I spent 4 days in Mongolia. Not nearly enough time to do this incredible country justice. It is one of the most memorable places I’ve ever visited. We travelled 12 hours on a bus from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar. Most of the time was spent travelling through the Mongolian countryside. Not long after we’d passed the border you could tell we were in Mongolia. People herding cows, riding on horse and cart, camels, Ger camps and wide open spaces. When we arrived in Ulaanbaatar it was a stark contrast. Karaoke bars, Irish pubs, cars, hooting, snooker halls and VIP rooms. And so much dust! I think the dust is caused by the roadworks which never get finished as the warm, dry season is so short and the winters so extreme. The roads deteriorate faster than they can be repaired. After checking into our colourful hostel we went out for our first Mongolian dinner. I had the sheeps head! It was not as bad as it might sound… the sheeps skull presentation is slightly off-putting but it was tasty.
On our second day we explored Ulaanbaatar. The street scenes were fascinating. People in groups playing board games, sometimes with a crowd watching. Hawkers selling fruit, sweets and cedar seeds in huge sacks as a snack. As far as I could tell cedar seeds are roasted pine nuts with their shells on. You could pay someone at the roadside to weigh yourself or make a phone call on their satellite phone. We visited the intellectual museum which had a collection of brain teasers, chess boards, origami and magic tricks. I had lunch in a department store and did some afternoon shopping before dinner and drinks at the Chinggis Pub.
On the third day we had an early start as we headed into the vast countryside. Our first stop was at Hustai National Park. The park had wild horses, deer, foxes, wolves and marmots. We’d come with the hope of seeing wild horses. Przewalski's horse or Mongolian wild horse to be specific. They are the only true wild horses having never been domesticated. There are approximately 200 Mongolian wild horses in the park and we were lucky to see a herd briefly running up a hill. Afterwards we headed to our Ger Cam for the night. We stayed with two Mongolian families who allowed us into their lives for the night. We were welcomed with some Mongolian tea (made with meat water, milk and tea leaves) and a sort of fried dough with buttercream and sugar.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and learning to shoot a bow and arrow. Some of the young men played football and the families went about their daily chores feeding the animals, milking the cows and herding the sheep and goats on horseback at the end of the day. In the evening we had dinner in one of the tents with a wood-burner in the middle of it. We had pieces of lamb, potatoes, rice and soup and a bottle of vodka for digestion. The vodka was passed around the room until it was finished. Each time it was your turn you had to dip your left index finger in the bowl and flick it to the sky three times before drinking. The rest of the evening was spent playing ankle bones (with a small bag of animal ankle bones!) and star watching before bed.
I woke up early to watch sunrise. Hardly anyone else was up so it was so quiet. Almost silent except for the odd sound of an animal or bird. Most of the animals were still sleeping, some of the family were up quietly starting their chores and there were flocks of birds flying past. It was incredible. Once everyone was up we ate breakfast outside which consisted of tea, fried pastry/ plaited doughnuts, buttercream and jam.
Back in Ulaanbaatar I visited the run down Winter Palace. It was in the process of being set up for a fashion show later that day. I met the rest of the group in Sükhbaatar square. We watched a concert with traditional dancing, outfits, throat singing and a contortionist. We had Mongolian BBQ for dinner which marked the end of our stay in Mongolia. The food was excellent and the BBQ was a show in itself. An incredible four days and a special place. I really hope I have the privilege of returning one day.
Some Mongolian words I learned:
Sanbainu - Hello
Baayalalaa - Thank you
Last Stop: Irkutsk
Next Stop: Beijing