Marvelous Mongolia

Country: 
Kids: 
13 years
10 years
6 years
Author: 
Parent
Date: 
2013-07-10 to 2013-09-08
Description: 

In order to cross the land border between China and Mongolia one should take an SUV from the Chinese border town, and get off after crossing the border, at the Mongol border town. Mongolia's border town is called Zamïn-Üüd and the SUV was actually our first encounter with Mongolia. It was a pretty entertaining meeting. Just like in cartoons, when parts of the vehicles are starting to fall off while driving. And the clutch screams every time you shift gears.

It was in July 2013, when the annual Mongolian festival – Nadaam – took place.

The border town we did not bother to acknowledge. We simply took a hotel near the train station and fell tired after a night march and an exhausting border crossing.

The train from Zamïn-Üüd to the capital city, Ulan Bataar, leaves at noon and arrives to its destination the next morning. We bought the most expensive ticket for sleeping wagons at the highest level and hoped for the best.

Indeed, the railway had not disappointed and even exceeded our expectations. This is a local train (not part of the various trans-Siberian ones) and is thus much cheaper. The wagons are of old European style, remarkably sweet and very pleasant. They were quiet, clean, relatively spacious, a real delight.

Ulan Bataar

We came to the capital on the morning of the central day of the festival. We drove to a guesthouse, located in a quiet street a short walk from the center. Guest houses in Ulan Bataar are all similar in style – they are located in residential buildings. The rooms are similar to dormitories and each room has bunk beds. The kitchen, toilet and shower are shared by all occupants of the apartment. There is also a communal living room with a television and a computer.

The atmosphere is great. This is an opportunity to meet travelers from around the world when on the way to the wilderness or on their return dusty, full of experiences and excited.

The city itself is beautiful, with a heavy European feel. Small streets that seem to have been preserved since the seventies, collated in a modern shell on the main streets.

The stay in Ulan Bataar serves the travelers to plan the trip in the vastness of Mongolia and stock up accordingly.

Ulan Bator has a beautiful central square called Sukhbator and an avenue called Peace Avenue.

There are plenty of shops, restaurants and shopping centers.

It has several museums, including a tiny museum featuring a real dinosaur skeleton found in the Gobi Desert.

There is also an amusement park with a wonderful roller coaster.

Planning and Equipment

The usual travel style in Mongolia is different from backpacking trips in other places, because transportation is very limited and you cannot get to many places using it. It is customary to hire a 4x4 vehicle (Van or SUV) with a driver and go to the unpaved roads of Mongolia.

We spent two weeks in Ulan Bator to adapt, soak up the atmosphere, prepare properly, carefully check the different routes and find the appropriate driver for us.

Before leaving we sat with the maps and planned each day with the driver. We bought a supply of food, a tent, cooking burners and other equipment we needed for the adventure.

Taking Off

On July 21st we went on a 40-days journey across Mongolia.

The general structure of the trip is a few hours' drive each day, stopping in the afternoon-evening, setting up camp, cooking dinner on the burner and getting ready for bed.

We started at the closest nature reserve to Ulan Bataar - Hustai National Park, where you can see the only wild horses left in the world.

We watched them in their natural habitat. Playing, racing, and eating. We saw the cubs eat from their mother.

In the evening we set up the tent nearby. We cooked on a gas burner the food we brought with us and went to sleep.

Days 2-10:

We cross and enter into the center of Mongolia. This is a lowland area with fertile greenery. We stay with a hosting family, play with children and taste fresh horse milk.

I have also gotten a taste of the home produced vodka made with horse or yak milk.

We bathe at the largest waterfall in Mongolia.

We visit hot mineral springs, dip our hands and taste them.

We pass stunning landscapes, rivers and lakes. Weather conditions are difficult at times, cold and rainy. The roads are muddy, slippery and full of holes.

We decide to rest for two days on the bank of the "White Lake", stay at a family house, renew our forces and repair the van.

Days 11-20:

We continue on our way to cross Mongolia, from the center towards the west of Mongolia. We walk and sleep along the banks of lakes and rivers. Meet saline lakes that are huge in size, which also house beautiful white swans.

We go for a short ride on two-humped camels, the famous Mongolian camels.

All along the way we encounter huge flocks of horses, yaks, goats and sheep.

Birds of prey accompanied us in the sky all the time.

Landscape brings with it not only green spaces but also remote shimmering, glowing white snow peaks. Weather is pleasant most of the time but is occasionally difficult. It is cold and rainy, and difficult to set up camp and cook in these conditions.

We do all the way to Ulgii – the main city of Western Mongolia. It is customary to go out from this city into the westernmost nature reserve in Mongolia, Altai Tauan Bagd National Park, where you can meet members of the Kazakh tribe. It is not always possible to enter it and we are informed that the reserve is closed for visits due to cattle disease that attacked the animals in it.

