Amy and Andy took a week off work and kindly planned (and paid for) a 5 day trip through Central Mongolia for me. They booked it through Meg, a local Mongolian who runs her own tourism company and whom Amy and Andy have become good friends with. The week before I arrived in Mongolia Amy and Andy had met a British couple (Tom and Rach) who had just ridden motorbikes from London to Ulaan Baatar (what a trip!) and after deciding they were pretty cool, invited them on the trip as well. So on Monday morning, the 5 of us, plus Meg, her driver (Sundik) and assistant (Orkah) all jumped into Sundik’s seven year old Russian beast and left UB for a sweet adventure.
After leaving a little late we headed off through the busy UB traffic and before long we had entered the Mongolian country side. It’s really like nothing I’ve seen before. Amazing flats surrounded by hills upon hills, with herds of cattle, sheep, goats, yaks, and horses scattered all over the place. The lack of fencing meant it wasn’t unusual to have to slow down and sit on the horn until whatever livestock was standing in the middle of the road decided to move.
We spent most of the day in the car, which provided us with a great opportunity to get to know each other. We really scored the jackpot as Tom and Rach turned out to be absolute legends and I was happy knowing the week was going to be great. Amongst many interesting things we learnt about them, one notable fact was that they ran a charity called Building Mongolia (make sure you check it out).
After many morbid riddles from Meg, and the first of many games of Risk, we arrived at our camping spot for the night. It was an incredible sight, green grass, lovely trees, and a massive rock face protruding from the ground. Unfortunately Andy was feeling pretty ill, so I left him behind and went exploring by myself. After about an hour of climbing and scrambling across rocks I was at the top and was faced with the most amazing views I think I have ever seen. The mountain ranges weren’t huge, but what made it so amazing was the fact that the terrain was either completely flat or a mountain. If that makes any sense? This meant that I could see for miles in every direction. Simply stunning. Unfortunately the photos didn’t do it justice. When I returned, dinner had been cooked and a fire was being lit. What a way to end the day.
The next morning we went camel riding. Double humped camels are so much more practical than their single humped cousins as you can sit easily between the humps. Andy tried to make his go as fast as he could and almost ended up on the road on more than one occasion. There are some great photos of the camel riding. We finished up our ride at the Gur of the family who runs the camel business. They were a lovely family and offered us drinks and nibbles. The drinks involved either a natural ‘yoghurt vodka’ or fermented mare milk, which is a really common and sour alcoholic drink. Both were less than desirable. I went and grabbed the Frisbee out of the car and taught the kids how to throw, it’s amazing seeing their eyes light up when they see it fly for what is probably the first time.
We stopped for lunch at another family’s Gur and once again we were offered some mare’s milk. Mmm, yum! In fact, at this place we were fortunate enough to actually see them milk a number of the mares. Despite the fact that milking cows is a common concept to me, there was just something weird about milking a horse. Once again I got the Frisbee out to play with the kids and once again they loved it. It was such a joy to be able to play with these children and teach them how to throw/catch even though we could not communicate verbally at all. Simple actions and pointing was all that was needed, and the look on their faces showed how much fun they were having. This was a great reminder of how easily sport can break down barriers.
More driving and we had arrived at our destination, one of only a few waterfalls in Mongolia. After taking a few photos from the top, Andy and I climbed down to the bottom and decided to go for a dip. It was rather cold and after a quick swim to the actual fall we were soon out and putting our clothes back on.
We stayed in a Gur that night.
The next day we drove for a bit before pulling over for lunch and climbing up a mountain to see the Buddhist temple at the top. It was higher than I had expected and we spent most of the afternoon getting up there and exploring the top. Once again there were incredible views at the top, especially the section that was forbidden for women to venture out to. Add that to the list of advantages of being a man! I tried taking another panorama shot at the top which you can view on the photo page, I think it turned out pretty good. Actually, seeing as I took it from the ‘Men Only’ section I’m not sure if women should look at it (I won’t tell anyone I promise).
That night we stayed in a Gur in the old Mongolian capital of Kharkhorin. We were able to have a hot (lukewarm at best) shower at this place. As we pulled up to the Gur I saw a bunch of kids playing basketball outside, so I grabbed the Frisbee and went and made some friends. Once again, I’m not sure if they’d ever thrown a Frisbee before. They were a bit older (teenagers) than the kids from the day before and I had so much fun throwing with them. Before I went back for dinner they asked me to play some half court (there was only one ring) 2 on 2 basketball. Some interesting rules and scoring systems, but the truth of the matter is my team lost.
The next day we checked out the Kharkhorin museum. Mongolia has such a rich and interesting history. Through mostly Chingus Khan, the Mongolians conquered most of Asia and parts of Europe and at the time were the most dominant race in the world. An interesting fact that emphasises this is that Kharkhorin was the Capital of Mongolia until the king at the time moved the Capital to Beijing, yep, in (now) China.
After the museum we checked out the Buddhist Monastery. I found this more interesting than I was expecting. Not really the Monastery in itself, but the religion of Buddhism. I asked our guide many questions throughout the tour and will have to do a bit more research when I get home. Interesting fact, the 4th Dalai Lama was Mongolian.
After spending the morning in Kharkhorin we drove for a bit longer and arrived at a lake (can’t remember the name). This inadvertently became one of the highlights of the trip. We had all been sitting on a pier eating afternoon tea when I decided I would try and catch one of the many tiny fish that had been swimming around, with the Frisbee. After this proved unsuccessful Andy made a hook out of the lid of a can and we tried fishing with that. This turned into an all-out assault on the fish with each of us trying to catch them using a different method. After more than an hour of ingenious ideas and persistence, we were losing light and had to concede defeat. The sunset that night was incredible and Amy managed to get some pretty spectacular photos.
With the rain looming we decided against the tents and decided to spend the night in another Gur.
After a sleep in we packed up and headed home. Most of the day was spent driving although we did stop off at a restaurant for (a feast) lunch. It was good to get back onto paved roads today after spending most of the week driving on dirt roads/tracks. These roads/tracks were often quite bumpy and on a few occasions we had to stop the vehicle to let someone out to get some air before they showed us all their lunch. Big props to Rach who spent the whole trip facing backwards (the rest of us rotated between facing forwards and back).
We made it home in time to watch the Bombers get absolutely mauled by the Hawks. What is happening to Essendon??
Meg, our tour guide, (with Orkah’s help) cooked dinner for us every night, English breakfast for two of the mornings, and setup breakfast and lunch every other day. It was fantastic service and really made it a relaxing trip. Meg prefers to go through local families for accommodation rather than some of the tourist camps, which made for a better Mongolian experience and also put money in the local’s pockets rather than the tourist camps.
Overall it was a great week, thanks Amy and Andy! (make sure you check out the photos)