Sunday, May 11, 2014

The nomadic life goes Mongolian

Our Trans Mongolian/Siberian Railway journey started in Beijing. The train left mid morning heading towards Mongolia. Scenery on the China side of the border was pretty tame when pollution haze obscured more distant views, but impressive when the track ran right next to rugged mountains and dams. We slept that night on the train, four to a cabin. When we awoke in Mongolia it was all semi desert scenery with beautifully contoured sandy coloured slopes. The pollution was gone and we could see clearly into the distance. By early afternoon we reached our first destination on this stop start journey, the capital city Ulaanbaatar.



The long steps to salvation...
Our lunch cafe
The next day we went to a ger camp, stopping to see a Buddhist monastery and a huge rock formation called Turtle Rock. Lunch along the way was in a ger hut, at which time it started snowing quite heavily. By the time we arrived at the camp the snow had set in so we stayed inside our cosy stove warmed gers. These are ingenious tent like structures big enough to hold several beds and a wood burning stove. The Mongolians traditionally had a nomadic lifestyle and gers were easily transportable homes.
Hearty lunch
What our ger camp looked like on arrival
Warm and cosy in our Ger
Typical Mongolian dinner
We were surprised to be greeted in the morning by a glorious sun filled sky. We went trekking with our tour buddies in the local hills and saw snow capped ridges and wide windswept valleys punctuated by silver birches glowing white in the sunshine. There were granite boulders everywhere plastered with lime and orange lichen, and purple flowers that paled to mauve when they fully opened. Wonderful weather persisted all day and dinner that night was a traditional barbeque meal of goat meat and roasted vegetables. In this cold country the focus is on meat, and lots of meat, to help people's bodies stay warm; vegetarianism will need to wait. That night when I took a comfort break I found the camp surrounded by horses, but by morning they were all gone.



The next morning
The view from the trek
Interesting choice of exit
The trip back included a stop at the Chinggis Khan statue, a monument built only a few years ago that's one of the biggest of its type I've ever seen. We stumbled up a long flight of stairs and burst unceremoniously out of Chinggis's groin to absorb the view from his horse's head. I wondered if this was supposed to symbolise that the prodigious increaser of global population was still producing children. The next day was spent visiting the main sites of Ulaanbaatar, in which nearly half of the country's three million people live. I was pleasantly surprised to find Mongolia a more beautiful country with a more modern capital city than I expected.

That night we boarded the train to take the next leg to Irkutsk in Russia, a day and a half away. This was going to be an endurance test.

A Buddhist temple stop

The Beatles were one of the first western bands
to come here

Parliament house at night

Umm Dinosaurs were found here?

The lunch cafe on the inside

War Memorial