Friday, 27 June 2008

A note from Outer Mongolia

The "short" twenty eight hour train journey from Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar saw more change in scenery than the five days through Siberia from Moscow. Flat green forests turned to sandy mountains in the dry desert heat. And the jolly Chinese train crew made a refreshing change to the Russian matrons policing tea consuption in Siberia.

The journey was made all the more infuriating / hilarious by the couple sharing our cabin. It never fails to amaze me that stupid people manage to get quite so far in life (or at least so far from home). They didn't know that the train went to Mongolia (and were therefore missing the necessary visas), didn't know that trains run on Moscow time (so got the departure time for their train wrong by five hours), and after submerging an old SLR in a litre of fresh OJ wondered whether our resident camera expert could fix it...

The Russian / Mongolian border crossing took a mere seven hours (not the rumoured eleven), and a quick check under the beds seemed to satisfy the customs officials (rather than the full train / bag / body search experienced in the opposite direction.

The Mongolian capital is nothing special to look at, but the massive Gandantegchinlen Khiid monastery for male nuns (apparently known as monks) is pretty impressive. And there is a small army of (stuffed) "living dinosaurs" to be found in the Natural History Museum, which bear an uncanny resemblance to camels.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park offered what I wanted from Mongolia: a lot of nothing. Miles and miles of sand and mountains, with a scattering of trees, camels, horses, gers and people (in that order). We stayed in a ger (or yurk or whatever else you want to call it), although the multicoloured sprial pasta for lunch took some of the shine off the authenticity. Tea made up for it though. Five of us in each ger, (eventually) a stove to keep warm, and a clear sky for the fullmoon rise was pretty impressive.

Decided to be brave and do the "must do" Mongolian thing: horseriding. Much to my relief, said horse looked like it would die if it exerted enough energy to chuck me off or gallop off into the technicoloured sunset. As it was, the thing was utterly uncontrolable, and repeatidly tried to lose its saddle (and therefore me). Anyway, well done me. And Priya.

So, apart from the ATMs' dislike for my card, and the kids whose fists had an affinity for my face, all Mongolia needed was a fe more weeks to explore the Gobi.

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