Mongolia - With the Nomades
- Yes, we met him: he is located about 50 km south of the capitol, is made of pure stainless steel (250 t) for about 4,1 Mill USD. You are right, it is about Genghis Khan, the figure which comes in your mind when you talk about Mongolia. But how did we conclude to go to Mongolia? The idea came up shortly after our trip to Georgia (CIS). We were a bit naive and booked just flights. Then we realized, that this country is north of China, neighboring a piece of China which es again neighboring Korea. And on the similar longitude like Hong Kong. For the flight we decided to take the full country-spirit and booked on MIAT, which is the national Mongolian air carrier; prices are fair. As the flight starts in Frankfurt we had to drive by car from Hamburg and left the car in the parking space of a hotel close by the Frankfurt airport. It was a "Drive-Park-Fly"-promotion, which is a common practice from Frankfurt hotels. The 8-hour-flight started on a Saturday at 14.30 h from towards Ulaanbaatar on a slightly aged aircraft, but with spacious seats and good food.
Now we could hear noise from our stomach, went to the breakfast room and enjoyed a nice first buffet in Mongolian style. To be honest, it was half Mongolian and half western style. Fair enough. After a short nap we started refreshed for a walk to the main square. Folkloristic activities were going on there and we were exciting to discover more.
The weather was good friend with us this afternoon and we got first impression from what was happening. It was a folklore event in advance of the upcoming Naadam-Festival this week. People from different regions of the country came together to show their traditional costumes, music and dances. Every Yurt hat a sign, showing the country, the region or the specific topic. We saw names of regions, which we have never heard before. There was a big stage, where dancing-chorus training their dances to historic songs in modern style. The Mongolian broadcast service made interview with visitors. This was the inspiration to carry out our first YouTube-Post of our journey. And this became an exercise for every following day.
During one of these interviews we could hear one guy talking German. We started to talk with him, his mother and a Mongolian women and learned that they were travelling with the Trans-Siberian-Railway from Beijing to Saint Petersburg. They had a stop-over-night here in UB, the Mongolian women was there guide and hosted them for the night in one of here jurts. She was running jurts and a restaurant. Spontaneously we agreed to meet for dinner all together in here restaurant at 07.30 pm. The concierge of our hotel ordered a taxi for us and the taxi driver picked us up at 07.00 pm. He got advise from the concierge about the direction and the destination. The drive took about 30 minutes and the neighborhood became more and more countryside and rural. When he came closer to the destination he had to call the Mongolian women for the final direction. The last 50 m went steep upwards on a very bumpy way. Finally, we arrived.
We saw a couple of jurts and the restaurant on the estate. The meal was very good, we laughed and sang a lot. The landlord himself gave us transportation with his car back to the hotel. It was a nice evening with a nice introduction to the community.
Whew we planed the tour at home, there was always the question how to move around in the country. We are used, to do the planning for accommodation and excursions all on our self. When we browsed and made email requests for hotels and GER-Camps, we never got responses. This time we needed to change, and we decided to take part on a guided tour. After a while we found a tour-operator and at some point, we came to an agreement, as the tour had to fit in the time-schedule of our already booked flights. Next step was the payment. For the deposit we could use the credit card. For the final amount we tried to use online-banking. Stop. Finish. I had to go to the bank-office to organize a money order by swift-code. It was not cheap: about 120 €. Some time later we received the final travel-schedule, which was very detailed including the list of tour-participants. We were in total 4 couples plus the tour guide. The 3 other couples came from Korea/USA. We were excited. They recommended to order a SIM-Card in advance. We followed the advice, but more about this later.
Next morning we were ready in the hotel and time left until 1.00 pm, when the driver from Amicus was expected to pick us up.
We took a walk from the hotel to the business district. There we found a nice small coffee-shop with nice view. After this short coffee-break we went back to the square. All jurts were disappeared and instead of that a lot of people were standing in front of the palace-building. Something was going on, nobody was speaking English but we could listen, that something like an award ceremony was happening.
The driver picked us up short after 1.00 pm at the hotel and brought us with the luggage to the Grand-Hill-Hotel. It was in another area of the city with a lot of tower buildings, small shops and businesses. We still had to pay Amicus a small amount of 75 USD, which the driver was supposed to collect from us. We had only Mongolian currency, which he rejected to take. We had to change to USD. A bank was opposite of the hotel and it took some time make the change. The banks seem to be very busy with people's personal cases. We had to take a seat-no and to wait for half an hour. Suddenly they realized, that we were talking English, and they took us in a separate office to arrange the exchange quite fast. First they changed our EUR-notes to Mongolian Tugrik. Then they changed from Mongolian Tugrik to USD. So we made it and went back to our 4-star-hotel for another short nap. This hotel was our location for the next 3 nights.
Breakfast was early next morning, as the meeting with the group and the tour-guide was scheduled for 9.oo am in the lobby. The breakfast room was very busy and noisy. We made guesses about the people in our group. Would they be older or younger, would they come all from US or Korea? Opposite of our table we saw a group sitting, 2 men with beard and 2 Asian women. I started to anticipate.
Half an hour later: I was standing in the lobby, Sabine sitting on the sofa. Suddenly a man was standing there and ready to leave. I went to him, said hello and my name. Right spotted. He was waiting for Amicus as well and introduced himself as Larry. Then Rich and Tim came in the lobby, who we had observed in the breakfast roomd. All 3 were Americans who had married Korean women and spent their live there. We can say it already now: we joined a very nice group and had a wonderful time together.
A young man appeared and introduced himself as Jusuf, our guide. He was the perfect choice, very competent, never missed an answer, and very well in the culture, religion and history of the country. We entered the bus, and the tour started with culture in Ulaanbaatar. The weather: just awful!
The most important monastery of the lamaistic Buddhism in Mongolia is the Gandan monastery. Part of this place is the Megjid Janraisig Temple with the 26 m high statue of Megjid Janraisig. We took a stopover at the main square and went to the National Museum of Mongolia. After that time for lunch at a local restaurant with lots of warm tea with lot of milk. The final visit of the Sukhtbaatar Square after lunch at real rain was shorter than intended. We went straight over to the Zanabazar Fine Art Museum. The visits in both museums were impressive, and Jusuf could provide us comprehensive insight in to the Mongolian story.
Every year during the days of 11. - 13. July is the Naadam Festival in the capitol Ulaanbaatar. This event has its origin from medieval Clan-Meetings of the Khans. In the year 1921 it was established on the 11th July as celebration of the first independent state of Mongolia under the regime of Genghis Khan. It is a major event in the country. Even our guide had dressed up with a red jacket like a robe, which he carried the entire tour. The tour-operator had booked tickets for the entire group on the main tribune, where we could sit rain-safe with a good view on the happening in the stadium. This ceremony appealed like the opening event of the Olympic games. There was an indescribable feeling of relatedness with all people in the stadium, with the music and the presentation of the gorgeous costumes.
For lunch we went to a nearby and brand new IBIS-Hotel and had a nice buffet to offer. The move with the bus back to the stadium with the festival-activities was a challenge. The whole city was busy for this event and the roads were nearly blocked. It happened when we wanted to pass the entry to get inside of the stadium. Jusuf had given us more than one advise to take care for pickpockets, who are always around on those events. Tim stopped and was shocked. Somebody told him, that his Smartphone had been stolen. He was somehow not aware that it happened. But the pickpocket had been observed by the civil police, when he tried to pick the phone. He got secured and taken away immediately. Jusuf collected all of us and took another way to the police-post. When we came there, the thief was standing with his arms handcuffed. It took a while, to clear up all the formalities and after a while Tim could receive his phone back. It was a bit strange standing and waiting there together whole the time together with the thief. We were very positive surprised about the police, who managed this case very precisely and effective. And it was crowded. Jusuf was obviously very concerned that this happened with his group, but we could convene him, that he handled the situation very sovereign. Ok, this was done now, and we could move back in the stadium, watch the wrestler-games and went after that to the archery. Another disciplin was the Shagai, a game with the ankle of sheep or goat.
Nomadic Horse race
Next morning the bus was waiting, and we took only small luggage for 2 nights with us and left the big suitcases in the hotel. We went a west outside of Ulaanbaatar in the steppe, where the horse-races are going on. Kids are sitting on 2- to 6-year- old-stallions and riding with them on a distance of 30 km. Jusuf went with us to the goal-area, to watch the horses with the kids racing towards the goal. People from UB were coming to this area by bus or their own car and settled down for the day to watch the race and have a picnic. I had 2 cups of milktea the other day and it had bad influence on my digestion. This made me look for a toilet. The organizer had positioned containers with each 5 toilets on the green. On these toilets you have stand with legs tilted and feet on the ceramic base. This was the only choice. Before you go in the cabin you take some toilet paper. The toilets are for both male and female, no separation. Somehow I managed it. There is saying, that this position is more beneficial for the peristaltic compared to the throne-type-toilet. What can you do, if you have been grown up with the throne? It was not really happiness.
A feeling was coming up. I stood in the steppe and suddenly the city war far away - like another planet. During the ceremony, the day before, we realized, that horses are an integral and important part of the nomadic life. Here in this wide green area we began to feel the nomadic culture and horses are an important part of their daily life. Jusuf mentioned in the museum that he was half Nomad. And here we could see and feel it. A small group of people in festive costumes where riding slowly on their horses and Jusuf assumed, that they owned a couple of horses in the race. After a while we could see a small dust cloud coming closer. The first rider with his horse passed the goal, followed by cars with camera-teams. Meanwhile more people had turned up and it became a bit like a carnival. The race with horse reminded me to the camel-races, which we had seen in Dubai. They let also small boys sit on the camels. In both case they want to reduce the weight and treat the animals with care. After the first group of horses had passed the goal, Jusuf took us back to the bus. Next destination was a GER-Camp west from Ulaanbaatar.
Living in the yurt
This was our first time in a GER-Camp. This Camp was part of the Hustai National Park. And the atmosphere told us, it was part of the nature, puristic and very silent, nearly no artificial noises. Each couple took place in his yurt. It has everything what you need for sleep during summertime. A bed, small table, very shallow and small stool, 1 socket-outlet and one emergency light. The toilet was in a separate building in the middle of the camp. when we left the yurt and stood outside, we could "hear" the nature. It was a very special atmosphere and I felt, that mother nature has granted us entry in her property. And the starry sky was stunning, I had seen a sky like this last time in South Africa. After lunch in the restaurant of the camp (located in a big, big yurt) we the minibus and direction directly into the National Park. The nature became wider and bigger and I felt smaller and smaller. Jusuf was looking for wild horses who are living here in total freedom. They are shy, if you come closer to them, they escape immediately. It is a very special type of race named Przewalski, which had been nearly eliminated 50 years ago and later on repoached to their environment. The grant they get, is that they live fully protected but in total wilderness. Nobody feeds them with food. If they become ill or injured, they must recover themself of die. There is monitoring and science going on, to observe their population and how they behave. We were luck, and Jusuf could find them on a mountain. It was a small group and it was first time for us to see wild horses in live. This was a very nice and impressive excursion in wild mother nature. After dinner we met in Larrys yurt. Jusuf had the idea to make a tasting with Mongolian Vodka. It ended up eating cookies, playing cards and tasting the content of 2,5 bottles of Vodka. The stars on the sky at night became very bright.
A comment about the yurts: whether you go in or go out through the door, take a a careful look before at the door and use a cap for your head. The doors are very low. All of us men were tall and struggled to pass the door without hitting the frame. I got blood running from my head.
Next morning we checked out and entered the minibus. Next camp was the Gorkhi National Park. This park is on the other side of Ulaanbaatar in east direction. We passed the city in south direction and made a short stopp at a big mall. It was busy on the road and it looked like everybody wanted to go to the Terelj National Park. Heavy traffic, slow drive. Weather was perfect.
This was a special camp and totally different from the last one. Quite big mountains around and the GER camps at the slopes of the mountains. Here was a comprehensive infrastructure with a big central house for bathrooms and showers. Every yurt had its own stove, which would have been fired by the staff in the evening, if we wanted. Masts for mobile network 4G on the top of the slopes. This enabled us to do our evening YouTube-Post. There was a big parking area with about 40 RV's from France and Italy. They had labels with a group coding and were part of a managed tour. Later we heard that they made a long continental tour from Paris to Beijing and return through Stan-countries until Istanbul. The hired a ranger with an Off-Road-Vehicle for every country, who took care for organization in the specific country.
In the afternoon we visited a Nomadic family in their yurt. We had to take the bus to cross the valley to the other side. Jusuf had organized this visit for our group. It was bizarre when 8 visitors from USA, Korea and Germany sat together with a Nomadic family and cheered with Vodka. They offered dam-milk. I am not sure, if everybody liked the taste. It is said, it is a Nomadic specialty and is stored in the leather sack on the wooden rack.
We discovered coaches from Irkutsk on the parking area of the lodge. Groups for traditional folklore and costumes came with the coaches from Irkutsk, to do a performance the same evening. This was a small Naadam Festival, which we joined later. It was nice looking at the dancing and singing during sunset. The evening phased out with Vodka again. Jusuf enjoyed the time with us and we discussed more about country, people, culture and how the Nomads manage the population. Next morning we had to wake him up.
Turtle Rock and climbing the monastery
Checkout next day and the bus brought us to the next highlight. We passed very impressive rocky formations und got the story from Jusuf. The weather kept on being friendly with us. Next turn: Turtle Rock appeared. It looked really like a turtle. During a half-an-hour-stop I bought a Camouflage-Cap with the Mongolian sign. Even Jusuf was a bit jealous about it.
Next stop provides us with the opportunity for a nice morning gym. We could walk up to the Ariyabal Meditation Temple using a stair with 108 steps. Before we reached this stair case, we had to walk up on a serpentine path. The group split in two parts. One half insisted to stay at the entrance watching at us, and the other half liked the challenge to walk up the temple. I walked up and I think the others could have done it also. It looked more steep than it was. Beside the serpentine path were numbered plates with Buddhistic wisdom. During the serpentine path we passed a small shelter with rotating drum. We turned the drum slowly and after a while a connected needle stopped at a number. They asked us to keep this number in mind.
From the top at the monastery we got a fantastic view on the valley, a bit like in Bavaria. The visitors come from all over the world. The monastery is very nice decorated inside and outside. Lots of prayer drums are placed outside at nearly all walls. Now the return downstairs started, and we should look for our plates at the side of the path. Mine was not the one from the above picture. I thought, that the messages are very realistic, but borderline to pessimistic. Some elements of the Buddhism did surprise me. For lunch we went back to the GER camp. Then we started to go back towards UB. On the way we wanted to visit one of the most popular statues of the country.
Meeting Genghis Khan
In the begin of this report we explained already how it was made. And the statue is really impressing. We went into the entry-hall below the statue and stood in front of a giant Nomadic shoe. In very early times the front end of the shoe was much more bent upwards. But this was not very practical, when they climbed on the horses and tried to move the shoe into the stirrups. They changed the design to more straight but peaked shape, which became standard. A lift brought us through the body of the horse to the crest. We walked on the crest upstairs and reached the top upon the head of the horse. Then we turned around and looked directly in the eyes of Genghis Khan. We found several spellings of this word like Chingis Khan. On a bottle of Vodka we found the spelling Chinggis Khan. Jusuf always spelled it GingisKhan. Officially there are no images or paintings of him. According to the interpretation it is not possible to portray him. So all paintings and drawings just show, how people believe he is looking.
The final last cultural highlight of the day and the tour was a visit in a theatre to watch a Mongolian dance and singing performance of the Tumen EKH-Ensembles. We bought a permission for Sabine to take photos (no videos), so she could take nice images from this event. For dinner we went to a Mongolian barbecue. We collect all ingredients for our meal and handed it to a team of cooks. They celebrated the preparation on a 2 m wide cooking plate with fire and entertainment. The bus brought us back to the hotel, where we checked in and collected our luggage. Now it was time to say bye, as our friends from USA/Korea had an early morning flight back to Seoul. We believe that everybody was very glad about this tour-event together with a great guide. After leaving our luggage on the room we took a last drink together with a part of the group.
Back in UB
Next morning, we checked out and took a taxi to the hotel Holiday Inn, which was located closer to the city center. This was a better location to make further walking excursions. Close by was a big market with at least 10 more sub-markets. Closes fashion, shoes etc. But nothing for me, as shoe sizes ended at 42. We continued and went over to the Shangri-La Mall. Shangri-La is a big Asian 5-star-hotel group. They operate here in UB their hotel connected with their own mall. It is all new and impressive. I found a shop from Unitel, which is one of the Mongolian mobile network provider. They offered SIM Cards with up to 50 GB data-volume at reasonable prices. The tour organizer had provided us a telephone card with data-volume, which did not work for our mobile hot spot. We had to put the card directly in Sabine's iPhone for posting. I was a bit spoiled about myself, that we ordered the card, instead of looking our self for a card here. And this shop was in 500 m distance from our first hotel. With this card we could have provided the entire group with internet. By the way: the 4G or LTE service in Ulaanbaatar is excellent.
They build a lot here in UB, some old buildings must leave, but the religions find their place. We discovered a center for Buddhism with an office for vegan food, wall to wall with the church for Jesus Christ. We saw fancy restaurants American style, provider for alpine-private-flights as well as luxury villa-projects. Everything is available.
All this made us hungry for lunch and we went into the Hotel Shangri La. The brasserie was the right place for us and had a huge lunch-buffet available. We got a table, ordered soft drinks and explored the buffet. We assumed, there were about 150 people eating lunch, but it was not crowded. Finally, we asked for the check, excited to see how much they will charge. We could not believe: 20 $ for the entire meal. It must have been a summer-special. There was a food-court in the mall and we are sure, it would have been more expensive. When we left the hotel, we saw more fancy, smart and nice restaurants, pubs and coffee-shops.
Back to last cultural spot. In the near of the hotel we discovered e temple (Tschoid-schin Lama-Temple-Museum), which was located between huge new office buildings. We strolled through the temple and found the silence between the office buildings inspirational. Modernity and antiquity have arranged together.
In this report we used the English spelling for Genghis Khan and Ulaanbaatar. Apologize to our Mongolian friends. Jusuf always spoke about UB instead of Ulaanbaatar.
This report has become longer. This tour was different. We were not on our self. We stayed 5 days very close in a group. We have inhaled culture all 5 days long (Jusuf permanently audited us: If you recall...?). We modified our worldview. Wir have learnt. We met Genghis Khan. And the yurts - with or without stove, we (my head and myself) will never forget them.
Everything was unknown for us before. What about Mongolia? Whom will we meet? Who will be in the group? How is the taste of dam-milk? How to sleep in a Jurt?
This time we did 4 mini-movies about Life, culture, nature and Naadam. Enjoy!!