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Published: 13:49, October 01, 2023
Alshaa holds high the desert tourism banner
By Yuan Hui in Hohhot and Li Yang
Published:13:49, October 01, 2023 By Yuan Hui in Hohhot and Li Yang

Cultural Festival fast turns into a carnival, with off-road rallies being star attraction

Racing drivers prepare for the off-road vehicle race which was held in Alshaa, Inner Mongolia, in May. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Among the more than 30 activities of the 19th Badain Jaran Desert Cultural Tourism Festival, to be held in the Alshaa League of Inner Mongolia from Oct 1 to 5, the ALXA Festival, an off-road rally, is one of the most popular.

Alshaa has many tourist attractions, including the 49,200-square-kilometer Badain Jaran Desert, the third-largest desert in China, famous for its unique mountains, singing sands, pellucid lakes, mysterious springs, enchanting temples, desert poplar woods and Bactrian camels, a spaceship launch site, rare stones, as well as intangible cultural heritages.

Driving in the desert is not easy, as a lot of factors, including the weather, car condition, landscape and tires, have to be taken into consideration.

Li Lei, off-road rally manager

Since it was first held in Alshaa Right Banner in 2011, where the desert offers ideal tracks for off-road rallies, the ALXA (Alshaa) Festival has become the calling card of the banner. Over the past two years, the off-road rally has attracted participants from more than 100 racing clubs based in 27 provincial-level regions across the country. The rally this year has been divided into four sections: racing, entertainment, camping, and auto cultural and industrial exhibitions.

The desert cultural tourism festival is very important for Alshaa Right Banner, said Pan Xiaoyu, director of the culture, tourism, radio and TV bureau of the banner. "We have earmarked the functional areas of the venue, made extensive fire safety arrangements, beefed up security, established medical camps, and enhanced our emergency response capability to ensure the success of the event," Pan said.

On Sept 2, the racecourse through the Badain Jaran Desert entered the regional tourism authorities' list of the 10 most popular self-driving routes in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. The course connects the spaceship launch site in Alshaa and the desert, offering drivers a unique, adventurous experience.

Besides, a new track was opened for this year's T3 rally. It connects the sand peaks, oases and other landforms of the Badain Jaran Desert to create the longest and most challenging track, with ascending levels of difficulty.

Motorcyclists ride past off-road vehicles in preparation for the desert race held in May in Alshaa, Inner Mongolia. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Despite the challenging nature of the course, it is open to all drivers for a test drive. Off-road vehicle enthusiasts can register through their clubs or on the spot now that the registration procedure has been further simplified. After registration, the participants can receive exclusive car stickers to enter the campground, which is open to only rally drivers and officials. With the car stickers, the participants can also visit some scenic spots in Alshaa and neighboring Gansu province for free. However, the participants in the rally and related activities need to purchase temporary insurance. Also, an app introduced earlier allows the participants to communicate and interact with the organizers and officials.

In recent years, with the support of the government and participation of off-road rally enthusiasts and tourists from home and abroad, the ALXA Festival has gradually become a popular desert off-road carnival and an international tourism event, bringing together competitive sports, cultural programs, desert exploration and leisure activities.

New model

In recent years, Alshaa has introduced a series of cultural and tourism-related activities, thus promoting the "tourism + festival" model. This not only meets the increasingly diversified needs of tourists but also integrates local Alshaa culture with tourism, opening new avenues for local residents to increase their incomes.

Li Lei, who oversees the off-road rally activities and belongs to the Mongolian ethnic group, employs more than 80 drivers and tour guides in Alshaa Left Banner, and organizes tourism-related off-road activities for visitors.

"All the drivers love the sport, and we often involve them in some public service activities as well, including collecting garbage and planting trees, so the tourists better understand the desert ecology and the importance of environmental protection," Li said.

Li started his business in 2016 and has become especially busy since the withdrawal of the COVID-19 prevention and control measures, which helped reopen the tourism market. Driving in the desert, including the Badain Jaran Desert, is now a major attraction for tourists. "Driving in the desert is not easy, as a lot of factors, including the weather, car condition, landscape and tires, have to be taken into consideration. We also have to make sure first aid and emergency rescue services are available at all times," he said.

The desert-driving enthusiasts are mostly from big cities. Many of them travel to Alshaa and other similar places to "de-stress" themselves by learning more about nature and environmental protection through on-field activities, Li said.

Racing drivers prepare for the off-road vehicle race which was held in Alshaa, Inner Mongolia, in May. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Many of Li's clients and guests came to know about Alshaa because of the ALXA Festival.

"We pay special attention to maintaining a good reputation. That's why we decide on the services we offer after weighing all the pros and cons," Li said. "The unique Mongolian culture and customs and local people's hospitality, too, are special attractions of Alshaa."

Li added: "We are dedicated to improving the quality of our services. As long as we do our job well, we will attract tourists to the desert. Good wine needs no bush. Yet we can still do a lot more to realize the full tourism potential of our hometown."

Alshaa has opened 38 desert routes to enhance the tourists' driving experience. Each route has its own attributes. As such, tourists can enjoy the Danxia and Yadan landforms, the Gobi Desert, the grasslands, lakes, canyons, the natural shuttle forest and other geological features and the magnificent sceneries that are unique to Alshaa.

Comfortable stay

Various scenic spots and campgrounds in Alshaa have expanded their scale, upgraded their facilities and improved their services to meet the demands of the rising number of tourists. For example, the self-driving campground of Ejine Banner located in the desert poplar woods has recently refurbished its reception center and other facilities.

The Dingyuan ancient city tourism area and the Luanjingtan campground of Alshaa Left Banner recently opened a new camping site where tourists can watch the night sky. The site is popular among travelers and photographers, not least because local herdsmen offer homestay facilities, which incidentally has increased the herdsmen's incomes.

The Alshaa League local government pays special attention to exploring local ethnic cultures and nature, and improving infrastructure in order to provide better, modern services for tourists. In the process, it has also been promoting the non-tangible cultural heritages and other local specialties, as well as the "night economy" of Alshaa.

The Alshaa local government is implementing the "tourism + healthcare" project, and fostering the commercialization of the Helan Mountain forest resources, including projects related to sand therapy, camel milk production, and traditional Mongolian medicine.

Yan Guangchao, 45, a tourist from Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, said he often drives to Alshaa for sightseeing, adding that the route is extremely popular among his friends from South China. The trip from Yan's home to the Tonghu grassland of Alshaa takes about two and a half hours. "We can ride camels or horses, and surf on the sand there. By camping on the grassland, we can enjoy the dazzling, clear night sky and see with our naked eyes innumerable stars and many of the planets," Yan said.

On gastronomy and leisure, Yan said, "The food, particularly the roasted lamb, and the bonfire party featuring folk music and dance are of special interest to non-local tourists," he said.

Contact the writers at liyang@chinadaily.com.cn

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