06 June 2010

Outer Mongolia: The Vast Emptiness

During our stay in Mongolia, we’ve taken two trips out into the Mongol countryside.  The first one was a five day trip organised by the hostel that we spent most of our time staying in.  A brief rundown of the trip was:

Day 1 – driving to the semi-Gobi (a place that is getting close to being a desert).  On the way we stopped at the Hustai National Park, where there are the last remaining Przewalski horses, the only untamed horses on the planet.  There were six of us; we were joined by a 19 year old posh English kid of Peter Crouch proportions (Jamie), an Indian, Sandeep, who’s been living in American for more than decade and two Swedes, who proved to be stingy, silent, sour and stubborn.
Swedes not included, as they annoyed me, I was taking the picture

Day 2 –  Driving to the Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall, set in a large plateau surrounded by mountains.  On the way there, the underside of Russian van we were travelling in wacked a rock in the ground as we were going through particularly rough muddy terrain.  After an hour of trying, and surrounding the tyres with stones to help grips, the van eventually came loose.  It was only then that we could see the full extent of the damage, as one end of the drive shaft lay on the ground.  Top Gear wouldn’t be in it for drama (plus, we didn’t have a huge supply van to keep us and the camera crew living in a worst case scenario).  Our driver simply took it off and put it in the van, and on we continued.

Day 3 – Woke up to a magnificent, snow covered landscape, thought it melted quickly (that didn't stop that wretched Swedish Orlov from remarking "I fucking hate snow!").  No driving today, we simply stayed in the area and did some walking in the hills with a couple of random dogs leading Audrey, Jamie, Sandeep and I.  We also got the chance to help with goat herding and sawing wood.  The Swedes did not take part in anything, and simply sat in the tent, apart from the horse-riding, which was part of the organised tour.  We both had sore arses after a couple of hours of that.  The driver spent the day getting the van back in working order (Russian machines are not so complicated, so it seems you can do this type of stuff yourself).

Dinner time, doggie!

We also had a “Mongolian Barbeque”, when our tour guide helped us buy half a goat.  I didn’t expect anything like what we have in the West, but it was also nothing like a BBQ.  It involved heating up a load of large round stones in the fire, taking a large cauldron of hot water and putting in spuds, carrots, onions and then the meat, and dropping in the stones, and letting it all stew for an hour or more.  Was quite interesting, not the best meal ever though.

(Left: Tuul our tour guide, very friendly, and cooked well with the limited resources. Just to be clear, with "limited resources" I don't mean the size of the lamb. In fact it had nothing to do with the BBQ)

The Mongolian "BBQ"!

Day 4 – On the road again, we headed to Kharakhorum, which was the ancient capital of Mongolia and where good old Genghis called home.  Seen an impressive monastery that is basically the only thing standing from ancient times (but reliable Joe Stalin did his best by getting over 70% of it destroyed in the 30s).  Then we headed back to the semi-Gobi, but a different part of it.  Rode camels, even more uncomfortable, never again.  Where we stayed that night, they used dried dung in place of firewood, which wasn’t that surprising, as there wasn’t a tree in sight.  Seemed to work quite well, with no smell.

Day 5 – Headed back to UB, got my first beer in 5 days.

The second trip we took with a friend of a friend that Audrey knew, so it wasn’t really a tourist trip, but rather someone going back to his family to help with a few things before going back to UB.  This way, we avoided the slightly more sanitised tours and got to see how people live day-to-day.

Day 1 – Headed out of UB, took about 3 hours to get out by the time the driver, Mönkhbat (henceforth known as Monk) stopped off a few times to get things and pick up other people.  There were two vans, and seven of us.  His newly wedded son (Naran) and daughter-in-law (Bolor) were moving to the South Gobi, where he came from originally, to live in a Ger that used to belong to Monk.  His mate (name unknown) and son (Chegi) joined us, which helped us somewhat as Chegi had some English (the rest had none, but some did have a little Russian).  We stopped regularly to fix one of the vans, which wasn’t coping well with the terrain.  We camped in the middle of nowhere late that night.

Naran, Bolor, Audrey and Chegi

Day 2 – Driving the whole day except for breakdowns, a short lunch break (awful food at a “restaurant” about 100km from anything else) and Bayanzag, which was quite impressive.  Eventually we reached a village Bulgan, where we would stay for the next two days.

Day 3 – Spent the day doing not much in Bulgan.  Monk got stuck into doing the regular things he was there to do, such as fixing the door of his bro's squat toilet (as we had specifically said we didn’t want to interrupt his plans as we were only paying for his petrol, and he wasn’t a tour guide).  Bolor and Naran showed us around the village.

(Left: Monk's brother and other random family)

Monk fixing the toilet door

Day 4 – Headed up into the hills to drop Monk's mate off in the mountains for a two week Buddhist retreat with a famous local Lama.  We found out later that Monk’s mate was also quite famous, having been the governor of one of the districts in UB.  We helped them set up camp at the top of a mountain, and then left them.  Audrey had great difficulty getting down, a mountain goat she is not.  Audrey, Chegi and I headed off to Yolin Am, an ice valley set in beautiful landscape, while the others headed off to Monk’s hometown.  We met up with them later there, and stayed in the Ger that Monk was giving to the newly-weds.

Day 5 – We took the Ger apart, put it on the back of a lorry, and drove it to Bolor’s family and rebuilt it there.  The whole process took about 4 hours to dismantle, move and rebuild, and by the end of the day, they had the interior 100% completed.  I’d like to see that happen in the west.  In the evening, copious amounts of Vodka were consumed with a few beers.

Day 6 – The start of the day was quite slow due to the evening before.  Eventually we set off at 3pm on the “road” back to UB.  It would be 570km before we saw any proper roads (again to add a bit of perspective, it’s only 466 km from the northern most point to the southern most point in Ireland).  After 7 hours on the road, we set up camp in a hill, had a bit of food, and then three of us slept in the back of the mini-bus.

Day 7 – After setting off at 8, UB appeared on the horizon at 1:30pm.  Traffic was horrendous, and it would be 3pm before we would reach Monk’s apartment.  He invited us up for some food, but we declined politely, saying that we needed to get some sleep as we were knackered.  Really we wanted to avoid another helping on mutton or goat and milk tea (as the name suggests, very milky tea, but also with salt).

We found out when we met him later with a friend who spoke English and Mongolian that he had phoned ahead to his wife to get her to prepare something a bit more western with beef, as he sensed our exhaustion with the Mongol diet.

We got back to our hostel at 4pm.


Unknown said...

The only thing worse than two swedes is three turnips. Whack on a bit of Abba, throw them in a sauna and tell to shut the flock up.

Worst luck for him he doesn't like snow living in Sweden. Serves him right. Scandanevian Git.

I hope you didn't eat that little lamb that little lady was holding.

Did Crouch get off to the World Cup okay.

Talk later, baby crying, again. Nah, she's a good girl. Onto nappy 16 today. Don't ask.