Day 1 of our 3-day tour of Central Mongolia
We couldn’t only see Ulaanbaator, the modern capital of Mongolia, while we were here, so before we left England, Tim booked us on a 3-day tour of Central Mongolia where we would get to the heart of the Silk Road and experience the lifestyle of the Mongolian Nomads.
Our guide Bold greeted us and introduced us to Sofiane, our fellow companion, who comes from Lyon, France. He also had arrived via Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railway, so we compared notes. He also had quite an experience sharing with a sizeable Russian guy who immediately laid on the bed and fell asleep. During the night, unable to sleep, Sofiane counted that this man had seven different types of snores. We then proceeded to try to snore seven different ways but cracked up laughing. Let’s hope we don’t share a cabin with this person on the way to Beijing!
Our first stop was at the Genghis Khan Statue and Complex. We could see this gigantic figure from quite a distance – well, it is the highest statue representing a man on horseback in the world! Our jaws dropped when we climbed out of the car at the sheer size; it is 40 metres (131 feet) high, made from gleaming stainless steel weighing in at 250 tons at the cost of US$4.2m!
It was built in 2008 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Mongolian Empire, (didn’t that start in 1206?, perhaps the build started in 2006) and located in Tsonjin Boldog, as legend has it that Genghis Khan found a golden horsewhip here, which was deemed to be extremely lucky.
We didn’t realise that this wasn’t part of our trip (it was for Sofiane), so we needed to pay 60,000mnt. Sadly our MasterCard again didn’t work, but luckily we had just enough money for our tickets. We wished that we’d been informed beforehand. We were grateful that we could visit this fantastic iconic place though.
We walked around the small museum which included a Guinness Book of Records giant boot, an exhibition about the Bronze Age, examples of the evolution of the Gers (Yurts), which I particularly enjoyed as we were going to stay in one for the next two nights, and another exhibition about the period of the Mongolian Empire which was at its height during the 13th and 14th centuries.
After taking a lift up through the chest and neck of the horse to the top of its mane, we were greeted with an amazing panoramic view of rolling pasture hills and granite mountains in the background and an opportunity of some selfies.
Next Bold took us on a detour to Gorkhi-Terelj, a national park, named by locals as ‘the Switzerland of Mongolia’. We could see why, with mountains coated with pine trees, however, these are Tamaracks which are deciduous conifers, with the needles turning golden in autumn. (When we saw these trees in Listvyanka I thought they were dying. It’s great what I learn from a bit of research).
The reason we came here was to see the 24m high Turtle Rock, a granite formation, which, from the photo, we are sure you can see why it has this name. Legend has it that a King hid all his treasure here. I am sure that it’s gone by now; the locals believe that the rock brings wealth to those who visit it. That would be nice; however, we already are wealthy.. in life.
On the way back to circumnavigate Ulaanbaator, we passed a herd of Yaks. It was starting to snow, and they looked quite sad.
Our journey for the rest of the day was long, with such an array of weather from sunshine through a snowstorm to a sandstorm. Bold stopped for a while as the visibility was non-existent. I did wonder whether we would reach our Ger for the night. This weather added a good hour onto our journey, so by the time we reached the Ger, it was dark, and we were all tired.
What a lovely warm welcome we received from Sunduc and Tsing, whose Ger the four of us were staying in. The harsh weather has aged their skin (Sunduc is 63, and Tsing is 57); however, they had such a youthful disposition and a genuine joy about them. I would have loved to have spent more time with the couple and their family. What we did discover was that they owned sheep, goats, horses, dogs and four camels, which, the latter we will meet in the morning.
Dinner was made, no fermented mare’s milk, thank goodness, and it wasn’t long before it was bedtime. And the bathroom facilities – open-air –go anywhere, “Don’t worry, the wolves won’t come here”. Wolves?