Terelj National Park is about 70 km north-west of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
The five of us (Alex, Matt, Sophie, Dave and Michelle) showed up at Khongor GH at 9am for the two day one night Terelj tour. We were expecting a van for the 5 of us plus the driver. We ended up cramming in regular passenger car designed to hold 4 comfortably. We were told that they had planned 2 cars for us but at last minute a group scheduled a day trip and got our 2nd car. Our spirits were high. The sweet hearts told Michelle she could have the front seat. The driver didn't want a third person in the front so that left 4 on the small back seat. Matt suggested two lean forward while two sit straight, then switch every 20 minutes. It worked to a point.
The road snaked through beautiful hilly terrain. Except for the last 2 km, it was all on paved roads. This was our first real up-close impression of Mongolian countryside. Once we left UB, traffic was light. The gers seem to be in groups of 4 or 6 with their doors always facing south. Later we found out those are most often ger camps for tourists here in the park.
Inside the park boundary, we drove past a Naadam celebration in full swing. Nadaam is a traditional Mongolian festival held in July. The events include horse races, archery, and wrestling. Here was a small one going on in August! Horses and riders abounded. We continued on and turned off on a dirt road 2 km further. Matt recognized the massive Turtle Rock and said we had arrived. The car stopped in front of a fenced in area with 4 ger. A herder family lived and cooked in one ger. The others were 'guest’ gers rented to people like us. Nearby, there were many other ger camps that all seemed fully occupied my Mongolian tourists.
Yogurt water was dripping through a bag hanging from the fence. In the afternoon, kids came by to lap up the juice. The next morning the young lady helping our host family hand formed the remaining curd into lumps and put them out to dry into a treat called airag.
Our hostess said the festivities were pretty much done for the day but they would start up again the next morning and we could walk over to it then. Two Italians and an American were in our ger when we arrived. We chatted with them inside until lunch time. The direct midday sun was intense and the right thing to do was to hide from it for awhile. Lunch was served. Soon after, the other group’s driver arrived and they left for UB.
We were called over for the 1 hour horse ride that was part of our tour package. Young boys were in charge of the horses. The poor little horses looked tiny under Dave and Matt. The saddles were awful. One of the Italians had fallen off his horse so now the boys were extra cautious with us. The boys pulled a couple of horses by a rope and the other horses followed the slow walk along the dirt road. The boys wanted to turn around after about 20 minutes and less than a km from the ger. Storm clouds were building and the pony walk was none too exciting. Nobody complained about the short turnaround time. We soon were rained upon and getting wet. The shower was brief and the clouds blew out as quickly as they and blown in. By the time we rode back to ger, we were dry again. Happy to slip off the horses, and after a short break, we all went in search of wild strawberries.
The plants were small and low to the ground. A plant here and there had a pea size strawberry or two. The hard to find little buggers were flavorful. As the sun was going down , we returned to the ger for storytelling and card games. Alex and Matt just finished a stint teaching English in China. Sophie joined them in Beijing and would be traveling back to the UK on the Trans Siberian Railroad with another roommate who would be arriving in UB a week.. The three are cheerful, witty and bright. Michelle taught the others her game ‘American Joker’. Sophie and Alex caught on quickly but Matt needed a lot of coaching. Everyone had gotten up earlier than normal and were now ready to go to sleep early.
After lingering around the ger in the morning, we walked over to the valley where the Nadaam was being held the day before. There were many horses again and we spotted a dozen young boys wearing numbered jerseys. Without any obvious announcement or fan fare, the riders trotted their horses off to the south. Nadaam horse races are 20km in length and nobody expected the riders back anytime soon. 40 minutes later (could it be that quick?) the spectators formed lines along the edges of the finish line and soon the boys appeared in the distance whipping their steeds. We had a winner! There did not seem to be any other events occurring and we walked back to the ger for lunch before taking the car back to UB in the early afternoon.
Back in UB, we checked in to our 6 foot narrow double room at the Khongor Guesthouse and tapped into the internet to see if we had any responses from anyone wanting to join our long tour. We had inquiries from three people. And Sophie, Matt and Alex were considering joining the first 5 days before returning to UB on their own by bus and train to meet the other roommate. We were excited to know things were coming together for our long trip.