Saturday, October 5, 2013

Desert Oasis, Inner Mongolia Style

Xi Xia Tombs
After a decent breakfast (which didn't involve Sauteed Magpie Gizzards, though could have), we headed off to the Xi Xia Tombs, created by Emperor Jingzong in the 11th Century. There's not much left of them now, having been ransacked by the Mongols two hundred years later. They look rather like giant termite mounds.
Moving on, we drove through a pass in the Helan Shan, crossing into Inner Mongolia, and then on for another two hours through a landscape reminiscent of Nevada or Utah, until the road simply stopped. From here we transferred to small jeeps which careered off into the Tengger Desert. And I mean this was real desert - classic Sahara-like dunes. Whether you have to drive fast in order not to get stuck or the drivers simply get high on the thrill of it, I don't know, but the half hour trip was exhilerating, cresting 50m high dunes and coming down the other side at alarming angles. It was the closest I'll ever get to being in the Dakar Rally. 
David of the Dunes
Finally we arrived at an oasis called Moon Lake, an 'eco-resort' on the shores of an improbable lake. Here we were let loose. We slid down giant dunes, the children went swimming and a bunch of us went horse-riding. This last activity was a slow, boring, tethered plod... until the Mongolian leader called a halt. He then untethered my mount, turned it around, smacked it on its rump and - before I could argue - off we galloped through the dunes back to the starting point. It was all I could do to just stay in the saddle. But I had to laugh - a kind of hysterical convulsion born out of the fact that I'd got there in one piece.
Following a beautiful sunset and dinner, we experienced an amazing display of lightning. There was no rain, nor even thunder, but for half an hour the desert sky was filled with lightning bolts (vertical and, oddly, horizontal) as well as more general bursts of light like God was switching a light on & off. Fantastic.

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