In Mongolia our stay of course, commenced in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. At first glance, the “UB” (as the locals call it) is a city full of the communist period architecture, where everything is (for some reason) too big, empty and scruffy, including the largest historical monuments and Buddhist Temples. In stores you do not always find what you are looking for, for example, you can only find cheese when you are really lucky. One can not fail to note, that almost everything is devoted to the most famous Mongolian native Temüdžin, who in his time called himself Čingischanas, who governed almost half the world. His name or portrait you can find, on the squares, on the money, on bottles of vodka, on schools, streets, banks, taxi services, airports etc.
On second glance however, you will find that you can have a really good time, because it is very cheap there. In Ulaanbaatar, where half of Mongolian population lives, you can find excellent sushi, Austrian restaurants serve authentic Wiener schnitzels or the most various and the most creative souvenirs we have ever seen during our travels, as a proof this is the capital of the world. Friends, enjoy!
People in Mongolia are generally very stubborn and stern. In each queue you must truly have sharp elbows and accept the fact that people will constantly push you around and push in front of you, they will even take your meal because it was served sooner then theirs and they are hungry!
After three freezing, snowy days in Ulaanbaatar, we set forth on our first trip, directly to the Gobi desert.
Mongolia is characterized by the typical vast steppes and endless empty landscape (the country has almost the lowest population density in the world), which is only occasionally disturbed by free-trotting herds of cattle or horses or a small white yurt of a nomad family. We are definitely not use to such a desolate landscape in Europe, and although it seems to be wonderful, we have to say that for the lady part of our expedition to “use the toilet” in a landscape where there is absolutely nowhere to hide and the nearest toilet* is 100 km away, it is quite a challenge!
(*A toilet means a hole dug in the ground above which you stand on two planks and praying they hold you and you do not fall down, and it is usually surrounded on three sides by wood or sheet metal). A lot of Nomad families don’t even have this type of toilet and any rock is sufficient or simply walk far enough – (this is the Mongolia way for the toilet).
In the Gobi desert there are incredibly splendid places. Mostly there are only dusty roads but these gorgeous places are only known to local knowledgeable Mongolian drivers and they will take your breath away. Whether it is the place known as White Stupa (Tsagaan Suvarga), which is a beautifully-colored canyon in the middle of the desert, or the Flaming Cliffs, which resemble the orange landscape of Utah or the eighty meter long sand dune - Khongor or the Rocky mountains that will take your memory back to Scotland.
Perhaps even more interesting than the natural beauty is the life of local Nomad families that we had stayed with in their home during our journey through the Gobi. For centuries, these families have lived in the Mongolian steppes and desert, breeding animals and according to the season, are moving with their yurt and animals to a more convenient location. During this period, their life has not changed much however, television has now been installed in their yurt and they now are able to watch their favorite soap operas every evening.
The families that have not yet been “spoilt by tourism”, are famous for their characteristic Mongolia hospitality. A Mongolia family will leave for you its yurt and move to its neighbour’s yurt, so that you have somewhere to stay over night. They will treat you to traditional Mongolia salty tea served with goat’s milk, noodles with dried meat and will heat up a stove with plenty of camel dung, on account of the fact that wood is a rather scarce commodity in Mongolia.
Nomadic life in Mongolia
Mongolia is in its way the most liberal country we have ever visited. The land does not here belong anyone, a nomad family can build a yurt anywhere. They do not have to work, they are supported by their animals, from which they can sell milk products and wool for the production of cashmere and it ensures their subsistence, because in Mongolia they do not eat anything other than mutton. They do not pay taxes. They are living just the way they wish to!
Although we have not yet met a legendary giant Mongolian Death Worm (Olgoj Chorchoj) in the desert, we have impatiently expected it, we set forth on another trip to the west to Karákorum city, which Čingischanas had chosen as the capital of his empire. It is unbelievable and demonstrates the impermanency of time, to look at the 13th century contemporary model of the city, in the local museum, that was truly a world-wide and developed metropolis and then to look out of the window of the museum and see what remains of city... There was no time for nostalgia, The Adventure was waiting for us.
