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Erdos Travel Guide

Erdos, or Ordos, as it is called in Mongolian - a name that means "many palaces"* - is a city/ prefecture in the middle of the southwestern half of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Inner Mongolia, for short) that shares a common border to the south with Shaanxi Province. Inner Mongolia lies roughly on a northeast-southwest axis. The prefecture of Ordos spans most of the Ordos Plateau, which is the area of the southern part of Inner Mongolia that is wedged between the great bend of the Yellow River to the north, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (Ningxia, for short) to the southwest, and Shaanxi Province to the south. The border which separates Inner Mongolia (and most of the Ordos Plateau) from the two aforementioned adminstrative entities follows roughly the route of the Great Wall in this part of China.

Thus Ordos Prefecture stretches to the cities of Wuhai in the west, Alxa in the northwest, Bayan Nur in the north, Baotou in the northeast, Hothot in the east, and to Shaanxi Province in the south and Ningxia in the southwest. In all, Ordos Prefecture comprises some 86,750 square kilometers. The prefecture is comprised of a high plateau at its center, which stretches westward, sandy deserts in the north and south - albeit, the northernmost part of the prefecture, where it is demarcated by the Yellow River, is a grassy plain - and in the east, the prefecture is characterized by hilly terrain.

The Ordos Plateau in which Ordos Prefecture lies consists of two parts: desert and steppe. The desert part, the Ordos Desert, dominates. The Ordos Desert itself, which stretches into Ningxia and Shaanxi Province, is comprised of two "smaller" deserts: the the Kubuqi, China's 7th-largest desert; and the Maowusu, China's 8th-largest desert (these are still quite large deserts).

Though by no means fertile in the usual sense, Ordos Prefecture is starkly beautiful, and its grasslands support large livestock herds. The area is characterized by its vast natural landscapes which stretch as far as the eye can see. Besides the majority Han ethnic group, there are ethnic Hui, Manchu, Mongol and Tibetan groups that make the prefecture their home. The historical-cultural highlights of the area include - besides the Genghis Khan Mausoleum and the Qin-Zhou section of the Great Wall, erected by the Qin State during the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty: Dunhuangaer Village in the heart of the grassland; Wang Zhaojun Mausoleum; and the relics of 12 connected cities that stem from the Sui (CE 581-617) Dynasty.

Because of the close link between the Huns of the region and the rulers of the Western Han (BCE 206 - BC 009) Dynasty due to intermarriage, the Ordos area to this day reflects a special Han Chinese royal court flavor in its songs, dances, manner of dress, etc. - even in its food customs - which historical influences have shaped the uniqueness of Ordos Prefecture.**


* Something may have gotten lost in translation here, since the Mongolians of old were not exactly known for residing in - or even gathering in - palaces. Perhaps the word better translates to "Yurt DeLuxe"?

** The Huns in question were none other than the nomadic Xiongnu horsemen tribes who had entered the area of present-day Inner Mongolia during the Western Han (BCE 206 - BC 009) Dynasty, driving out the relatively peaceful Scythian horsemen tribes of ethnic Persian origin who had settled among the indigenous hunter-pastoral Ordos people of the region. In fact, the first section of the Great Wall was erected specifically in order to keep out the aggressive Xiongnu tribes, who continually made violent raids eastward until this encroachment upon Han Chinese territory was eventually halted with the erection of the Great Wall.

As part of a truce between a warring Xiongnu chieftain and the Western Han Dynasty sovereign, Emperor Yuan, who ruled during the period BCE 48-33 (Emperor Yuan had cleverly employed a strategy of "divide and conquer" with respect to the warring Xiongnu clans, i.e., of sowing dissension among the chieftains of the competing clans, then striking a deal with the chieftain who was most likely to come out on top), the hand of Princess Wang Zhaojun was offered in marriage to the Xiongnu chieftain, Khukhenye, who thereafter ruled the area as a loyal vassal of the Han Chinese (to read more about this "peace offering" and the stunningly beautiful Wang Zhaojun (Emperor Yuan regretted his decision when he actually set eyes upon this rare beauty, but it would have unleashed a merciless war had he retracted the offer), click here).

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