Above: The Road to Kharkhorin
Taken while traveling in Mongolia. October 2010.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Won't you take me tooooo, Chinggis Towwwwwn!

Pictures HERE

The overnight train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude was of course fine, except for the minimal amount of sleep, which was to be expected. Things started to look down when we arrived in Ulan-Ude and went to Hotel Baikal Plaza, where we thought we’d reserved 2 bus tickets to Ulaanbaatar the week before…

Basically, the receptionist simply didn’t have the tickets we’d reserved and just shrugged her shoulders when we asked if there were any free seats on the bus. So we tried to buy the tickets from the driver, but, as is common in Russia, it didn’t work out. Helena and I were already beginning to think we’d be spending our fall break in Ulan-Ude, when a nice Korean man gave us a new alternative: Ulaanbaatar on microbus and taxis! And that’s what we did. The best part is, it only ended up being ~100r (3.33 USD) more expensive!

It took a while, but after a microbus, a 10-minute taxi ride from the border town to the actual border, another taxi that took us through the border, 5 hours at the border, and one last taxi from the other side of the border to Ulaanbaatar, we finally made it to our hostel in Ulaanbaatar on Saturday night (23 October).

I really enjoyed the fact that, from the border to Ulaanbaatar, the five people in the taxi represented 5 different countries: Russia (the Buryat lady who was the only able to communicate with the taxi driver), Mongolia (the taxi driver), Korea (the rando who saved our butts), Germany (Helena), and the US (Me!). Somehow we were all able to communicate and have a good time on the ride down to UB (cool-kid talk for "Ulaanbaatar").

View of Ulaanbaatar from Zaisan Memorial

Our three-day Central Mongolia tour started on Monday. After a day of blue skies, seemingly endless, cattle-blocked roads, incredible landscapes, packs of camels, and riding on camels, we settled into our ger camp, where we had dinner and Mongolian beer with our hosts and went to bed pretty soon after sunset.

Our host at the ger camp

You get the picture

The next day we arrived in the Erdene Zuu Monastery at Kharkhorin, ancient capital of the Mongol and Hun Empires. We had a late lunch at a ger camp, and at around 4pm our driver came into the ger and introduced his good friend (about his same width and half his height) to us and told us we’d be staying there overnight, which wasn’t part of the plan. We asked him why we couldn’t stay the night at the Hustai National Park (another 4.5 hours’ drive), or at least drive to the monastery that was 60 km south of Kharkhorin (probably at least an hour and a half drive due to the quality of the roads). We realized what was really up when his friend pulled out a half-empty bottle of Mongolian vodka, and our guide Tashuk told us that his friend really wanted him to stay in Kharkhorin, and that either way he was too drunk to drive us anywhere too far (seeing as they’d already drunk half the bottle between the two of them). So we all had a taste of Erool vodka, and Tashuk took us to a couple of monuments (including “Phallic Rock”), the brand-spankin new Kharkhorin museum (when they said we’d be the very first visitors, we didn’t realize it was because the museum was still completely empty…), and we overnighted in the ger.

Erdene Zuu in Kharkhorin

We spent the next day in Hustai National Park observing the Takhi wild horses, and the rest of the week couchsurfing in Ulaanbaatar and experiencing the city’s enormous and incredible market, museums, and, to my surprise, the Ulaanbaatar Opera where we watched Verdi’s “La Traviata”. Who would have though I’d one day be seeing an Italian opera in UB sung (in Italian) by Mongolians with Mongolian subtitles on two screens on either side of the stage. The trip definitely exceeded my expectations, mostly because I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

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