06 June 2010

Mongolia: The Arrival

I’m not sure where to start with Mongolia, as we’ve been here for three weeks, and have seen and done so much.  Firstly, a few facts.  Mongolia is huge, 17 times the size of the island of Ireland, and less than half the population.  It is the least densely populated country in the world.  More than a third of its population lives in the capital, Ulaanbaatar (UB), which makes the rest of the country seem even more remote.

There are practically no roads in the country, only 2600km of paved roads, which would be just about enough to create one straight road across the country, everything else in the official roads maps (up to 40,000 km) are simply bumpy dirt tracks.

Ghengis Khan (know to the Mongols as Chinggis Khaan) and his offspring are the only world famous people that the country has produced (although he is as famous as nearly anyone in any civilization ever).  Without a google search, or having previously visited, it would be difficult to name anyone else who is famous (some Japanese people might be able to name a Yokozuna or two, as Mongols are known for wrestling, and some crossover into Sumo, the only current Yokozuna is a Mongol).

Getting here involved a one day train trip from Ulan Ude.  Nothing major happened on the train trip.  It was the best carriage we had been on yet, as all international trains are minimum 2nd class, and they are from China, who normally provide better trains than the Russians.  One of the travellers in our compartment was a Russian nuclear physicist.

It took us 9 hours to get through the border, 7 on the Russian side, and two on the Mongol side.  For a few minutes, it looked like we were going to get fined by the local Russian gendarmes, as we had not registered anywhere while we were in Russia.  Actually, it looked like Audrey was going to get fined, for some reason, he didn’t ask me any questions, even though Audrey and I had had the same itinerary and visas.

In Russia you are meant to register anywhere that you stay for more than 3 working days, but we had been moving on from places quite often, as well as hitting weekends, so we didn’t register anywhere.  He started talking about how much of a “fine” we would have to pay (him).  We stood our ground, told him our situation (Audrey’s Russian was proving very useful at this point) and started showing him all our train tickets to prove that we’d been moving around quite often.  Eventually our persistence paid off, and he slunk off to the next carriage.

Eventually the train got moving across the border, and we were saluted into Mongolia by a number of military personnel.  Everything was much quicker on this side, the train got moving, we fell asleep and work up the next morning in Ulaanbaatar.

We got off the train a 6:20am


Ada & Rhodri said...

Tut tut! Russians are fanatical about tourist registering upon arrival. Anyway, well done for getting through.

Rhodri asks if you've still got your beard? He says they are probably going to fine Audrey instead of you, because you look so scuffy they think you're broke!


Take care, A