We continue on our way back from the city to the natural reserves, stopping at the banks of a beautiful lake (Uureg Lake) and decide to stay and to rest for two days.

The lake is spectacular, in its center stands a small rock island where dozens of water birds nest. In the distance you can see white peaks. The weather is great, warm and sunny and we are enjoying the rest day we took, do laundry, rest, walk and bathe in the lake.

Days 21-29:

We start out from western Mongolia to the north. We stay at a Mongolian family's house and get to know the culture up close.

We stop for the night in an area with beautiful and spectacular sand dunes. The girls enjoy surfing down the soft sand mountain.

We park at the banks of rivers and enjoy bathing in them. We continue to cook over a campfire every night. Sometimes we succeed to arrive early and build a mud stove with two flames, so we can cook and heat water for hot and sweet tea.

Our driver turns out to be a very nice person, our connection with him is increasingly tightening and we spend evenings by the fire together, resting, warming up, drinking hot drinks and talking.

We arrive at Moron, the main northern city and get the necessary credentials needed to continue the way up north.

On the 27th and 28th days the weather is severe, it is rainy and cold. The road is very difficult to navigate and the ride is long and scary. We cross high mountain passes, begin to see Mongol Taiga and even go down to play with some snow.

We are staying at a hotel for the first time on this trip (after almost a month!), in a real apartment with rooms, floor, table, beds and heating. This renews our powers and makes us happy, and mostly we thaw and dry well after the recent days.

On the 29th day the weather gets better and we come to a horse farm manager's home. His name is Lauga. We are hosted very generously by his wife and children, are invited to dinner, taste yak milk cream and home-baked bread, and spend the evening with them.

Days 30-34:

Lauga, his two children, all of us, ten additional horses and guides go out into the Taiga Forests on the border of Siberia, on a 5-day horse journey, to meet the reindeers and the families grazing them.

We ride for hours, crossing rivers, climbing mountains, making our way through the forest, travelling through the wetlands of northern Mongolia.

Everything is blooming, flourishing. Colorful mushrooms adorn the forest floor, flowers of every color line the spatial and pristine grass, clear water flows in streams and rivers.

We operate under complete field conditions. Sleep in an old Mongolian tent, cook food supplies we brought with us, bathing in the cold stream and warming up in front of the campfire at night.

The team and we have a great time together, laugh and sing all day on the horses, pick fresh blueberries from the bushes, collect acorns and roast them in the evening on fire.

The children play together traditional Mongolian wrestling games and even chess.

We come to the reindeer herders' tent, spend all day with them, caress the rams, photograph them, and sleep in an old traditional northern herders' tent (tipi).

Days 35-40:

We start our way back to Ulan Bator. On the second night the weather is extremely difficult. We drive and drive and realize that we cannot set up a tent due to weather conditions. In the evening we come to a village. We ask for a place to spend the night. We are referred to a school. And so we find ourselves sleeping in a Mongolian school building, which has a big fireplace, soft beds, tables and a kitchen. We are accepted with joy by the teachers, who also took us to their homes and gave us food and drinks, and even talked with the children about school.

From there we go on towards Khuvsgul Lake, the largest lake in Mongolia. The lake is beautiful. Water is so clear and pleasant. We find a quiet place to set up the tent and enjoy the sunlight and views of the lake.

The next day we go back to the city of Moron, and in the following days complete our way back to the capital.

Tips:

  1. This is extremely empowering trip. But it is also challenging and demanding. You have to set a tent every night, cook on the fire every night, and worry about cleanliness, wash dishes, search trees, and many more things. In the morning you need to fold the tent, make breakfast, and wash again, clean, fold sleeping bags etc. At night – under lantern lights, sometimes in cold or winds or rain. The children too were full partners but they would not have enjoyed the trip without extensive experience in hiking, and mental and physical challenges.
  2. The roads might be very difficult, bumpy, and slippery. Sometimes you actually need to cross rivers.
  3. Recommended equipment: a rain and wind resistant tent, warm sleeping bags, warm clothes, field cooking equipment, flashlights, chargers that connect to the car's cigarette lighter or solar chargers.
  4. Mongolian food may taste strange to a Western palate. They eat only meat and rarely spice the food.
  5. Mongols are exceptionally hospitable. They are always happy to host, will open their homes and hearts.
  6. Guest rules: Do not touch the heads of the children, do not lean on the two support pillars of the house, do not turn your feet towards the temple inside the house, do not step on the threshold, receive the food served to you with your right hand, sleep with your head to the north and feet to the door.
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In-Person Impressions

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