Landscape Orkhon Valley
We decided to explore the countryside of the Orkhon Valley National Park on a four-day trip from the saddle of horses. Without any previous horse riding experience and certainly not with wild horses and only with a local, purely Mongolia-speaking guide, but with impeccable Hannah equipment, with a picture book designed for the understanding, with the exemplary determination of a member of the “ DiscoverNow” association and experiences of the Winnetou moves (he also rides wild horses), we were convinced that we could handle it!. Currently we can participate in discussions when it comes to “falling off a horse”, because we have vast experience of this subject-matter and we can tell about our “practice”.
First things first! Landscape “Eight Lakes” was utterly fascinating and the first two days the team were peaceful and with harmony of the human-horse relationship, so we thought “how are the people so awkward that it takes them so long to learn to ride a horse, when it is enough to have just the right feeling and everything is going well! For the reason of "emotional convergence" we named the horses Jáchym and Karel and we conversed with them regularly. The pain in our buttocks had become commonplace for us and we mercifully didn’t pay too much attention to it.
Landscape Eight Lakes
On the third day, however, Monča’s horse Jáchym reared up and bolted and she was suddenly galloping like a real Winnetou pursuing a paleface! Unlike Winnetou, she didn’t enjoy riding the horse so much, which was evident from her “battle yell”, and also it was obvious that the ride will not last too long because she will not survive on horseback. Fortunately, her family inherited “the art of falling softly” and all ended with a huge bruise. The horse was newly baptized Květák instead of Jáchym and their relationship suffered “an irrecoverable disruption”. Ivos’ horse, Karel also started to act the fool, but fortunately, Ivoš cooled him down like a real experience Indian. This one time only and because it was the last day and two kilometers before the end of our journey, a strong wind arose, Karel got scared, he whinnied and decided to bolt. Ivoš decided not to wait for this “dangerous forthcoming” situation and took advantage of his experiences from cross-country skiing and rolled down to the ground, just to be on the safe side. “The art of falling softly” unfortunately, is not inherited in his family, he still whimpers to this day and so for the rest of our journey he would rather walk.
After our trip on horse back, we originally wanted to set off to the North to meet the Dukh tribe (sometimes called Cátan), breeders of reindeers. However, we had to abandon this plan, because it was not possible to get into this remote area other than on the back of a reindeer and Ivoš, after his previous experience, emphatically refused to sit on the back of any animal. We went instead to the Khovsgol Lake, which in Mongolia is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the country.
We had in the front of us a fourteen-hour long bus journey, before we finally arrived in the cold town of Khatgal, during which we listened to the singing of traditional Mongolian music, The traditional yurts here were replaced with wooden houses and the empty steppes were replaced with a landscape reminiscent of a Russian taiga. The lake amazed us by its size (it is 134 km long and gain a respectable fourteenth-placed ranking on the list of the largest fresh water lakes in the world) and also by being almost frozen at the end of May. In truth, that situation disrupted our boat trip that we were considering, but trekking around the lake was also worth it!
Our stay in Mongolia was coming to an end. We went on a long journey to “UB”, where after the whole night bus ride, the frost and snowfall welcomed us. However, this article we are already writing from a beach somewhere in Indonesia, so it only gives us nostalgic memories.
We can say, in general terms that Mongolia is a country where tourism is still not developed and allows you the possibility to look into a traditional and unusual lifestyle and walk through (and eventually ride a horse, if you dare) an empty Mongolia countryside, which gives you a guaranteed sense of endless freedom. We also have to admit that even with the use of the Mongolia-Czech vocabulary, isn’t easy find the worlds to describe it wholly and concisely! We have the final advice for you: travel to Mongolia. It’s worth it!
Ivoš a Monča