Home > Cities traveled > Day 20: Mongolia

Day 20: Mongolia

May 7th, 2011

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If I had to describe Mongolia, I’d have to say it is untethered, unplanned, and yet adheres to traditions that have passed through generations of families. The nomadic lifestyle is apparent in the city of Ulaanbaatar as well as in the countryside. The countryside is beautiful but, where people congregate, it gets chaotic. One tourist I ran into described the capital perfectly as “not in harmony”. “Bara bara” as my taiko sensei would say.

There were many tourists. I can’t even begin to explain how Ulaanbaatar has become the hub for Europeans traveling by land to southeast Asia and for all other tourists to use Ulaanbaatar as a hub for taking 3-30 day tours through the rest of Mongolia. I met Dutch people, Americans, Malaysians, French, Finns, Germans, and some Mongolians. The train leaving Ulaanbaatar was probably 80% foreigners.

I walked the streets alone at night on a Saturday night to try and experience the night life and instead of going where there were people, I was drawn to the quiet of the train museum several kilometers away from the drunken reveling that was going on in the streets of Ulaanbaatar. I later found out that the sale of alcohol is forbidden everywhere on the 1st of every month to try and create at least one dry day. I’ve never seen so many drunks take their frustration and anger out into the streets. I saw a few sloppy attempts at fights. I saw two men embracing each other publicly only to be yelled at by a passerby (it turns out that being gay is very dangerous in Ulaanbaatar). There were pubs, karaoke, and clubs everywhere. I was ready to leave town after a day.

Thankfully, Mongolia is not just Ulaanbaatar. The peace and open land in the countryside more than made up for the chaos of Ulaanbaatar. I took a tour with my friend Jan, from Hong Kong, an American who has lived in Japan for 10 years, a Dutch man, and my couchsurf host as tour guide. The driver, Ogie, had an awesome Russian van that I even got to drive for a short period (probably much to the horror of the other tourists). And, yes, I experienced galloping a Mongolian horse across open land.

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View the full picture set on my flickr page.

The tour was toward central Mongolia, to the original (brief) capital of the Mongol Empire. Along the way, we circled an ovoo clockwise 3 times for safe travels and offered rocks to the pile. We stopped by the Hustai Nature Reserve to picnic in the view of some wild horses. We spent the night at a small ger belonging to a buddhist family in the Khongo Khan mountains. Altaa, our host, spoke no English but graced us with warm fires at night and early morning and then wore a traditional outfit for our pictures.

We shared many stories during the many hours on the road together.

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Oddly enough, when it was time to leave Mongolia, it started snowing again. I seem to leave with snow.

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  1. from SD
    May 10th, 2011 at 00:36 | #1

    While I was enjoying your pictures I visually remembered many scenes from one of my favorite movies, The Story of the Weeping Camel. When I was little, I frequently dreamt about flying in the sky to go to China and Mongolia. Mongolia seems like it’s modernizing rapidly. I even see some modern technology outside their ger (Mongolian house).
    Wow, Sandy, you are so COOL on horseback!

    • xg
      May 10th, 2011 at 03:53 | #2

      Hi L, I’m glad you caught that modernity at the gers. Satellite dish, solar panels, electricity inside… But still with a wood (or dung)-burning stove in the middle. :)

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