Last part of our travels in Mongolia! After living the nomadic life in western Mongolia, we headed to the great northern lake before making our way back to Ulaanbataar.
Long day on the road, 12 hours to be exact, driving on dirt paths for hundreds of kilometers through empty steppes and valleys at a raging slow pace. The only moment Ironman drives faster is when a jeep passes us and he has to engage into a manly race on the worst quality roads, smashing our heads against the roof and almost destroying the poor car.
Foodwise, it’s noodles with mutton three times today, not even a milk tea or bouillon variation!
We’ve been driving non-stop for 1.5 day and almost haven’t met any civilization. We can’t find anything for breakfast and end up chewing on some old cookies leftovers.
Finally, we get to the city of Murun (Mörön), where we indulge in some luxury: shower n°2! Washing our hair once isn’t enough, and we almost empty our shampoo & soap trying to feel cleaner. We drive further north and the landscape changes dramatically: shiny green grass, trees! We now realize why it’s called little Switzerland. A river with trees on one side, mountains on the other – it directly gives a very different feeling from the steppe-like lands we were driving through yesterday.
Finally some asphalt road (yay!) that brings us to the Lake Khuvsgul National Park, with plenty of forested grass and streets. It’s one of the more “touristy” spots in Mongolia, and we even see 2 other tourists! After two weeks without seeing any other traveler and having only our guide we can communicate with, we are all craving for some more contact and conversation. We’ll have to wait a few more days though…
In the national park, we get to meet the reindeer people that come down from the northern mountain (by the Russian border) for the reindeer festival and to make some money by selling handmade products. One of them tells us that there are around 80 reindeer families having around 750 reindeers in total. They live in tipis with a fire stove and reindeer fur as carpet, even when temperatures drop down as low as -60 (our jaws dropped as well).
We put our tent by the lake at the edge of the forest and go walk along the massive Khuvsgul lake. Colors are beautiful, and we have some fun taking pictures at sundown.
Another sleepless night in the tent. It rained heavily throughout the night, and Tom and Ironman’s tent is half flooded. Ours is also drenched and very dirty from the forest floor. We realize it is not worth spending the day staring at the curtain of rain doubled with a thick layer of fog so we decide to push the schedule forward and already start heading back to Ulaanbataar, a journey that will take us 3 days in total, stopping here and there for some sights. We thus hit the road again, and this time drive almost only on asphalt! The landscapes loses its trees but the grass remains lush green, and with mountains and hills on all sides, it feels like we are driving through wonderland. We can’t make Tom and Ironman sleep in a tent another rainy night so we make it to a ger camp before sunset but they ask us for more than 50$ for the night, which is 3 times what we were ready to pay. After long discussions, we leave and nearly beg a nomadic family to let us stay at their place. Reticent at first, they finally let us sleep on the carpet floor, which gives us the chance to dry our stuff a bit, including our tents. At first, the family takes some time to warm up, but eventually they end up making loads of jokes and we chat a bit before turning the lights off. Actually, even after the lights are turned off the father keeps making jokes (including borderline jokes involving vampires and used tampons), farts loudly and giggles like a kid.
A very diverse day! We start by climbing the Uran Togoo Volcano which has an almost perfectly circular top. We then drive through the city of Erdenet, illustration of the Soviet industrialisation of the country and still active as a mining town. We complete the day by visiting Amarbayasgalant Monastery, nicely renovated and nested in a wide valley surrounded by isolated gers.
We camp in the middle of nowhere and expect to be alone, but a bus full of youngsters comes out of nowhere, stops nearby and plays loud music for a few hours. Then, horsemen stop by a few times, reminding us that in Mongolia you’re rarely alone, even in the middle of the steppe.
We drive through Ulaanbatar on our way to Terelj National Park and stop by at Tom’s place to visit his family. They are all very excited to see him again after 3 weeks (he’s only 19 after all and leaving home for so long for the first time!), and cook a delicious kimchi stew for us! After 20 days of noodles with sheep meat, this feels like heaven. We then drive further to Terelj and stop 20 seconds by the famous Turtle Rock before leaving the national park again to camp along a nice river. For our last night together, Tom has prepared us a real treat: Korean BBQ. We stuff ourselves with porc (yes not sheep!) meat, garlic and lettuce (yes, not noodles!).
Before heading back to Ulaan Bataar, we visit the famous Genghis Khan monument, built not long ago and currently the biggest equestrian statue in the world. An elevator and several steps bring us to the top of the horse’s head, perfect for a selfie with Geng!
After a comparable short drive, we are back in Ulaanbataar, at the hostel. All we want is to have a warm shower and do our laundry, but when we arrive there is no water in the whole building…A couple hours later, water is there, but ice-ice-cold. We end up taking a shower by cooking water in a big pot and pouring it over our heads.
It’s Rebekka’s birthday today! Quentin found a little piece of cake (that tastes terrible) and even a flower to surprise her in the morning. We are all happy in this cozy and home hostel that has only two rooms, but then a weird old lady comes out of the other room, saying we’ve stolen her purse because it isn’t there anymore. The girl from the hostel panics and says that they’ll call the police in case we can’t find the purse. We go through the security camera video but don’t find much and the fuss goes on for a long hour with a polite talk developing into angry discussions. Finally, the old lady finds her purse in her suitcase and the matter is solved, and the hostel lady even cooks kimchi stew as an apology!
We spend the day exploring the city and in the evening go to a traditional Mongolian singing and dancing show. We’re particularly impressed by the throat singing, and recommend you to check it out on youtube if you’ve never heard it!
Another recommendation: Read the book “On the trail of Genghis Khan”, the story of an Australian that buys a horse and sets on a journey from Mongolia to the Danube, describing everything he sees on the way. You’ll learn a lot about the culture of all the countries he rides through!
An insane adventure, that pushed us to our limits in terms of comfort and resistance. We still can’t believe everything we’ve experienced in just three weeks, and feel so privileged we’ve had the chance to live the real Mongolian nomadic lifestyle for a week in a kind and welcoming family. We’ve rarely felt that dirty and never spent that much time with no access to running water and electricity. Being totally cut from the outside world for three weeks was also an experience. The hardest for us was probably the social deprivation due to the impossibility to communicate directly with anyone but our guide, as well as eating the same noodle & sheep soup every single day. God, how much did we dream of some fruits or vegetables! But all of it was worth it, for the stunning landscapes we saw and the amazing people we met!
We’ll now fly to the other side of the world, to Mexico! This will probably be one of the biggest cultural shock we’ll experience!
Some Mongolian words
- Hello – sain baina oo (saïn baïnu)
- Goodbye – bayartai
- Thank you – bayarlaa
- Delicious – amttai
- Water – us
- Beautiful – goi
- Sheep – hun
- Goat – yama
- Horse – mur
- Rain – borro
You see which words are important here in Mongolia 😉
- Don’t step on the door frame of the ger
- Don’t walk between the poles at the center of the ger, this is where the spirit of ancestors live
- Women stay and sleep on the left side of the ger, men on the right (when looking out of the ger)
- Receive drinks and food with your right hand, supporting your elbow with the left hand
- Never whistle in a ger
- Noodle and meat soup: guriltai shul
- Noodle and meat: tsuiwan
- Meat dumplings: buuz
- Flat meat dumplings: khuushuur
- Cooked meatbones: chanasan makh
- Fried dough: boortsog
- Curd: aaruul
- Yak joghurt: tarag
- First milk pudding: uurag
- Milk rice: suutei budaa
- Horse vodka: shimiin arkhi
- Milk tea: suutei tsai