We journeyed to Mongolia via a 32 hour train from Beijing. Over the course of the first day we saw the Chinese cityscapes and smogs give way to mountains and finally late in the afternoon we began to reach outer Mongolia, which is just a vast expanse of dust and sky.
The border crossing was a slow process largely due to the need to change the carriages for Russian gauge tracks. This process was quite amazing to watch, each carriage was separated from the train and then lifted up on massive jacks. The wide wheels were rolled out and then the new wheels rolled into position and the carriage lowered, all while we were in the carriage. The carriage we were on had only tourists and we made friends with some really nice people- including another Chris!
The next day we continued into Mongolia proper, and witnessed more of the empty landscapes.
We arrived to our hostel (in Mongolia) with one night booked and no tour- just the hope we could suss something when we got there. And suss we did. We enquired about tour options and before we knew it we had booked a custom 4 day, 3 night tour through Mongolia including- our own private driver and car, as well as an English speaking guide- visiting Chengis (not Gengis) Khan’s massive horse mounted statue, herding (included but not explicitly asked for), camel trek, horse riding, and hiking – including all food and accommodation for $400 NZD each!
Large bottles of beer were shared that night with our friends from the train. 1.5L of beer for $3- dangerous stuff.
The next day we headed out on our adventure. At our hostel that morning arrived a 19 year old English man, Amir, who jumped on board with our trip for the first day. A very interesting chap who grew up in Kenya with expat parents, and was sent to Eton boarding school for high school (impressive alumni include Prince Wills and Hazza, 19 British prime ministers, George Orwell, and Bear Grylls to name a few)- we were entertained for hours by his stories about his time at the school.
Our first stop was to the war memorial in Ulanbataa- Zaisan Memorial honors allied Mongolian and Soviet soldiers killed in World War II. It was interesting, and had good views of the city.
Then we were off to see our mate Genghis Khan.
Here’s some info on him: “Mongol leader Genghis Khan (1162-1227) rose from humble beginnings to establish the largest land empire in history. After uniting the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian plateau, he conquered huge chunks of central Asia and China. His descendants expanded the empire even further, advancing to such far-off places as Poland, Vietnam, Syria and Korea.”– https://www.history.com/topics/china/genghis-khan
They say that he died a month after falling off a horse as he fought the Chinese, well into his 60s. However rumor has it that he might have actually died of syphilis, I prefer the second one.
The grounds of the big Chinggis Khan statue though supposedly completed years earlier look bare and unfinished. However the big man himself looked very impressive.
We stayed the night with a Kazakh nomad family in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. The family made a living herding goats and sheeps, and having the occasional guest stay. They fed us a big meal then the patriarch sent us up the hill to herd his goats whilst he stayed at the house to slaughter one for BBQ lunch tomorrow.
We had a few goes shooting a bow and arrow in the evening with our host family- Chris was definitely the best.
In the evening after dinner, our guide showed us the family’s knuckle bone collection (animal knuckle bones) and a few games with them. Later we showed her how to play knuckle bones like we do at home.
The next day we packed up early to get on the road- we were driving to the dessert and then on to a family living in the hills for our sleep tonight.
On arriving to the desert and the family that took the camel rides invited us in for tea and biscuits. Instead of just biscuits today they had chocolates too! We both had a chocolate, unfortunately for Chris these had a little bit of peanut in them so he had a bit of an allergic reaction in these nice people’s Ger.
After some more tea- we got on the camels!
Camel riding was followed by playing on the dunes…
We then went on to our next family who would be hosting us for the night- they lived in the hills and also herding goat and sheep. We had to earn our dinner tonight by herding the sheep and goats twice that night! We were starting to fancy ourselves quite the herders by now.
We slept on the floor of the Ger in the same one as the family, it was cozy and warm. We played knuckle bones again. In this family there was a very precious 4 year old girl who was starting the stove fires, herding, and a very adpt knuckle bone opponent.
The next day after a sleep in (lovely) we were on the road again- this time into another mountain area. We had lunch on arriving then heading out on some horses for a ride.
Later we went hiking up some mountains…
We saw some snakes!
The next day we went hiking again, checking out some old temples then drove back into Ulanbatar, arriving at 9pm that night at the hostel.
The next day we went to the dinosaur museum, out for lunch with our friend Chris from the train and then on to the train station to catch our train to Irkurst in Russia!
Armed with instant noodles, chips, and chocolate we were ready for our train into Russia. Next stop- Siberia!