The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region stretches across northern China, bordering Mongolia and Russia to the north, and several Chinese provinces to the south.
Inner Mongolia, as the region is commonly known, was established on the May 1, 1947, and has over 24 million inhabitants from different ethnic groups, including Mongolians, Daur, Ewenki, Orogen, Hui (Muslim Chinese), Manchu, Korean, and Han. The latter makes up the biggest ethnic group in Mongolia, and as a result, the most widely used language in the region is Chinese.
The Inner Mongolian capital Hohhot was founded by Altan Khan in the sixteenth century. Hohhot means “Blue City” in Mongolian, and the city has some very interesting places to visit, including Dazhao Temple, Five Pagoda Temple, the Xilitu Zhao, and the Great Mosque.
The Dazhao Temple is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Hohhot, and was built around 500 years ago. The third Dalai Lama blessed one of the Temple’s most beloved possessions, a silver, 2.5-meters high Buddha statue. Two gold-covered dragons stand before the statue.
Just across from the Dazhao Temple lays the Xilitu Zhao, also known as Shiretu Juu in Mongolian and Yanshou Temple in Chinese. The Shiretu Juu is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Gelugpa order. It was originally built in 1585 and later rebuilt in the 19th century after it was destroyed by a fire. Several emperors expanded the Shiretu Juu over the course of its history and it now has an area of 13,160 square meters. The building is a blend of Han and Tibetan architecture.
The Five Pagoda Temple, also a Buddhist temple, was built by the Mongol monk Yangcarci in 1727, and was completed in 1732. In the northern part of the temple there is a stupa with five pagodas, which have 1,563 images of the Buddha carved into their walls. On the stupa’s exterior there are three large stone carvings representing the wheel of life, a Buddhist interpretation of the universe, and a Mongolian cosmological map illustrating the zodiac and the position of different stars. The Mongolian cosmological map is extremely rare and is the only one from this era to ever be discovered in China.
The Great Mosque was built during the reign of Qing Dynasty’s emperor Kangxi (1644-1722) after a large number of Hui migrated from Xinjiang to Mongolia. The Great Mosque features a Chinese pagoda style roof with Arabic windows, and was completely built with black bricks.
Another interesting city in Inner Mongolia is Baotou, also known as Bugthot. Two highlights of Baotou’s are the Genghis Khan Mausoleum and the Wudangzhao Lamasery.
It is worth noting that the Genghis Khan Mausoleum is not the actual burial place of the great Mongol conqueror. Legend has it that he is buried in an unmarked grave and that 10,000 horses trampled on it to prevent anyone from finding it. Another legend says that a river was diverted so that no one would ever know where he’s buried. However, the Mausoleum is worth a visit because it offers a good glimpse into life in the Genghis Khan era.
The Wudangzhao Lamasery is located about 70 kilometers northeast of Baotou, and is the largest and best-preserved Tibetan Lamasery in Inner Mongolia.
Aim to visit Baotou during the summer and autumn, when the weather is enjoyable and the grassland is at its best.
Arguably the most interesting place near Baotou is Xiangshawan in the Kubuqi Desert, a small section of the Gobi Desert. Xiangshawan is also known as the Resonant Sand Gorge, due to a little-understood natural phenomenon that causes the sand dunes to “sing”. The dunes produce a roaring or booming sound, and the phenomenon happens mostly around the summer.
Inner Mongolia is also home to the desert with the highest sand dunes in the world, the Badain Jaran Desert, or Badan Jilin Shamo in Chinese. The desert is 30 minutes away from Bayan Khot town, or Alashan Zouqi in Chinese. Some of the dunes reach up to 460 meters high, and the tallest are static, with a solid core. There are also several lakes in this remote and enigmatic desert.
Lamb and mutton are among the most widely used ingredients in Inner Mongolian cuisine. Well-known traditional dishes include barbecue lamb, roasted lamb leg, kebabs, and even whole lambs. Most beef is either roasted or braised. Some other dishes that may sound exotic to travelers include oxtail, camel hoof, braised bear paw, and an edible algae called facia. Milk tea, yogurt, aarul (dried yak cheese) and fermented mare’s milk are also a must try for anyone visiting Inner Mongolia.
Inner Mongolia is warm in the summer but freezing cold during the winter. The average annual temperature ranges from -1 to 10 degrees Celsius. July is the warmest month, when temperatures can reach 19 Celsius or 66 Fahrenheit.
January is the coldest month, when temperatures average -23 Celsius or -9.4 Fahrenheit. The rainy season happens around late summer and early autumn, with annual precipitation between 50 mm and 450 mm.
Around mid-August, Mongolian people celebrate a summer festival called Naadam, where they compete in several sports such as wrestling, horseracing, camel racing, and archery. Most of these activities are based on nomadic military skills.
Inner Mongolia offers travelers a unique opportunity to sleep in a yurt, ride a camel in the desert or the grassland, and feel like a nomad.