The green, green grass of Inner Mongolia
LOCALS call it "the grassland on the edge of sky". Wulagai, in the north-east of Xilin Gol League, is probably the cream of the breathtaking scenery of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region's renowned prairies.
A dream location for photographers, it had long caught the eye of French director Jean-Jacques Annaud as he prepared Wolf Totem, the film adaptation of author Jiang Rong's hymn for the grasslands, which hit the big screen in China earlier this year.
As one drives from the league's capital, Xilinhot, the landscape spreads out like a green carpet decorated with wildflowers. The road stretches beyond the horizon and meets the azure sky, which is dotted with fluffy clouds.
It is difficult to find wolves here today, but while stepping on this land, the power of the wilderness has a tendency to erase people's memories of urban life. It's easy to seize the moment and commune with nature.
The grassland spans more than 5,000 sq km but has a small population of about 24,000. The area is less famous than other grasslands in Inner Mongolia, so it is less crowded in the peak of summer. However, it's among the best-preserved areas in the region.
Hiking enthusiasts from all over the country come for a trek through Wulagai. The route for this event, which is held every June, is more than 210km long, and the hike is scheduled to take 71/2 days. This year's hike began on June 29 and, for the first time, five additional treks are scheduled from now til next month.
Mornings in Wulagai are slightly cold, even during summer, and that's when mosquitoes gather to attack. It is best to be prepared before setting off with long-sleeved shirts to protect yourself from the sunlight, because the day quickly turns sunny and hot.
Herds in the distance look like white spots scattered along the vast green backdrop of the mountains. Walking along the zigzagging Wulagai River - the 300km river is among the longest in Inner Mongolia - the trek seems to be less rocky than it actually is.
However, be prepared for a tough journey. You might even wish that the spirit of Genghis Khan will offer you more strength.
If you are not keen at sporting activities, you can watch others play.
For example, Nadaam, a traditional festival of the Mongolian ethnic group, features archery, horse racing and bokh (Mongolian wrestling), and will be an exciting experience.
After that, reward your rumbling stomach with a banquet. The hospitable locals will prepare roasted lamb plus fine kumiss, which is made from horse milk in Mongolian yurts. Horood, a kind of dairy tofu, is a must-try, though its chewy texture might remind you of gum at first bite.
You could also consider a soothing stretch on the grass. Just close your eyes and savour these moments away from all that is annoying.
IF YOU GO
Beijing's Liuliqiao Long-distance Bus Station offers a direct bus to Wulagai. The ride takes 13 hours and a one-way ticket costs 380 yuan (S$82). You can also fly from Beijing to Xilinhot for about 700 yuan (one way), and a bus ride from there to Wulagai takes 31/2 hours.
A double room in Wulagai costs 150 to 200 yuan, but the price may change during the peak season.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK