21 Days In Mongolia


I wish I had made more detailed notes about what we saw, experienced and felt, but I tied to capture some of this, at least, towards the latter part of the trip.  It makes such a difference when you visit a country other than your own, whether or not you immense yourself in that culture, eat their food, stay n their accommodation and visit local areas or just do the "tourist” locations, stay in 4* hotels and eat at classy restaurants.

On this trip we knew that Mongolia would be impossible to travel around without getting involved in some kind of organised tour.  We could have hired our own guide and jeep but the necessity of organising it all in such a limited amount of time and seeing so many different areas, in only 3 weeks seemed impossible and unnecessary when a well reputed travel company could take away all the hassle and administration so that we could use our own precious vacation days on enjoying ourselves rather than worrying about accommodation, supplies, breakdowns etc.  We were very fortunate in that the group that finally came together bonded so well.  It was a worry at first for me, being one of 12 women in a group of 15 travellers (excluding "crew”).  Apparently this is unusual.  However, with the mix of nationalities and ages, everyone got on well.  To travel to Mongolia I believe you have to be of a certain mentality anyway (hmmm!).  However, I don’t believe anyone arrived expecting easy travel, living out of a wardrobe and 3 course meals, so we weren’t disappointed.

Those that go to Mongolia expect it to sometimes be a hard slog, know that there will be days when you don’t want to get our of your mildly warm sleeping bag in to the relatively cold tent every morning at 7am in order to get in a van and be tossed form one side to another for up to 9 hours some days.  However, we still go because the good outweighs the bad.

Andy and I wanted to visit Mongolia as we felt there weren’t that many countries left on this earth that were still untouched by tourism in one form or another.  Of course, "westerners” have been gong to Mongolia for many years now, but we knew that it was only a matter of time before Khongoryn Els for example becomes another "Uluru”.  We managed to visit Vietnam in 1996 before the real tourist boom hit; now it is another Thailand and Laos and Cambodia are not far behind.  Therefore we wanted to see Mongolia in its "natural state”.  We recognised that an explosion in business and trade had occurred in the last few years and those lucky enough to have had visited the country, especially the countryside, before this, would always have very good and special memories.

We cannot "sum up” Mongolia.  It is a country of open space, often arid landscapes, but filled by an overwhelming blue sky the majority of time.  When we travelled through the countryside we felt we could have been in 1804, 1904 or 2004 – the tradition and way of life did not seem to have changed.  We visited a museum to see the inside of a ger from "way back then” and it was practically the same, the fact that country folk and even in the suburbs of UB, families still live in gers, says a lot.

I have never seen so many "zipped trousers” in one place as I did in Mongolia, amongst the 15 travellers, it made me laugh to see that everyone had had the same idea and thought that the trousers that could become shorts would be a great idea – they were.

I will remember the grasshoppers (if you don’t like grasshoppers you should not go to Mongolia) there were thousands of them.  The spiky grass that scratched our butts when we went for a wee, the delicate purple flowers that forced themselves to grow in the most harsh of landscapes, smiling, waving children and toilet stops in the middle of nowhere.  All these memories will stay with me.  The clouds that gathered and then dispersed (not like England where they gather and stay)  the random bones and animal skeletons, the tracks to nowhere that intertwined with each other as they disappeared over the brow of a hill, the scores of eagles and magpies and the early morning conversations about how many layers we were wearing.

I won’t forget the yaks/kaks/yows which always seemed to be around in abundance, as were the goats and galloping horses. The ovuu’s and prayer scarves, the people selling airag and nuts on the side of the roads in the towns, playing the A-Z game to while away the time in the vans, staring out of the window and seeing the gers and the family horses tied to a line outside, the cold starts, Disko biscuits, family dogs with no name except "dog” and the graveyards on the side on hills.

What still makes me laugh when I look back was that it was always Bataar’s van that got stuck or broke down, Altai was always the slow driver and Jaagar was always first.  The road blocks that consisted of 4 or 5 large stones placed across a dirt track, which only meant you just drove around them, the sophisticated, electronic bar code readers in the shops in the small towns which went hand in hand with a cardboard box under the counter that actually kept the money in. They are all small things which stick out in my mind and make me smile.

It amazed me that people in the countryside just didn’t notice the cold so much, they wore much less than us, maybe it was because they are so used to it and we were used to our central heating.  The Mongolian attitude always seemed one of "let’s make the most of what we have”.  They seemed happy with their lot and their family reliance is admirable.

None of these memories would have meant so much to me, if I hadn’t have been able to share them with a wonderful group of people, 15 people that I didn’t know existed before I went to Mongolia, a good tour leader and translator and three wonderful, gentle, funny drivers.


Day: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - epi