We boarded Leg 2 of the Trans-Mongolian. In our coupe we were joined by a very nice English couple making a similar journey.
Overnight the scenery changed to beautiful mountainous countryside. A lot of the day was spent at border crossing. 5 hours the Russian side, then you move up to spend 2.5 hours at the Mongolian side. On the Russian side we were out of the train for 2 hours in a little village. There were cows and horses loose on the road. Once we crossed the border into Mongolia we saw smiles again! Even the customs officers smiled!
Ricky went to the Provinista to order milk – malako, but was stopped just in time before he ordered blood – melako!
We have now changed currency to Mongolian Tugriks. £1 equals 2,600 Tugrik. They have no coins, and the lowest note in circulation is a 10. Mongolia has a population of 3 million and 1.8 million live in Ulan Bator! This means there is about 12 horses to every person who lives in Mongolia.
We arrived very early to Ulan Bator. The first thing we noticed were the smiles. Everyone seems so happy and helpful! Despite being booked into a hostel we decided to leave the city for a tour to explore the mountainous countryside. We pulled up in Terelgi National park to stay in a Ger!! They are like a fixed tent, wooden construction, very traditional to the nomadic families. We were on the same tour as the Belgian couple, Anna and Mattias! We were taken away from the city to very mountainous beautiful surroundings, all browning off with autumnal colours.
Lunch was salad, followed by milk soup, followed by meat dumplings. All very nice!!
In the afternoon we set off to find Turtle Rock. Literally a giant rock shaped like a turtle (ish). The drive there was a bit scary. At one point we all had to sit at the back of the bus to get over the hill! We climbed into the turtles neck.
We then drove a bit further to a temple on a cliff front. To get here we had to pass over the bridge of heaven, follow the path to climb 108 stairs. Inside was beautiful, very colourful but the outside was stunning as the path snaked through the valley.
Back at the camp we set off with Anna and Mattias to explore more the landscape.
Dinner was egg salad followed by chicken. They then brought around some apple slices which we interpreted as desert. Instead they had intended these as chasers for our vodka which would "warm us up!" After dinner we lit the fire in our ger and played card games. It was cosy to say the least but freezing again by morning! I think it got to -4 overnight.
For breakfast we had bread and jam, then sausage, egg and rice?
We moved on to stay with a nomadic family who had horses and cows and yaks. When we got there they were performing a religious ceremony of Shaman. It was very superstitious, lots of masks and dancing as they were calling there spirits.
We started collecting wood to make a bonfire. It was pretty impressive. Mid morning we had some hard soured milk which they eat like a biscuit. This is the only food so far in Mongolia which I haven’t been able to eat, everything else has been lovely but this smelt like gone off milk!
Lunch was a meaty soup, dumplings and yaks milk tea. They say they consume milk in about 15 different ways. So far the soup has been the most appetising!
After lunch we got to ride some horses!! We rode for about 2 hours to a nomadic city settlement and home. To get the horse to walk or go faster you had to make a very throaty Mongolian sound which sounded abit like ‘Chu.’ My horse was determined to be independent, whereas Ricky, Anna and Mattius’ horses were inseparable. It was great fun!
In the evening we had our bonfire and then tucked up in our Ger, exhausted!
Breakfast was rice pudding, eggs and bread, and battered donut type things. (I’m sorry this is turning into a food diary but it has been very interesting to be presented with traditional cuisine for every meal!)
After breakfast we milked the cows!! They have three cows for milk and they let the calf out to drink first, then tie it up nearby to comfort the mother whilst milking it. It was surreal, and quite difficult. You have to be quite forceful and quick!
On our way back to Ulan Bator we stopped at the side of the road where they have Eagles, Vultures and camels. I held an eagle which was huge, and Ricky held a vulture!
Back in the city we visited Sukhbaatar square, the central square where the government house sits. This was first built in 1946 and re fronted in 2006. Inside the building is the state museum as well showing lots of collections from Ghengis Khans era. Ghengis has apparently been reintroduced as a hero recently as Mongolia has strengthened in its independence. Under Russian and Chinese influence he was seen as a tyrant and not celebrated.
Lunch was a Mongolian all you can eat grill. You take up bowls of veg, meat and pasta and they grill it all for you on a large wok, fascinating to watch.
We visited a few temples. The main religion is Buddhist so lots of gold statues of gods. It is very decorative and also has superstitious influences.
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From here we travelled to the edge of town to the Zaisan Memorial. A thank you to the Russians from the Mongolians for helping them to achieve independence from the Chinese. The statue pictures the communist star, the sickle and hammer and also Lenin! From here you also get a great view of the high rise city nestled in the mountains.
Ulan Bator has undergone a massive boom in the last 10 years. It is now a high rise city, whereas 10 years ago it had nothing bigger than 14 storeys. Also in 2003 there was very little traffic on the road and now it is crazy, lots of tooting and traffic. The city is nestled in the mountains in a very strange contrast of urban and rural. There is also gers mixed with fancy new builds and the population is ever growing. With the city nearly at its maximum population it is estimated they will move the capital elsewhere by 2025.
Mongolia has been a hidden gem. We are slowly blending in less and less in the streets and I think we may still be in for a culture shock, anyhow, next stop Beijing! (no Facebook in China)