Mongolia. Before going I had visions of well, steppe steppe and more steppe. Basically a flat, featureless country that was wild and yet exciting and fascinating at the same time. But that’s not the total sum of Mongolia – of course it was never going to be. From deserts to villages, the amazing Ulaan Baatar and its monuments to Genghis Khan, the influences of the Koreans, Chinese and of course Russians. To be honest, I can comfortably state that no country has failed to defy preconceived ideas I had before visiting.
Which was certainly true for Mongolia. Actually the biggest notion I had was that tourism was something extremely rare in Mongolia. Sure, a few people passed through on the train but visitors from other countries would be hard to find. And in some respects they were, but not on the established tourist routes.
Which were, in fact, not too far off the train line that came from China and continued on to Russia. I had a mere five days in Mongolia, and so I didn’t really explore the country and I certainly didn’t make it out west, but apart from the capital, I did make it to the settlement (I think that’s the best way to describe it) of Terelj.
I got there on a tour that my hostel organised. It was $60 for up to 4 people I think, we had two so it was $30. Which was okay. Then I paid extra to stay in Terelj. The locals rent out yurts to people who want to stay there (or as they call them in Mongolia, ‘gers’). I think it was around $10 more. That included wood for the night, dinner and breakfast. The next day I needed to take a public bus back Ulaan Baatar.
What exactly IS there at Terelj? Well, there is a lot of open space, a bit of forest. There are people still living relatively in the way they have for centuries, except though that they are not all nomadic of course. Which is why the ger/yurt was developed in the first place. But that doesn’t discount the experience.
For the traveller you can explore the area by walking or even taking a horse. The locals have worked out a few ways to make a bit of money from the foreign visitors, and that’s only fair. I have to say that I didn’t see any other foreigner staying overnight in a ger – I was the only one, in that area that is.
The gers are actually quite spacious. The only downside is the 50-100 metre walk to the toilet in the middle of the night. And it was COLD. But the ger was not cold. In fact the heat from the fire was incredible. It got restocked at various times in the evening, and well I had my shirt off at one point, it must have been in the high thirties! Then I opened the door. I had to work out how much heat to let out before closing the door to get it to the right temperature for sleep. This must be a nightly struggle for those living in gers!
I said I didn’t see anyone staying there, but tours go through Terelj daily. Which is kind of sad in a way, but provides income to the locals above what they can produce via their animals. Is that a good or bad thing? Honestly, I think it’s both.
Tours generally have lunch in a ger provided by a local family and explore the region – I was originally on the tour remember, a day tour from Ulaan Baatar. The main attraction was the Aryapala Temple. It’s at the top of a hill. Really quite a nice spot. There are a few paths too it, and you WILL see plenty of visitors if you’re there for even a short time. Such a perfect place for a temple too – peaceful, breathtaking, remote.
The other ‘attraction’ there was this giant rock formation which looks like a turtle. Or is it a tortoise? Well, it’s on land so I’d say tortoise. It’s pretty interesting as far as rocks go. I mean, it is a rock. What more can you say? Yes, everyone wants their picture taken with it!
I know it sounds like Terlj isn’t up to much. Okay, no, it really isn’t. But that’s perhaps THE biggest drawcard. And a night in a ger was the one thing I really wanted to do in Mongolia. I thought it was a great way to spend a night any way! Thanks for stopping by, and May the Journey Never End!