Mongolia – 2 day tour!

We arrived in Mongolia early in the morning (6:30) and as the gobi hostel was providing free transport to their hostel and because we heard good things about it, we took their bus to the hostel.

When we got there, there was alot of people – but also breakfast and coffee and a shower and a toilet. So we took care of all that and thought about what to do next. Luckily that sorted itself out as two swiss guys (francois and steve) asked around if anyone wanted to go on a two day/one night tour with them (it’s cheaper if you go more people). We said why not and joined. We left that very same morning at 9am.

The tour included a driver, an english-speaking guide, gas, overnight sleeping in a ger (see picture) at a nomadic family, horse riding, trekking, food and various entrance fees.

This is a ger. It is the tents that nomadic mongols sleep it. It can be taken down in about 1h
This is a ger. It is the tents that nomadic mongols sleep in. It can be taken down in about 1h

We got out to our ride which I must say I was quite envious over! I would love to go roadtripping in it and that’s definitely on my to-do list for next time I’m in Mongolia. Our driver was called Eaggi, didn’t speak much english but was still pretty awesome!

Eaggi our driver and our ride
Eaggi our driver and our ride
Francois, Nikolaj, Steve and Anand (our guide)
Francois, Nikolaj, Steve and Anand (our guide) inside a ger

The first thing we did was drive to an ovoo (a shamanistic symbol) which is a pile of rocks. It serves to please the spirits in the mountains. In Mongolia believe that every mountain has a spirit and therefore you will find these ovoos on every mountain in Mongolia. To please the spirits you take 3 rocks and walk around the ovoo. Every time you’ve gone a full circle, you throw one of the rocks.

An ovoo
An ovoo

I also tried holding a vulture. You know how I love animals!

A vulture!
A vulture!

Next stop was our lunch spot but we didn’t get lunch yet. We did, however, get some tea-milk which is not as good as it sounds. It was a mixture of warm cow’s milk and water that tasted… well weird. We had a cup and I drank it but it wasn’t exactly my favourite. Later we trekked to a monastery and then we had lunch. Good lunch!

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The view from the monastery
The view from the monastery

After that we went to the Gorkhi Terelj National Park and saw some spectacular landscapes as well as the turtle rock. It’s called that because it looks like a turtle!

Turtle rock
Turtle rock
A storm is coming
A storm is coming
A storm is coming
A storm is coming

Finally we went and saw the Genghis Khan statue. It is approximately 60 meters high! Quite big and you could get into the horses head:

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The face of the statue from taken from the horse
The face of the statue from taken from the horse
View from the statue
View from the statue
Some traditionally dressed Mongols!
Some traditionally dressed Mongols!
The Genghis Khaan statue
The Genghis Khaan statue
The Genghis Khaan statue
The Genghis Khaan statue

After that we went for another bumpy ride over the fields. No paved roads – just some dirt tracks far away from the city until we finally arrived at the nomadic family we were supposed to spend the night with.

Let me tell you a little about the family. It was the parents and (if i remember correctly) 4 kids. They seemed very comfortable with everything and weren’t bothered by such petitesses as rain, cowpoo, the toilet basically being a hole in the ground or eating/drinking insane amounts of milk. Or trekking 3kms up a mountain and back. The parents didn’t speak much but they were very friendly providing food, shelter and lighted up the stove inside our ger to keep us warm. The kids were very active and spoke a little english. We played basketball with them and they followed us around 🙂 Other than the family – we were the only ones there!

When we arrived they served milk. All kinds of milk. Milk candy you chew, milk cheese, milk cream, milk butter, hot milk, milk tea, sour milk and of course just milk. It was a milky bonanza! They also served bread and “normal” tea. We tried some of it and some of it was very nice, some of it wasn’t so much. Live and learn 🙂

Here are some pictures I took while at the family.

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3 of the kids and a horse
3 of the kids and a horse

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The 2nd youngest getting water from the well
The 2nd youngest getting water from the well
the 2nd youngest clapping a wounded sheep (broken leg)
the 2nd youngest clapping a wounded sheep (broken leg)
The youngest
The youngest
Drinking water
Drinking water and the toilet in the background

In the afternoon we went for a trek to the nearest mountain. It was very fun. Two of the kids and our guide joined us. A funny note is that we wondered what crickets were called in Mongolia but they kept making such a “tschaa tschaa” sound and therefore we just called them that. We later found out, that that’s pretty much also the mongolian word for it!

