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Published: September 21st 2009
Mind your head!
At least 5 bumps in three days on those bloody doorframes.
The Mongol Hordes have changed little apparently...on arrival in Ulaan Baatar (UB as the locals call it) there are plenty of warnings about pickpockets and muggings when strolling about after dark. However, we lived to tell the tale...so here it is.
UB is, allegedly, a cosmopolitan city. About as cosmopolitan as Sittingbourne maybe. But then you get out of the city and into the real Mongolian steppe and it's quite easy to see why people in UB think they are cosmopolitan.
We headed into Terelj National park for one night...in effect camping. But the tent, or Ger if you prefer to be specific about these thing (or Yurt if you want to be Mongolian about it) is already made for you and there are beds, if you call solid wooden planks and sleeping bag a "bed". Then they put on the wood-burning stove - I know, Health & Safety would be in distress about fires in a tent, but this is Mongolia - and you have more of a sauna than a tent. Once the fire has died out you need to wait about an hour and a half before these is any hope of sleeping.
Crossing the Gobi
And you thought horse riding was uncomfortable...
you wake up in the morning, freezing your proverbials off because you let the fire go out.
Terelj is beautiful. The Peak District on speed. Rock climbing, hiking and pretty much all other outdoor pursuits that you might enjoy or not enjoy, depending on your love of horses - our bums were sore for days after this trip.
From there we headed west from UB across five hours of steppe. Fortunately, the sun went down before we could look at more flat grassland and send ourselves mad.
Kharkhorim was Chinggis (Gengis) Khan's preferred capital from which he set out on his raping and pillaging. It also has one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia and amazingly left untouched by the Soviet represion of the 1930's which saw most buildings, particularly religious ones, razed to the ground in favour of communism.
Then it's off to the desert where we watch a slaughtered goat being prepared for lunch in our honour. We were offered the opportunity to watch the actual killing, but declined. Morbid fascination, however, meant that we looked on while it was being cut up and its organs being neatly wrapped in its stomach lining.
This is what happens when you lose at Mongolian drinking games
As you can imagine, we were looking forward to the accompanying salad. Which never arrived. Just a bowlful of goat, still looking pretty much like goat, and two knives. Now even between 11, a whole goat is pretty difficult to get through - especially when most of the diners have a few mouthfuls, go a bit white and then leave the tent for a while. Most manage some of the meat which has a strong taste, particularly if you forget to take the skin off or remove the hoof from the bowl. Paul, for some inexplicable reason, thought it would be a good idea to take a look inside the stomach lining and even more inexplicably decided to eat the liver, lung and possibly even the heart ... weird boy. As you can imagine at this point even more people left the tent!
To be honest the Goat was the best part as it was washed down with Airag. Airag to the uninitiated is Mongolian beer. To those that know, it is beer made of mare's milk (and if you think watching a cow being milked is funny ...) that is slightly fizzy, slightly milky and pretty sour. To
Mine's a pint
Fermented mares milk....mmmm!
be fair milking the mare is a pretty skillful process involving convincing the mare that the foal is suckling, but it has to be easier to go to the local shop and buy something made from hops surely?
Our last Trans-Siberian train journey was an interesting nightmare. Things went well until the border then the Chinese nicked our wheels, made us sit around for 4 hours whilst they did so, and moved us to a Chinese carriage (Chinese toilets ... mmmm). Nicking the wheels was expected as they have a different gauge to the Mongolians and Russians but tiresome nonetheless when it is 1am and you have run out of patience and Vodka!
Despite what we have written we loved Mongolia. The hospitality is fantastic as soon as you leave UB, well worth a visit, we leave it up to you about trying the goat and Airag .. you've been warned!
The scenery on the Chinese side of the border is considerably more mountainous, not difficult when you have sat for 8 hours looking at Mongolian grasslands. In Beijing now, under house-arrest for our first night ... we'll update you soon.
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