Yurts, Yak & Yours truly
Arriving into Mongolia’s capital on a chill-some morning, we were met at the train by a hostel rep offering us space in ‘UB guesthouse’. Seeming like a good deal we accepted and jumped into a taxi. You can tell at once that Ulaan Baator is much more geared up for travellers. Most travellers use Ulaan Baator as a base to undertake tours of other places in Mongolia, such as the Gobi or Terelj national park. There’re some worthwhile sights within the city itself, and during this first day we visited a few of them.
Around midday we walked to the main temple in the city, home to a massive buddha statue and more pigeons than you can shake a stick at. We found an excellent veggie restaurant on the way back, and got an amazing lunch for cheap. During the afternoon we looked around the city some more and went to the national museum, which displayed a host of interesting historical and cultural artifacts.
The next day me and tom went our separate ways, Tom electing to do a seven-day tour of the Gobi, while I decided to spend a couple of days in Terelj national park before pressing on to Beijing. Our mini-bus left the UB guesthouse around 0900 and drove us to the national park, via an off-licence. As we entered the park territory, the surrounding views were really stunning. We were dropped off at a small Ger camp, home to perhaps 3 or 4 Mongol families; and shown to our yurts (or in Mongolian ‘Gers’). Our Ger was nicely furnished with a comfortable gypsy-caravan feel about it. Each Ger had a number of beds, small table and a stove in the centre.
During my stay in this Ger camp I took the opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains on foot. The herds of bulls roaming around were fairly disconcerting at first, but they seemed to be docile enough. The scenery was magnificent. Sublime, barren valleys stretching for miles, be-speckled with Gers, stretch between ridges of tree-covered mountains. I passed plenty of time just taking in the view.
We were fed three times per day by the host family. Mostly rice-based meals; which were quite alright and included a veggie option. During the first afternoon we took a horse-ride down the valley. A Finish lad who was part of our group was most unlucky with his horse. Before we’d even started-out, the horse he was sat-upon bolted straight for the stables, before stopping suddenly and bucking sending the poor chap flying right off. As i witnessed this event unfold I was thinking “owch! He’s definitely broken something.” Luckily he didn’t, though he had a nasty bruise. The occurrence of this spectacle right at the very beginning of the horse-experience didn’t inspire confidence and put everyone in an apprehensive frame of mind! Luckily there were no more incidents and everyone completed the ride intact. The horses were pretty lazy and disobedient, answering only to the call of “CHOO!” from our tour-guide. Efforts on our part to imitate this command/threat were obviously most unconvincing from the horses perspective. Trotting down the valley in the warm afternoon sun was really enjoyable, if slightly uncomfortable. I don’t think the horses enjoyed it too much, they must be very fed-up of trotting around with tourists sat on them!
As you may have deduced from the photos contained here-in I became very captivated by the flora and fauna. The diversity and variety of wildflowers was really staggering; especially in a landscape, which upon first inspection appears to be essentially barren. It is said that Mongolia has one of the least-spoilt ecosystems on Earth, due to the low concentration of human beings, and relatively low-impact nomadic lifestyles of those who do live here. There were however large areas of bleached, dead-Forrest, which looked as though they had suffered a severe drenching in acid-rain. Whether this was due to emissions from factories in neighbouring China or Russia, or perhaps some other cause altogether, I’m not sure. During an afternoon walk on my second day, as I was walking down from a mountain back to the camp, I saw a group of mountain goats, dashing across near-vertical rock-faces. The agility of these chubby, short-legged creatures was quite incredible.
There’s something very beautiful and appealing about the lifestyle of these nomadic people. Unlike the majority of the inhabited regions of the planet, there are few fences, walls or boundaries here. The land is truly a commons to be used and respected by all according to needs for sustenance. There is a feeling of abundance in this place which affords coexistence; a far-cry from the struggle and competition of most modern cities. Further, living in such a beautiful place must be quite therapeutic and healthy for body and mind. Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that I visited this place during the idyllic season; life must be much harsher here during the winter.