Erlian can be the first stop on the three day low-budget self-organised grassland tour. Don't expect any luxury or people speaking English in the next two days.
Although the bus stops for lunch, buy some food and drinks for the bus. The initial bus from Erlian leaves from the bus station.
Take the bus or train to Erlian. The journey to Erlian in itself is beautiful. All the way to Erenhot you can watch the endless green grassland plains stretching till horizon where they meet blue sky dotted with white clouds.
The first stop is Xilinhot aka Xilin Gol (锡林郭勒盟), a bigger city about 12 hours of scenic bus drive over the dirt grassland roads to the East. There is only one bus departing in the early morning (around 7.00).
In Xilinhot, buy some food and drink, and walk south to the first small hill outside the city. Sit down and enjoy the magnificent view over the city and the vast green grasslands stretching into the distance. Again, the only bus departs early in the morning.
From Xining it is possible to head south to Datong or Beijing or continue heading East towards the city (forgot the name, but I'll check the map). The journey takes about 12 hours. From there it is a half day drive to Chengde and little bit more to Beijing.