Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ulaanbaatar and Gokhi Terelj National Park (14th August)

At what we thought was just after 7, but was actually 6 (they don’t do summertime in Mongolia or China) the train came into Ulaanbaatar. Alongside the railway tracks were hundreds of shipping containers. As has become a little obsession of ours we had to search for the Hanjin (the company we’re going across the Pacific with) containers. Not having understood what all these shipping containers were doing in such a landlocked country it dawned on us when we got to the supermarket. Everything was imported, there was juice from Russia and Poland, Quality Streets, tea and Cadburys from England, a row of Chinese food and almost everything else from Germany.

Our dreams came true when we got off the train and a lady from the hostel was standing there with our names on a piece of paper. When I was little I always thought you’d be quite privileged to have someone waiting with your name at the airport. Along with lots of other people we got driven to the UB Guesthouse. There we were welcomed by a very amusing Mongolian (Mr. Kim) who whisper shouted to us with his hands cupped round his mouth that it was early and we’d have to be quiet as lots of people were still sleeping.

Inside we made plans for a trip round Mongolia – to the Gobi, a lake and forests. Mentioning that we wanted to go to Gokhi Terelj we were told there was a trip leaving later. So we spurred into action going to the cash machine, eating breakfast, and leaving again all before nine o’clock in the morning.

The trip took us through the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and into the country, through potholed streets and dirt tracks, and past loads of goats, cows, four camels and some yak. Entry to the National Park was about £1.50. There were loads of houses/gers and buildings works on the river, but it soon started looking more like what we were expecting.

Dropped off at a ger camp in the hills where all the Mongolians under the age of 20 were sitting watching sky TV, we were told “2 o’clock, eat first ride later”. The rest of the passengers in the minivan went horse riding and we stood there helplessly. More people from the hostel arrived in a car, but disappeared again. Not really knowing what we were meant to be doing we went walking up a hill in search of nature.

There were edelweiss, gentians, asteraceae that smelt like mint and Jenny spotted two marmots bathing in the sunshine. Walking up the slope teeming with grasshoppers was like walking through a field of popcorn. At the top of the hill were some nice rocks and a good view, and we could see the rock known as turtle rock in the valley. Lunch was pink rice with carrots and pink vegetables and possibly a few specks of meat in our no meat dish. Riding did happen after lunch and none of us had ridden before so it was going to be interesting. The horses’ ropes were hung up along what looked like a washing line. I chose a black horse that seemed to dislike Jenny’s one and kept trying to bite it. We didn’t have much control over their direction first of all and they kept trying to squeeze past each other, resulting in my knees rubbing against too many a horse bum. Mongolians probably find it hard to understand anyone never having ridden a horse, even tiny children race around the countryside on a horse. The boy who was leading our ‘trek’ was enjoying himself, singing and whistling and showing us how he could charge around. We had all thought we needed to control the horses with our legs but Mongolians just yank the horse’s head to the side to indicate where they want to go. My horse didn’t really want to go anywhere, being rather hungry it took every opportunity to lower its head and munch. This would result in the boy coming up behind us and waiving his whip in the air.

We past a few gers where cattle were being let out of pens and Mongolian children were running around. There were also a lot of goats. Even if I hadn’t been planning on liking Mongolia, the sheer number of goats here alone would have made me a fan, although perhaps not what they do with them. Towards the end of our little ride the boy decided we’d go faster and the horses broke into a canter. We all hung on for dear life. One girl’s horse went so fast and headed off into the distance and took some persuading to come back.

In the evening Jenny and I took a walk up a nearby rock where we sat and watched Mongolian life playing itself out in the valley and were approached by an inquisitive calf. Our evening meal was not a satisfactory affair, with the meat free dish covered in meat sauce. Feeling guilty we tried, but to no avail, to get one of the Spanish people to eat our food. We, and the German girl who was also a vegetarian, then proceeded to dine upon our Gut und Gunstig paprika chips and Essig gurken.

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