The kids had fun picking up some straws that turn into some kind of small leafy spears that stick to your clothes. They spent alot of time throwing that on us and all in all it was good times! We also picked up the crickets with our hands and held them. They were actually quite slow!

On the way to the mountain we saw this thing on the field. Our guide told is it was to protect from evil spirits. This thing attracted the evil spirits and held them captured inside. To go near it (cross the rocks on the ground) would be a very very bad idea and would cause you great trouble later!

The object holding evil spirits
The object holding evil spirits

We finally got to the top and I snapped some pictures. Taking pictures from your smartphone really doesn’t do this landscape justice!!

View from top of mountain
View from top of mountain
View from top of mountain
View from top of mountain

In the evening we ate, played some cards and a had a few beers with the father, our driver (Eaggi) and our guide (Anand)

The next morning we got up early and went horse riding. That was also great fun.  Nikolajs horse was defective and didn’t really want to go but the 3 of us (me and the two swiss guys) had a great race between us where suddenly all 3 horses started galloping (and i almost fell off) but in the end i won! My horse (bin laden) beat sarkozy and Putin (the swiss guys horses)by a horses hair while Obama (Nikolaj’s horse) didn’t stand a chance.

We saw a monastery and rode back. This time galloping almost all the way. We were become real pros!

Lama paintings near the monastery
Lama paintings near the monastery

After the horseride our guide had secured us (after a lot of begging) a place where we could try some airag which is a traditional mongolian drink made from fermented mare’s milk (a mare is a type of horse). It had a little bit of alcohol in it from the fermentation but not very much. It tasted a bit like sour milk but wasn’t all that bad really. I had half of bowl of it and could see why alot of mongolians like it

The ger where we found the airag
The ger where we found the airag
Nikolaj tasting Airag http://www.mongolfood.info/en/recipes/airag.html
Nikolaj tasting Airag
http://www.mongolfood.info/en/recipes/airag.html

After the horse ride we drove back to the hostel but not before stopping to see another mongolian symbol. This is the opposite of what we saw earlier, namely an object holding good spirits. This thing held all the good spirits and blessed the sorroundings. It also holds alot of buddhist books as when they are no longer needed you can’t just thrown them out or burn them. They are holy. They are then kept in here for protection.

Object holding the good spirits. Old buddhism books are kept here as they cant just be burned/discarded
Object holding the good spirits. Old buddhism books are kept here as they cant just be burned/discarded

We arrived safely back at the hostel in the afternoon and took a shower! All in all a great great trip with lots of things learned after which I truly feel that 3 days is not enough for Mongolia. We need more time! Luckily we still had the evening and a full day the next day.

The last leg of the train ride. Irkutsk -> Ulan-Bataar

The last leg of the train ride was very different from the other two legs.

Ulanbataar - Moscow
Ulanbataar – Moscow

First of all it was now the trans-mongolian railroad with final destination in ulan-baatar. This meant that there were practically no russians aboard but only mongolians. And they weren’t just travellers  but traders stacking huge amount of goods. One lady had goods in pretty much every compartment, stretching over several carriages!

Some of her packages
Some of her packages

Second of all we didn’t go to the restaurant van, we didn’t drink vodka (okay I didn’t, Nikolaj had a little bit) and we shared compartment with a british couple. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures! But I do have a picture of the train from a platform which isnt’t really a platform but just the tracks:)

Crossing the tracks and not having an actual platform is no problem!
Crossing the tracks and not having an actual platform is no problem!

We spent the whole trip playing cards (Uno and Durak), watching out the window and getting our passports checked at the border. The view of lake Baikal from the train was spectacular though!

Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train
Some pics from the train

Irkutsk – Near the great Lake Baikal


Presently its 6am and I’m sitting in Ulan-bataar (Chingis khaan international airport). But lets go back – back to when we arrived by train to Irkutsk near the great Lake Baikal.

DAY1 – July 31st, Arriving at Irkutsk

We arrived safely to Irkutsk in the evening and quickly found our homestay (arranged through a hostel). As it was late in the evening  all we did was grab some food and withdraw some money from a nearby atm followed by a quick shower and then straight to bed. The food was terrible.

DAY2 – August 1st, Listwyanka

In the morning we made our way to another hostel as the homestay was booked out. As the pros we have become at finding very unmarked hostels in russia (often in completely anonymous residental complexes) we found our new hostel and had checked in around noon.

