Mining is not the only industry in Inner Mongolia. Tourism is making its presence felt and the locals are responding in kind. We took the kids to a couple of tourist sites such as a carpet factory that specialises in making carpet portraits of world leaders (oh, how I wish I had taken photos … I might be able to pilfer some shots from the pool that all the kids will contribute to), and landscapes that appear 3D. These carpets have the richest, most dense pile I have ever seen. They were truly glorious.
The making of ‘artefacts’ is another tourism related industry. We watched artisans making replicas of artefacts from ancient China. The workshop was set up so that tourists could walk through and watch the artisans at work. I watched one guy working on what appeared to be a decorative panel and he worked so deliberately and slowly that I felt I was watching an original being made.
There is one particular replica that I covet. I shall be on the lookout for this little creature:
Another major tourist attraction is “live like a Mongolian for a moment”, which is what we did. We stayed in yurts (or gurs) out on a plain that used to be a lake about 10-12 years ago. This land is changing so very fast. The night was very, very cold. I think I wore all of my clothes, had my good-to-0-degrees sleeping bag pulled right up over my head and I did not warm sufficiently through the night. Even with five other bodies in the yurt. Nevertheless, it was pretty neat and I wanted to be a nomad.
Eco-tourism is making itself known in Inner Mongolia. Dalinor Lake is a major eco-tourism centre. The facts and figures of the death of this lake are astonishing and, like the rest of Inner Mongolia, pretty sad. I will recount one story that was staggering. About 30 years ago, the lake was a migration and breeding point for swans and because of this the lake had earned the nickname of Swan Lake. It hosted 200 different species of fish, giving the swans a fabulous food source for them and their young. But, things changed.
The lake is receding fast and is becoming increasingly salinated due to poor farming practises when the nomadic lifestyle turned sedentary. So, the fish have been dying – of the 200 species, 1 species remains, the cockroach of water – carp. The swans no longer come. Swan Lake is dying.
The lake is under the care of some environmental teams. Tourism to the area is a major source of funding for these groups. But get this: the lake gets 140,00 visitors a year. That’s nothing.
Water is the most precious resource in Inner Mongolia and up until maybe 30 years ago, Lake Dalinor was a water source for the population. It had four tributaries. Now it has none. The rivers are dry. We camped in our yurts about 7kms from the lake. 12 years ago, that campsite was under 6 metres of water.
I don’t think I have ever felt such a sense of desperation and hopelessness in a place before. I think Inner Mongolia is dying. What rises in its place will not be Mongolian.