Mongolia Travel Diary

Tunur’s children

I loved my time in Mongolia, but as people have already asked me “why should I visit Mongolia?”, I struggle to find a way to put the experience into words. Mongolia isn’t really a country where you go and visit specific sights or “do” anything in particular.

For me, it was more about the actual experience of being immersed in the country. Seeing the pastoral nomadic lifestyle and living the way they do (for a little time anyway) is something so completely different to anything I have done before. Witnessing the sweeping plains and realising how simple, but fulfilling life can be without all the clutter and noise of the Western world was a minor revelation. A newfound appreciation of basic things such as access to drinking water from a tap, a hot shower whenever I want it and a variety of choice when it comes to food has been found.

The kindness and high spirits of the Mongolian people, their fascinating history and how the Mongol empire shaped much of our modern world today is something that I hope everyone gets an opportunity to experience and appreciate.

Wild Mongolia – Travel Diary

Ger camp

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MONGOLIA: Day 14 – Ulaanbaatar

An early start today as we make the drive back to UB.

As we near our hotel in UB, the traffic is pretty bad. It takes us over 40 minutes to travel the last 4km to our hotel. I realise how much I’ve gotten used to the open plains and remoteness of the past few weeks and the congestion is a little jarring to the senses.

Back in UB

After lunch, I bid farewell to the group of people I’ve been travelling with for the past few weeks and explore UB on my own during my last night in the capital.

Walking around the streets, I end up at Sükhbaatar Square (formerly known as Chinggis Square prior to 2013). This square features a monument to the Great Khan himself as well as to his son Ogedei Khan and his grandson, Kublai Khan. The middle of the square has a monument dedicated to Damdin Sükhbaatar, one of the leader’s of Mongolia’s 1921 revolution.

Sükhbaatar Square

I spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city and visiting a few more places, including the National Museum of Mongolia. It is a small museum that covers a little of everything from Mongolian history from pre-historic times, the Mongol empire and the communist era. It’s a little light on details and I find that the Kharakorum Museum was better suited to my interests.

I also visit Mary and Martha, a wonderful fair-trade store with a focus on ethical and sustainable souvenirs.

Lastly, I wrap up my time in Mongolia with a visit to the 17 Sky Blue rooftop bar at Central Tower. Sipping a gin and tonic while looking down on the city below, I reflect on my time in this amazing country, the people I have met and the life-long memories I have made.

Bayertai Mongolia and bayerlaa for the memories!

 

Wild Mongolia – Travel Diary

MONGOLIA: Day 13 – The Little Gobi

I wake up to the sound of heavy rain. Given that there is nothing else around our ger camp for miles, there’s not much to do but wait it out.

After lunch, the rain finally clears and our group jumps into the Loaf and drives to a family of camel herders. We’re going to ride camels this afternoon!

Camels in the Little Gobi

I’ve only seen/ridden the dromedary (one-humped) camels we have back in Australia, so I was excited to see/ride a bactrian (two-humped) camel today. It was much like riding a horse and I felt secure between the two humps.

Just riding a camel

These camels have a lifespan of about 40 years and here in the Little Gobi, they are used for transport, milk and meat.

 

Wild Mongolia – Travel Diary

MONGOLIA: Day 12 – Kharkhorum/The Little Gobi

Today we leave Tsenkher behind and head to the old capital of Kharkhorum.

Arriving in Kharkhorum, we visit the first Buddhist centre of Mongolia, the Erdene Zuu Monastery. This walled compound has a functional Tibetan Buddhist temple, as well as three temples dedicated to a different stage of a Buddha’s life – child, adolescent and adult.

Erdene Zuu monastery grounds

Kharkhorum sits in the Orkhon Valley which held geographical importance in Chinggis Khan’s time. It is one of the oldest farming areas in Mongolia and is considered the cradle of the nomadic life.

Erdene Zuu

Nearby is the compact, but extremely informative Kharkhorum Museum. It gives a great history of the Orkhon Valley back to the Stone Age, including artifacts. It also gives an overview of the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire as well as details on recent excavations and findings.

