December 13, 2013

Stuffed Squirrels and wandering Sheep: Inside Xanadu

Waiting for Mr Wong I looked through the Jinlianchuan hotel gift shop. It had the a delightful array of essential products seen to be required by tourists. No toothpaste or mineral water, but huge quantities of local brands of alcohol, sharing shelf space with stuffed squirrels in tasteful poses.

We set off for Xanadu, and despite it being so close, we got lost several times. Driving through the Inner Mongolian landscape I enjoyed the rolling green steppes and clean air, a welcome change from the pollution of Beijing. After stopping yet again at a small house by the road, we were directed towards a recently paved track seemingly heading off into the wilderness. The track ended by a small museum. We initially thought this was derelict until an elderly man came up behind us jangling keys and asking for a 10 RMB entry fee (US$1.70). This was bargained down, as most things are in China, from the 40RMB (US$6.80) initial price by our increasingly excited driver.

Inside the museum were some old weather beaten statues, the best remains had been taken to the provincial museum in Hohot, although we were told there were kept in storage there. Most of the display cabinets were given over to Chairmen Mao, who had passed through this area on his long march, rather than to the Mongolian emperors.

Leaving the museum a track led through a huge embankment, the remains of the outer wall to a city that 100,000 people had once inhabited. Walking through the city which once bustled with over 100 temples and small palaces, the silence and beauty of the emptiness bar the occasional sheep and Mr Wong's emergency vehicle (he had somehow found a way to drive into the site, and he was enjoying testing the vehicles off-road capabilities), kept the sense of mystery alive.

The Journey to Xanadu:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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