Published: May 27th 2012May 27th 2012
Now that the ordeal of the border crossing was finally over, it was time for a surprisingly comfortable bed, in a cabin that was surprisingly cold, but apparently only for me. When we woke up, we had missed the Gobi desert (boo) but were in the middle of the Mongolian steppes (huzzah!).
After another few hours on the train (30 hours really feels like 30 hours it seems) we arrived in the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bataar. Our dear tour leader Olga had spent the majority of the trip telling us how dangerous the city was, so it was with a bit of tired wariness that we greeted the city. I am not sure it really lives up to that reputation, at least not more than other cities I have been in. It is more a bit of a strange combination of soviet style apartments and buildings, grand shiny new buildings and some other in between. All with a dusty dirty post-snows sheen. It had snowed the day before we arrived, but then was quite warm for the rest of the time we were there. As I am writing this it must be getting close to 30, but it is
predicted to snow tomorrow. Weird.
Once we had showered and checked in, we went for a walk to orient ourselves with the city, then went for lunch. Many of you will be completely unsurprised that after facing my first bowl of mutton and noodle soup, I have become a vegetarian for the rest of my time here. We then went to see a cultural show, that was the best I have ever seen on my travels, with some amazing singing and music.
Next up: our ger stay. Ger is what you all might call yurts, but if you did that while you were in Mongolia you would be WRONG. Our stay was in the nearby Terij National Park, about 80 kilometres outside of Ulan Bataar, so it is a popular place for both locals and tourists to visit. After a few false starts (supermarket, petrol) we are on the road. Then our guide informs us we are going to be stopping at the eagles. Reluctantly prepared myself to look at some post-soviet eagle statue masquerading as public art, instead there are actual eagles. Well an eagle and a kestrel (?). Either way, only $2 to hold one. Not
that I did. But it was pretty amazing seeing this enormous bird up close.
Little did I know this type of photo stop would characterise the rest of our drive to our ger camp. Camels! Yaks! Weird dinosaur statues! Not that I am complaining, it was really my ideal domesticated animal safari, as all the animals were still shaggy and hairy from the winter.
Once the safari was over, we reached our camp which was tucked away in surprisingly rugged countryside. Much more rocky and tree-y than I anticipated. Which we examined up close by taking a quick hike up a nearby mountain. Did you hear that Dad? I think I went bushwalking! On my holiday! As you can hopefully tell by some of the photos I have attached, the scenery was really stunning.
I enjoyed the viewing of nature so much I agreed to then go on a two hour horse ride! And my horse was also shaggy! Not being an experienced horse rider, I asked for an old slow horse. And that I really did get. He enjoyed trying to sleep whenever we stopped, as well as ignoring me when I asked him to walk.
At one stage he even tried to turn around and go home. After that the guide swapped my horse with another, who was much more sprightly without being crazy. When I wasn’t trying to wrangle/stay on my horse, I got to further enjoy the amazing scenery, including eagles soaring over head. Very cool.
After an interesting “vegetarian” dinner in the camp, we retired to our gers complete with roaring fire. Unfortunately when the fire burnt out the gers were freezing. But then a nice Mongolian man came first thing in the morning to light them again! It was pretty great getting up and walking out of our ger to see that amazing scenery again. And even better, as I was enjoying the serenity a Mongolian horseman rode by, wrangling a few yak. Heaven!
After a quick round of archery, it was back on the bus to Ulan Bataar. I think I will be giving feedback that there was too much time spent in the city and not enough peaceful ger time.
Since being back in the city, we have visited some local homes in the ‘ger’ district, had Mongolian BBQ (kind of ended up like being Mongolian
Sizzler, but with guys who cook things on a giant hotplate for you), indulged in the local obsession ‘karaoke’ and visited a museum to learn about the history here. Tonight we get on the train for Siberia! Where the longest part of the trip will be the crossing to the Russian border, which we estimate will start at 4am. I am really excited.
But before that, we may be attempting a further foot massage “experience”. When they bring out the aromatic bandages I will be saying ‘ugui’.
Also there are a lot more photos down the bottom – strangely on the ‘photo’ button I believe :) – I have had a bit of time to get caught up.
There are more photos below