Ulaan Baatar

Trip Start Apr 07, 2007
Trip End Sep 20, 2007

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Ulaan Baator & Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia 4th - 7th July

Spent all day on the train which should have arrived at 13:20 but somehow or other lost it's locomotive 40 mins outside UB and we come a stand still for 3 hours then move for 30 mins and stop again for 20 mins finally getting there at 5pm, but no mind it IS Mongolia after all (we heard some Brits whinging about not get minute by minute progress reports and apologies, come on what did they expect?)

Anyway Ulaan Baator (means red hero) strikes us as the kind of place anything could happen, there's are real Wild west (or in this case East) feel about it. Mongolia's population is only 2.8 million and it's the most sparsely populated country in the world. They even film some westerns here and I can see why. But the women are so glamourous it's unbelievable. I am thinking it could be somewhere that we'd call good craic but apparently "they'd steal the eye out of your head" as the saying goes, pickpocketing is rife and someone did jump in a revolving door with us at the post office (while their mate made the door get stuck) and try to get at C's pocket but luckily he (C.) was wise to him.

So we were in the centre in perfectly average Khara hotel and it's easy enough to find your way around and the main drag is called Peace Ave., taxi's are cheap and also any car that likes can be a taxi which is a but disconcerting. We went to a cultural show the 1st night in Tsuki House with Throat singing (amazing) and acrobats and shaman dancing and recitals on their own special horsehead instrument (called morinkhuur)- a wooden fiddle thing with a horses head carved on it. Afterwards while the others in the train group were eating dead animals we went to a Mexican-Indian, no less, where the clintele was very amusing, crying sluts, giant americans in kilts, you know that the kind of thing.... Apparently in the discos they have hard core hip-hop followed by a stripper followed by a slow set, but annoyingly we were there too early in the week to go to one. Julia used to live there so she had all the low down. Naturally in a place such a this we saw a FEW Irish bars, of course.

The next afternoon we headed out to Terejl National park 55km away to stay for 2 nights in a 'Ger' camp but before that we went to the largest buddist temple in Mongolia 'Gandan Khiid Monestary' where we saw the Dali lama's number 2 guy (by accident) and had a monk guide us around which was very intertesing. Also we saw a a giant buddah statue (and I mean enormous like 20m tall) called 'Migjid Janraisig' that was destrored in 1936 and rebuilt in 1996 of bronze and copper and guilded in gold. Then we hit the National History museum which is very good and we had a local guide called Namuum who really knew her stuff. (By the way he is not called Genghis Khan but Chinngis Khaan.)

When we got to the "Guru" ger camp after seeing yaks and wild horses (or takhi) there was a mini Nadaam festival on near by (staged for tourists, no doubt) before the big national one next week, the real festival involves a lot of wrestling and horse riding and throat singing and archery, so this one too had a bit of all and was a good laugh. Back at the camp there was lots of potatoe based food for us and beers and chatting to our new friends like you would in any camp. The Ger tent or yurt is way more substantial than a tent but way more portable than a house for the nomadic Mongolians. And we were sharing ours with Julia (did I mention how hot she is?)

We were woken up by them opening the top of the Ger and letting the sun beam into our faces at 8am! Slept really bad as had lumpiest bed and stupidest dreams about buying houses in suburban north co. Dublin! Then I found out (in the morning) you can move the lats on the bed to smooth it out, d'oh. So the country side out here is amazing and there's all sorts of rock formations that look like turtles etc. and there's a very good meditation centre called Aryapala where you can see pictures and info. on buddah's 12 apostles (yes he had 12 too, all rich boys). And there's no fences or walls or paths out here so trekking back to the camp was great (only for an hour though). Namuum, the local guide, had arranged for us to meet a local nomadic family in the afternoon and they were so nice, we were supposed to bring a gift from home but we never read the instructions properly so all we had was Guinness playing cards which thank God they were card players and thought was a great (well acceptable anyway) gift. Then there was horse riding but there was so many indemnity rules and it said you have to be experienced (and of course all the aussies & kiwis were) and the horses looked a bit crazy so we passed on that one - I think we actually managed to read a book for 30 mins. in the time the others were gone! That night it was one of the kiwi's birthday so we had a bit of a bash.

Next day headed back to town via buddist prayer (rock and rag) spot and also a wishing spot if you went around it 3 times and threw in 3 stones. All seems very superstituous to me but I did it anyway of course. Back in UB we went to the Zaisan war memorial which is at a great height and very impressive over looking a Mongolian-Korean friendship park and another giant buddah. After this we had supermarket sweep for the next train ride (as has no dining cart) and then we went to the Natural History Museum which has the best dinasaur collection in probably anywhere. The Tarbosaurus was amazing. Then C & I did a walking tour of the city by the parliament and Sukhbaator sq. and the university and the central post office and 'The State Dept. Store'. And that evening we were back on the trans mongolian express train number 263 at 19:30 bound for Irkutsk, Russia. Had a horrible 4 berth cabin to ourselves and the blankets seemed flea ridden, so we had to have a beer and vodka party in our cabin to overcome it's yukkiness!

So as you see am loving Mongolia.
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