The end of the trip – our last night in Ulan-bataar

Returning from our trip (see: 2 day trip in Mongolia ), we reached Ulan-bataararound 4pm but since the gobi hostel was fully booked we had to find another hostel. We decided to meet with the swiss for dinner in the evening and went on our way to the new hostel.

The new hostel was called Lotus and was run by orphans which is really an appealing fact about this place and something great to support. When we got our room it was shared with a bunch of australians and the next room was with a whole bunch of volounteers from Edinburgh.

Sidenote: The reason for the volounteers is that Ulan-bataar is one of the most polluted towns in the world – even more than beijing. Especially in the winter. It has 6 power plants inside city limits which produce alot of pollution as well as traffic. Furthermore, since the winters can be extremely cold, a large part of the nomads move to the city in the winther but when they move away they simply burn everything they leave. This also pollutes. Finally, as the capital is also the coldest capital in the world (because of the insane cold in the winter and nights), the cold works as a dome around the city, pushing the pollution “down” so to speak. This means that you can’t see more than 3-4 meters in front of you and even inside houses you can see the blurry effect that comes from pollution.

Well, anyway. The australians seemed merry and we shared a few shots of vodka and decided to meet up at a microbrewery in UB (ulan-bataar) later in the evening but first we went out to meet the swiss.

We met with the swiss and went for mongolian grill. An all you can eat for about 10 EUR each. This involved a very large buffet with 5 kinds of meat: sheep, goat, horse, beef and chicken. You took your raw meat (and salads) to a central grill where the chef would then cook it for you. Very very delicious. They also did a show where the chef threw around his knives and there was music and a light show and things like that. Much like the japanese Teppanyaki.

The grill getting ready
The grill getting ready

In the evening we went to the microbrewery where amongst others I talked to a mongolian couchsurfer host and a canadian journalist. After the brewery, the party continued at the hostel (I had stopped drinking though) which included hair-cutting, story telling from our travels as well as fairytale storytelling by a dutch woman (Nadine) that had the sweetest mix of dialect coming from her original dutch accent mixed with australian. She was a special kids teacher so I guess having a nice calming voice really comes in handy.

We also met: Garreth, a hilarious type that had to catch a plane the next day towards new adventures. Jonathan the canadian journalist who never once during his travels in russia said he was a journalist. Harry who left us a very nice note, was generally pleasing to be around, and michael and emily an engaged couple travelling on to russia who were also very sweet. Evenings and people like these are why travelling is amazing!

The next day (wednesday) we were going to relax as we had to catch the plane next morning at 7 and real work (monday) suddenly wasn’t so far away anymore. We saw a monument raised by the russians, celebrating the soviet union and the black market (not because it was actually stolen goods – the name was literally “the black market”), a huuuge market in ulan-bataar which sold everything. Everything.

Soviets beating the japanese
Soviets beating the japanese
Soviets beating the nazis
Soviets beating the nazis
Soviets and china (I think)
Soviets and china (I think)
The soviet union in all it's glory
The soviet union in all it’s glory

View from the soviet monument

View from the soviet monument

Below is a picture from the black market in the “stoves department”. Every single ger had stoves like this inside:

Stoves for sale. These were inside every ger
Stoves for sale. These were inside every ger

As usual, we took the public transportation:

Riding the bus
Riding the bus

Finally, for the danes out there. This is probably funny to you!

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After we got home, it was late. We had some korean food and went to bed.

The next morning at 3:50 am we got up and took the taxi to the Ulan-bataar airport. As a last reminder of how mongolia is much different from denmark, the taxi driver drove with the high beams on for the full trip (and yes the normal lights worked), flashed her lights in anger maybe 10 times, drove in the wrong side of the road while fiddling with the radio (she was honked at because she was driving straight towards another car) and finally ran two red lights in a mere 20 minutes.

26 hours later (midnight, danish time) we arrived home. Tired. Very tired.

This marked the end of one of the most adventurous trips I’ve ever embarked on – going from Copenhagen to Ulan-bataar by land. 3 weeks of extreme experiences crammed into so little time! One week of this kind of travel would be enough for a full vacation but we had 3. I’m ready to go back to work now but only to recharge until I’m ready to leave again!

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