A Travellerspoint blog

June 2017

Mongolia, up to the Siberian border

Deserts, lakes, mountains, temples, museums and lots of animals; Mongolia has a lot to offer

sunny 33 °C
View Middle Kingdom '17 on 2kiwisontour's travel map.

Our 7.30am flight from the Gobi desert was airborne by 7.12am this morning. Not quite sure how that works but it seems to. While in the ladies, I watched an older Mongolian woman, dressed in traditional fur-lined silk garb and leather boots, coaxed into using the automatic hand-dryer for the first time. Initially startled, she became a strange mix of resigned wonder. The world has changed so fast for these aged nomadic herders who still milk their animals by hand.

We left reluctantly as we both thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Gobi. Although we didn't get to see them in the wild, we found dusty old stuffed specimens of sad looking Gobi badger, bear, assorted mustalids (weasels and stoaty things) and snow leopard in a local 'museum'. It is quite stunning to think that this enormous variety of creatures live in such extraordinarily tough conditions -- it is 40C in the summer, and down to -40C in winter. Our guide tells us that about every 10 years, the country has a bit of a whip around to help out the nomads, who's animals have frozen to death due to extra-harsh conditions. How the hell you get more harsh than -40C Siberian winds whipping around your out-house has me perplexed. We take with us the sage words of a bathroom notice: "Please use water carefully. In the Gobi, water is brilliant".

Ulan Bataar on election day. We wandered down to a local bar for a cold beer last evening but were met with a sign that reading "Alcohol free Wednesday", which was somewhat bemusing as it was Sunday. Turns out that from the day before election day all alcohol is prohibited. No-one, least of all themselves, trusts a drunken Mongol with democracy.

On the edge of Lake Kovsghol near the Russian border: Walking through the forests of old pine trees and into the glades you see why the Mongolians paint their town roofs in such a riot of colour. The wild flowers swell in vibrant abundance; small pink ground roses, blue forget-me-nots, purple and pink daises, yellow butter-cups, white sorrel and orange poppies are the few that we can identify. There is a distinct smell of some small ground herb mixed with the pine. Shaggy yaks, horses, goats and sheep graze gently. It is story book beautiful. We have a luxury two story Ger here, with a significant and stone lined bathroom dug into the ground beneath. However, we have to give notice if we wish to shower as they literally need to light the fire to heat the water, and the slant of the floor means we slide down the bed each night. That aside, we have decided that these felted wool Gers are the answer to NZ's housing problems — they are warm, dry, and cheap. And we have plenty of mutton to boil. Sorted.

Posted by 2kiwisontour 19:32 Archived in Mongolia Tagged mongolia yaks gobi_desert lake_khovsgol Comments (0)


If this is Thursday, it must be the Gobi Desert....

sunny 35 °C
View Middle Kingdom '17 on 2kiwisontour's travel map.

We are waiting out the heat of the day inside our elaborately decorated Ger (Yurt) -- orange cartwheel-spoked ceiling rods are painted with blue and red Mongolian designs. The walls are green and white horizontal striped floral fabric. No matchy matchy hum-drum here! We drove here this morning through the Gobi which is beginning to turn green due to a much awaited spring rain. The 'roads' are fabulous (essentially a long strip of semi connected pot-holes), which would be less concerning if our driver knew how to use the four wheel drive properly -- nothing like putting it into neutral to slow down on a steep hill. A strangely surreal moment when amidst the soporific Chinese love songs we are subjected to came a burst of Imagine Dragons singing Radioactive! He was so happy we knew the words.

There is so much life here it is stunning. Herds of horses, camels, sheep, antelope and seriously good looking cashmere goats just roam the plains. The extensive view is studied with the white Gers of the nomads, often with a Toyota Landcruiser parked out front, and the scattered, bleached bones of many, many dead things. There are hawks, eagles and swallows in the sky, and marmots, beautifully coloured beetles and assorted furry things living in holes in the ground. The last few days have been spent picking over dinosaur bones that lie exposed in the desert -- we tried to put what looked to be broken pieces of a giant femur together. This is where they discovered that dinosaurs laid eggs. Deeply cool! Climbed what was once an underwater volcano (Tony excitedly putting his geologist hat on to explain how it came to be) and saw 3000 year old petroglyphs of yet more goaty-creatures. Guess things have been like this for a while.

A few days ago we went out early in the morning in a National Park. We were unbelievably fortunate to see a wolf that had recently made a fresh kill (a newborn foal), and to find an eagles nest on rocks at the top of a hill complete with two giant fluffy chicks! We passed the chap who's foal had been taken on the way back to camp. He did not think it so fortunate.

The food is ..... umm, not sure how to explain it. Haute cuisine is definitely not the expression. Meat is in everything (I just ordered a mushroom soup and it has chunks of mutton fat floating in it!). We were welcomed into a Nomad's Ger with a large bone of boiled mutton and a cup of luke-warm milk tea - the mutton was removed from the pot using the same tongs they used to put the dung on the fire. The tent stunk of old boiled sheep which is kept continually boiling on the stove. I struggled to keep my charming demeanour down and escaped to the floor to play knucklebones (real ones) with the children. Tony had to take one for the team. Poor thing, he often has to help me out as they serve us mutton dumplings (strong old mutton complete with chewy blood valve things) and mutton soup at just about every meal. I would cheerfully hurt someone for fresh fruit or salad. That said, I have developed quite a penchant for menthol snuff, most excellent for the sinuses in this dry air.

Quite a few folks speak some English here - which is a big contrast from China. While there, we were highly amused by the Chinglish on their t-shirts. Having just landed, our greeter's t-shirt read "aeroplane of idiots". One rotund chap on the street rolled up his t-shirt to expose a hugely swollen belly (it's cooler), cutting short the slogan to read "the future...". And our favourite, worn by a diminutive, elegant young woman: "If I was a bird, I know who I would shit on".

We caught the overnight train from Beijing to Ulan Bataar, Mongolia -- quite the experience. We were kept awake for three hours at the border (around midnight) as they uncoupled each carriage, hoisted it into the air (us in it) and changed the wheels to fit a different track gauge! Every few minutes during this operation some officious uniformed person would come into our little cabin (think Harry Potter) and demand to look under the bed, or to take our passports for much stamping. There was one toilet per cabin and even though the train was not full it had us gagging by the end of the trip. Three large Mongolian men got on board with us at Beijing, and immediately sat down and drank the train dry, then proceeded to joyously arm wrestle one another. They were so happy to meet us and shook our hands furiously making grunty happy noises as they did. Brilliant.

Posted by 2kiwisontour 06:40 Archived in Mongolia Tagged gobi ulan_bator trans_mongolian_railway Comments (0)

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