This is where we met Kurt – an australian that had been spending the last 40 days camping and trekking the mountains of Mongolia. He also just arrived in Irkutsk. He decided to join up on a trip we planned going to a lake city called listwyanka near lake baikal – and eat breakfast their.

We bought 2L beer, a bottle of vodka, some cucumber, some tomatoes, some pepper fruit, salami, bread, butter, cheese and got on our way. The breakfast of kings. We then got on our way to Lake Baikal. After about 1h of driving in their marshutkas (minibusses) we walked around and quickly found a nice spot at the beaches of Lake Baikal.

View from the Marshutka (minibus)
View from the Marshutka (minibus)

<Picture pending of breakfast>

But first a few facts about lake baikal – It is the deepest lake in the world. It is 600kms long and 60kms wide. It contains 20% of the worlds combined water resources – more than the 5 great lakes combined! Also it is so clear than you can drink directly from the lake. Quite impressive.

Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal

Anyway, this day was one of those, “we don’t really have any plans but I’m sure we’ll have fun” days and so we did. Our original plan was to see the lake and take the last boat home at 18:30. That didn’t happen. After having eaten our breakfast we asked a random boater on the beach if he would take us on his boat and since lady luck is constantly behind us, he said yes.

View from the back of the boat
View from the back of the boat
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Our Captain
Our Captain
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj

After the short boatride of about 15minutes (and half a bottle of vodka) we just walked down the road along the lake to see what was going on. As it usually does something quickly happened: Nikolaj spotted a banya (russian bathhouse) sign with a phone number. We stopped the first stranger and asked him to call the number.

This guy was a young russian who had just bought booze to meet up with his friends. He didn’t meet up with his friend – instead he joined us for the most of the day. I’ll spare you the details but we swam in lake baikal and tried some very cheap food:

The russian
The russian
The weird food right after we got out of the water
The weird food right after we got out of the water

I high fived a bear:

Me high fiving a bear
Me high fiving a bear

met alot of new friends and of course went to the banya:

Outside the banya
Outside the banya

On a side note: Being the danes we are, we ofcourse wanted to skinny dip in the lake but our russian friend told us “no no no no”. The women will called their boyfriends, the boyfriends will call the police (and beat you up), and finally the police will beat you up again (and throw you in jail). This is not just because they don’t like nudity but more particularily because they don’t like MALE nudity (we were 3 guys that wanted to do it) as it is basically too gay’ish. Two bottles of vodka down we were this close to doing it but still opted for keeping the boxers on.

Around 8pm we took the marshutka back to irkutsk and had a crazy night… we went to bed around 2am.. or 3am.. 4am.. I don’t really remember. Honestly I don’t remember much after we got back… it rained.

DAY3 – August 3rd, Hiking around Lake Baikal

We got up at 8:30 am (YES!! after that day/night). That was probably one of the worst hangovers and most confused times on this entire trip so far. Furthermore, we had planned a 12 km trekking trip.. and we only had flipflops to wear. Getting picked up by the tour staff (and Mirko the german we met earlier in Moscow who had joined up with us again… great, huh? :)).

Mirko was fully prepared with trekking gear, bugspray, water and food… we had… uh… flipflops and a hoodie. We got the driver to stop at a market and got some food and water and after an hour of driving, best described as attempted suicide, we got to the start of our trek. We quickly got to talking with two russian girls who was going camping and they joined us for the rest of the trip

Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face :)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face 🙂

One of the stranger things that happened was a bikini dressed russian girl in the forrest named Nastya. She was there alone and she had a tent, some food and a whole lot of Samogon (russian home-brewed booze) that she had made herself. We did a picnic there pooling all our food and also tried some of the samogon. It was very home-brewery.

We also got to hide under the railroad tracks when the rain started pouring having a little camping there for about half an hour.

Under the tunnel: Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena
Under the tunnel:
Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena

We also skipped stones at the shore of Lake Baikal, tried “moutain energy tee” that the russian girls had brought from home. Talked alot about alot of things and I learned a few new words.

At the shore of lake baikal
At the shore of lake baikal

Another thing to mention are the tunnels. For some reason the russians decided that tunnels were bad karma and opted for leading the railroad tracks AROUND the tunnel instead. I have no idea why.. but on the plus side the tunnels doubles as excellent shelter for those less fortunate.

The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels + bed and Mirko
The tunnels + bed and Mirko

Below are some pictures of the trail

Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail

At night we just got home, ate food and went to bed.

DAY4 – August 4th, Leaving

We got up early, and took the train. How that went is for the next blog post