Ulaan Bataar and central Mongolia – Mongolia

After I checked into the hostel in Ulaan Bataar a Belgium couple (leenke and brecht) in my hostel where saying that they where going on a tour. They contacted a local guide which they found on the Lonely Planet forum. Together with 2 Dutch girls they want to take a 5 day tour into central Mongolia. They had room for 2 people more and they asked me to join them. We met up at café Amsterdam in Ulaanbaatar for a meeting with our guide “Gans”. Wetalked about our wishes and ended up doing a 8 day tour instead of 5. We would visit the Goby dessert as well in 8 days and we even got that last day for free. It would fit perfect in Gans his timeline and we would get to see allot more. We really had a great deal going here so I couldn’t refuse.

Day 1.

We leave are from the centre of ulaan bataar in a van and stash all the stuff we don’t need at Gans his warehouse. He and the driver of the van are going to be in our company for the next 8 days. Our driver’s name is “Mister Saturday“ because his birthday is on Saturday. So party time every Saturday. Great start of the trip to set the atmosphere 😀 . We set out towards the west  on the snowy road and the landscape changes instantly. No more buildings just endless road and a little snow. Almost no traffic (one really weird Russian crane) and sometimes we have to slow down for some wildlife on the road.

 

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At some point Mister Saturday decides that we need to get off the road. So he just drives of the road into nowhere. Adventure begins 😎 . After a long drive we arrived at a monastery where we rest a bit and walk around. “This is the oldest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia” Gans tells us.

After the Monastery the sun is already getting low. We had some car problems so our driver wanted to fix it while there is still daylight. We looked up a group of local huts and ask if we can stay there. These traditional huts are called “Ger’s” and provide the locals a warm and sheltered hut that is easily transportable (from now on “Ger” =  the hut). The Mongolian people in the countryside are nomads and they move their camps normally four times a year (with the seasons). Gans tells me that they do this because of the temperature changes. Mongolia can get as hot as 30 degrees (Celsius) and as cold as -30. A human body (and other animals) are not used to extreme changes in temperature so the try Mongolians move their home accordantly. Our guide is a walking Wikipedia.. And he know allot of statistics… “The winters are boring” he says.. “I like to read as much as I can about Mongolia and I love numbers”.

A Ger we are staying is a hut with a wood frame surrounded by thick covering (usually wool). A wood/coal stove in the middle gets our feet back to normal temperature and a bit more….. These Ger’s are bloody hot!!

We are visited by a local throat singer. It’s a Mongolian tradition and he gives us a performance. Gans tells us he’s wasn’t really good but it was really good fun to see. He knew how to play allot of instruments even though he didn’t master them all.

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We go to bed early and man is it hot in this Ger….. I think it was probably 30 degrees in here. Talk about a change in climate… Outside its -20…..

Day 2.

We wake up and damn it’s cold…… The bottle of water next to my head is frozen solid. I still slept good because of the great sleeping bags Gans provided for us. The car is fixed and we drive to the Orkhon river valley. The drive is amazing in the snow filled landscape.

I have no idea where we are going because there are no roads out here. Mister Saturday is driving on visual landmarks like mountains and the sun. Every religious landmark we slow down and Mister Saturday greats it with his right hand. After a while we come to a Ger camp with a few horses. First we go hiking and tomorrow we can go horse riding.

After meeting the family we hike to a frozen river. When we are almost there Gans grabs us a goat and happens to walk by for some pictures… He is a really funny guy! Around the corner is the main attraction: A frozen waterfall. A spectacular site and after Gans builds us a fire we can enjoy until it gets starting to get dark.

 

At night I pay around a little with my camera for some nightly long exposures.. I’m really not a great photographer but I learn every day!

Day 3.

We took it easy (which was the main theme of the journey 😎 ) and I checked out the frozen waterfall again. It is a truly magical site and it’s probably one of the best ways to wake up and “feel” nature and the winter.

We could do some horse riding and with my good riding experiences in New Zealand I also decided to give the smallest horses in the world a try. When I got on the horse in full traditional Mongolian clothing (really resisted to the cold climate) the whole saddle moved. At that moment I should have said something I guess but since I don’t really have allot of experience I thought it would be fine. After 300 meters I found out that it wasn’t really fine because I was riding the horse sideways… I let myself fall off (Yes! I did fall of the smallest horse in the world!)  but I didn’t hurt myself. I got up and saw the horse stager off in the distance. The local that was accompanying me was racing after it. After a bad start I got back up the horse and after a short trip to a local river he took me back (I guess he didn’t really trust me after that stunt :|).

We jumped in the bus after that and headed for our next camp. The family has not moved there camp yet so we needed to head back and find it. After a while Gans decides to just ask another local. The woman agrees…It’s a normal thing here for people to ask if they can stay at their place but it’s still weird for us to just knock on somebodies house (or Ger) and ask them to stay there… Oww… and they don’t even expect us to pay for it either. Gans always does try. If they refuse the money he says it’s a gift for the children. Lotte and Fleur are having allot of fun with the daughter.

And Leentje decides to give them a horse magazine (a present for the families we bought instead of standard cigarettes or alcohol).

Murr (horse in Mongolian) is the word we will hear for the next day as that is the only thing the little girl can say after that.….. Outside goats battle it out to decide who is the Alpha. It’s an amazing setting! Again!

 

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Day 4.

We start by driving to an old monastery (The Tuvkhen monastery) in a mountain area. A little hike through the forest and we climb up for a great view and a praying area.

After some ridicules photo try-outs we head back down where everyone gives Fleur a snow bath. Of course I’m bad at these things and I ended up throwing 50% mud in here face… (really sorry about that, Fleur 😮 ).

After we got back at the camp the family is getting all the horses together. It’s amazing to see how the Mongolian people manage their livestock.   They just let them roam for most of the time (there is enough land anyway) and search for them when they need them. It can sometimes take days to find them so this is the number one conversation amongst the locals. That’s why it is also a normal thing that people sleep in their neighbours Ger while searching for their lifestock.

 

 

 

We immediately drove onward and picked up the little kid and dad from the second night. The little guy misses his mother that works in the town we are headed. Gans tells us that the locals pretty much know where all the tourists are and where they are headed. Especially now in winter and it’s a great opportunity for them to get a lift 😉

That night we stay in a small town. “The family here is really poor”, Gans tells us. So he bought us some beers and we sneak the guy more and more beer. The sunrise the next morning is really beautiful! Unlike our toilet…. I tried to shut the door and the thing almost caved in on me…. But that’s part of the experience.

You survive with what you get and showers and toilets are a luxury they don’t know here.

More in my next post!

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