feels like China, and what you see of ethnic minorities depends on what you are seeking. A tourist Mongolian grasslands festival gives you a spectacle rather than a feel for a culture. The authorities in Inner Mongolia talk up the aspects of national unity and harmony: so much so that it grates and feels like a child's insecurity: the more you say it, the more it is.

Visiting Nei menggu

For the visitor, there is a whole world to discover in Inner Mongolia, but you have to really work at finding it if you want more than the pastiche of mainstream tourist sights and a few evenings of folk dancing.

Unusually for my entries on Virtual Tourist, I intend, over time, including listings for Inner Mongolia to help people planning trips here. I usually only provide entries for places I have personally visited.
There is very little available in English on Inner Mongolia, even once you get there, and it is incredibly difficult to find information on things like hotels, trains, and places of interest.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Beautiful; unknown places; mountains; deserts; forests; lakes
  • Cons:Climatic extremes; abysmal infrastructure; little information
  • In a nutshell:A whole world to discover and 700,000 years of history
  • Last visit to Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region: Aug 2004
  • Intro Updated Aug 25, 2004
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mke1963

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