After lunch, we back in the Loaf and headed to the Mongol Els Sand Dunes, also known as the “Little Gobi”. This is a 100km long, 5km wide strip of land that has a unique combination of Mongolian mountains, forests and Gobi-esque landscapes in one location.

Camels in the Little Gobi

 

Wild Mongolia – Travel Diary

MONGOLIA: Day 11 – Tsenkher Hot Springs

We have another free day today so Carol and I have plans to do some more hiking.

We set off early after breakfast and explore the area. We walk up and down ridges, through forested areas and frequently stop in nice, shady spots to enjoy the surrounding views.

Carol soaking in the scenery

By mid-afternoon, we are back at the ger camp and enjoy a dip in the hot springs. The hot water feels entirely restorative as we soak our weary legs.

Later on, we get to try our hand at archery with Mongolian style bows.

Me playing with a Mongol bow (photo by Monica B.)

They are known as composite recurve bows but are more like English long bows that I’ve shot with before. The backbone of the bows are typically made from birch because it is resilient and readily available.

“When the bow is unstrung, it looks like a semi-circle with a beautifully curvaceous shape, but when a string is attached the whole thing is stretched out so that its limbs are bent inward. Even so, these limbs with string attachments are bent slightly away from the archer, forming a double curve. It is this double curve that delivers explosive acceleration and awesome velocity to the arrow. From these limbs or bends of the bow behind the string attachments where the impact is greatest, the frame is covered with elongated and flattened pieces of mountain sheep’s (or other wild or domesticated ungulate’s) horn or/and bone which adds snapping power to the resilient wood in the frame. These hard parts form a layer that covers the whole area of the so-called belly, which is the part between the grip and the limbs. Chambers describes how the back parts of the bow, nearest the archer, were those covered with horn and/or bone while the sinew layer was applied to the outer side.”

There is no sight on the bows and corrections have to be made through feel. Having previously read about the astonishing distances that old Mongols could shoot, I’m amazed at how skilled they must have been.

 

Wild Mongolia – Travel Diary

MONGOLIA: Day 10 – Tsenkher Hot Springs

We leave White Lake (and the flies!) today and head towards Tsenker and its much anticipated hot springs.

The terrain is changing now with the open plains becoming even more vast and with fewer trees, we’re moving closer to steppe territory.

After a day’s drive, we arrive at our ger camp at Tsenker Hot Springs. There are no flies (hooray!) and the gers have a completely sealed roof (with just an opening for the stove pipe). This is a first for the trip as all other gers had an open roof (making for some chilly nights).

Due to the popularity of the hot springs, there are several ger camps located in this area. The water from the hot springs has high mineral content and folklore claims medicinal value. The surrounding area is also home to species of medicinal herbs.

Water from the springs comes out and 90 degrees celcius and is pumped to the ger camps and mixed with cooler water in their outdoor pools.

Tonight is the first night we have a significant amount of rain, and the wind is quite strong. I’m thankful that our ger roof is a closed one tonight!

The region is still suffering power outages but with a fire roaring in my ger, I’m comfortable as I can be and fall asleep listening to the sound of cuckoos and horses outside.

 

Wild Mongolia – Travel Diary

MONGOLIA: Day 9 – Khorgo volcano

Today is a free day, so Carol (a fellow hiking enthusiast) and I plan to hike out and up to Khorgo, an extinct volcano that lies in the middle of Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park.

The hike from the ger camp to the start of the lava field surrounding Khorgo is easy going. Once we we the lava fields, it looks like alien terrain.

Lava field around Khorgo

Carol is a retired geologist so she was dropping knowledge bombs along the way – what a great hiking buddy to have!

It’s tricky work to navigate the rocky terrain – the risk of rolling an ankle was high – but it was also quite fun. After some time, we reached the base of Khorgo and started climbing up.

At the top, we were rewarded with stunning views of the lava fields below and of Khorgo’s very dramatic crater.

Khorgo’s crater

Lava fields around Khorgo

Wild Mongolia – Travel Diary