Mongolian tour

Wow! What an experience! By fa the strongest and most genuine experience of a country so far. The people, the landscape and ... yeah, just everything! But I'll take it from the beginning I guess.

After being in the Russian embassy for half an hour, applying for my transit visa, I rushed back to the guesthouse of the others in the group. The group consists of five people - it was me, a New Zealand couple that were just wonderful (Will and Oni), a Dutch guy (Ferry) and a German guy (Markus). As soon as I came back to the guesthouse we quickly loaded the last luggage into the jeep and left. The jeep is a big Russian jeep/minivan which turned out to be really comfortable and able to take us through any kind of terrain. It also had more than enough space foe everyone, so we had some room for extra bags, the boxes of food we brought and so on.

When we left Ulaan-Baatar there was a light snowfall and a cool wind from the north, but after only one hour on the road we were in the middle of the Gobi or at least the semi-Gobi with sand, rocks and a blazing sun that quickly heated the van.

Traveling through the Gobi or the semi-Gobi (we're going west from UB, not south where the real Gobi is) is an interesting and different experience. The "main road" is just a joke with any Western or even South-East Asia standards - it's rarely a sealed road and the parts where it's actually sealed the driver usually drives beside the road anyway - the desert or the grassy plains is far less bumpy than the actual road. Most of the time though we are just going on small paths or just straight through the fields and the desert where no visible roads or tracks are to be seen. It's fascinating to see how the driver handles these kinds of "roads" and especially to see how he navigates - he uses the landscape and the horizon to navigate and to know exactly which dirt track to take the next turn on he counts the bumps! He is an awesome driver - the best I've ever seen or traveled with by far!

The landscape is just amazing - immense stretches of desert, sometimes just sand, but most of the time dry grass or a mix of stones, sand and grass. At times the terrain is extremely flat and at times we're surrounded by rolling hills or in the middle of a big canyon. It's easy to understand how the Mongolians can have 39 different words for desert - there are just so many different kinds of deserts here! We've also seen small patches of forest, now dried out and ghostly pale and grey, but in summertime surely a beautiful addition to the green fields. Apart from desert, we've also seen an interesting volcano, the lava fields surrounding it, a great frozen lake, some biggers forests and even more hilly landscapes.

On of the nights of the trip we were staying in a tourist ger inside the old capital, which is like a small camping with gers and we had our own where we could eat, sleep and so on. Another night we slept in a cafe in a small town (20+ houses) together with the family owning the cafe. All the other nights we've been sleeping in gers with local nomadic families that our driver knows or at least knows about. The setup is usually that we pay a small sum of money for the accomodation and an ever smaller sum of money for the food and then we stay together with the family. Usually we pay like US$3 for the accomodation and around $1 for each meal.

The first night we were staying with an old couple in their spare ger - usually used by the young ones in the family. We came there late in the night, around 9 pm, through the desert which was very dark and bouncy and without a single road or dirt track to follow. After a late dinner, and loads of their very special tea (salted and with added milk during the cooking - really good) we went to sleep. Waking up in the morning was an experience and first then I really realized we were in the Mongolian countryside. I was the first one up and stepping outside in the early morning sun into a vast desert, scattered with beautiful rocky hills was a real surprise - we didn't see any of the landscape when we arrived to the ger. Since I was up so early I got to see the family separating the old sheeps going for grassy fields far away from the young ones staying in the safety of the ger and their "farm buildings". It was really interesting to see, perhaps not per se - I've seen sheeps being herded before, but because landscape and the surroundings were astounding and they all had their traditional Mongolians clothes on it was a wonderful sight. In the morning we also had some time to play with the three small girls of the family and also with some of the cutest small lambs and goats I've ever seen. Just wonderful! The breakfast consisted of the tea with milk and salt and rice-porridge mixed with sheep-yoghurt - it was surprisingly good. At first it was kind of sour, but the more you ate the sweeter it became - yummie!

When we arrived to the lake on the third day (second night was in the cafe in the small town), it turned out that the ger camp that we had planned to stay in was still closed - not enough tourists. Instead the driver took us to a family he knew who lived nearby. So for two nights we were staying with this family and that experience was even stronger than staying with the first family, mainly because we were sleeping in their main ger together with the rest of the family. So I found myself playing chess on the floor of a beautifully decorated ger together with one of the locals and after this going to bed on the floor with just a few blankets covering me. The five of us slept on the floor, while the couple (the woman being pregnant - probably sixth month or so) slept in the only bed in the ger. In one corner they had some goats in the ger as well - they were to young to stay outside in the cold. Every now and then the family would bring in three fully grown goats to feed the small ones - a wonderful and somewhat surprising view!

The biggest cultural experience of the tour and probably the whole trip was falling asleep on the floor of this ger, with the sounds of the crackling fire in the stove, Ferry and Markus playing cards with the two brothers of the family and the couple making love in the bed just two meters away from us. I guess you're not very shy about those things when you've been sharing a ger with your family and relatives your whole life. Waking up to the sounds of hungry small goats hearing their mom outside of the ger was equally interesting - I never thought those small creatures could produce noise that loud!

The last days of the trip was spent seeing the surroundings around the lake, we had a full day of just hiking around by foot to the volcano close by and not doing any jeep traveling. That was also awesome, it was interesting to see the lava landscape surrounding the volcano. I kind of felt like Frodo and Sam walking closer to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring - I even got a great Frodo-picture of Will with his unruly hair and big confused eyes! :D

The last day of the tour we stopped in a national park where they had a large number of wild horses. We got to see a introductory video, a museum and of course - the wild horses! This place has supposedly the largest number of wild horses in the world and we got to see some of them at least. We couldn't go really close, but it was an awesome view to see the wild horses running around and just eating grass in the wonderful and vast landscape!

Now I'll go to dinner at a local restaurant or something like that - perhaps we can catch some locals singing their special throat-singing? Tonight or tomorrow I'll try to upload all the pictures from the trip - until then you'll have to do with my descriptions of the wonderful landscape!

1 kommentar:

Olle sa...

Fantastic! I just envy you. What a tour. Now I wait eagerly for the photos even if I know that they really not catch the thing...