This is the first of a multi part blog on Mongolia. Here’s some quick advice for those of you going there: Americans - visas are free and if you plan on staying more than 30 days you must register within the first 7 days in Mongolia otherwise if you stay more than 30 days without registering you are looking at a $100-$300 fine when you leave. Ulaanbaatar - a lot of pick pockets and thieves, be careful especially at the bus station. Golden Gobi guesthouse, Ulaanbaatar - good people and helpful.
Now on to the blog - I took the 4:30pm bus from the Beijing bus station to erlian, china, the Chinese border town where you cross to go into Mongolia. The bus left on time and we drove for about 20 minutes and then we pulled into a parking lot where the driver told us (about 8 people, me being the only foreigner) to get off and go on another bus, which was locked. We stood outside that bus for a few hours while several Mongolian women showed up with tons of goods to take back to Mongolia. The bus was stuffed with things that we had to crawl
over when the bus finally left at about 7:30pm. We arrived in Erlian at about 6:00AM. There was a Japanese backpacker at the bus station who arrived on another bus so we decided to share a jeep across the border. We ran into two Israeli backpackers who joined us for the crossing - the crossing should cost about 50 Yuan give or take. We waited for the Chinese border to open at 8:00AM. We exited China and went to customs/immigration in Mongolia where the fun began. They told us their computer wasn’t working so we had to wait. “How long”, we asked, “until it is fixed” was their response. Luckily we hadn’t paid our driver because I am sure he would have left us and gone back to china. About 4 hours after we arrived things seemed to have been fixed and we were let in the country.
We drove to the train station and tried to buy tickets and were told that only 5 were left - there was 6 of us by then but one of us was going to wait until morning to get a cheaper ticket. We bought the tickets and then hung around the
train station for several hours waiting for the 9:30pm train. Alex showed up around 5 or 6pm and luckily for him he was able to buy a train ticket for that night. His ticket was for a bed in the cabin I was in which we shared with two Mongolians, one of whom was quite drunk. I would come to learn that Mongolians like Vodka. In the morning Alex and I froze our two roommates while trying to take pictures with the window open.
When we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, (the capital) it was chilly and drizzly. We ran into some other backpackers and walked to the Golden Gobi guesthouse (which I recommend). I mentioned to Alex that I was looking to do a two-week tour and he said he was looking for a 10-14 day tour also. We heard about a 14-day tour heading out the next day and headed to the black market to buy warm clothing for a tour. When we got back we found out that we could go on the 14-day tour that was leaving the next day. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to charge my camera batteries and the folks at
Golden Gobi were helpful in getting me to a place just as it was closing so I could get an inverter to plug into the cigarette light to charge my camera batteries and laptop.
The next day I took off for a 14 day tour to - well I really didn’t know where it was going, only that there were 7 of us and 4 of us were going for two weeks and the other 3 for 8 days. We had two vans so we weren’t crammed into one van. I found out that the first 8 days of the trip was going to be in the Gobi desert. On around the 3rd or 4th day we found out that there was going to be a Naadam festival in a small village and that we were going to go see it. Naadam is an annual festival held in the middle of July (starts next week) - here is what WIKI says about it “The festival is also locally termed "eriin gurvan naadam" (эрийн гурван наадам) "the three games of men". The games are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery and are held throughout the country during the midsummer holidays.
Women have started participating in the archery and girls in the horse-racing games, but not in Mongolian wrestling.”
When we arrived at the festival the wind was blowing and there was sand in the air which wasn't a good thing for the camera gear but I decided to shoot anyway. Four Westerners wanted to wrestle and they got their wish - all four lost. I thought one or two might have won but experience was more important than might. About three quarters of the way into the festival a large Russian built helicopter landed. A professional photographer got out and ran to the front of the "costume" contest to shoot the contestants. He remarked to Stefan to basically get out of his way because "this was a private event". Later we found out that the Russian had paid for the event and he and his family (and photographer) flew in to judge the "dress up" event and hand out eh awards/prizes. Click here If you would like to see more photos of the Naadam festival
I planned on staying in mongolia to see the "big" Naadam but that is another story. Mongolia is a dichotomy - half the people live in the capital and are "cosmopolitan", the other half live in
wide open spaces and most carry on as nomads. More on that in another blog. Signing off from Beijing, hope you are all doing well.
Dave / Yogi
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