The Travelling Teacher: The Trans-Siberian, stopping at Mongolia
Mongolia <3 My favourite place to date!
The journey across the Trans-Siberian spanned 15 days, with few stops. In fact, there were only 3 stops where we left the train: Russia, Mongolia and Beijing. I’ve travelled to many places but to date, Mongolia is still my favourite. I hope I can do Mongolia the justice it deserves and try to persuade you to consider adding Mongolia to your travel list!
Have you ever wanted to breathe fresh air on top of a mountain? Wanted to be able to do a 360 degree turn and see nothing but nature surrounding you? If you answered yes then definitely read on and even if you didn’t, give me a chance to try and change your mind!
You know when you see an amazing view and you try to capture it on your phone and never feel it quite lives up to that ‘real-life’ experience of it? Well that’s pretty much how I feel about trying to explain the beauty and essence that is Mongolia. You really do have to see it to believe it.
Stopping over in Mongolia: A real Mongolian experience
The train journey from Russia to Mongolia was the longest stint. After 5 days on the train, this stop was welcomed with open arms! It was nice, if not a little weird, being back on ground that didn’t move and having access to a shower and facilities other than just a toilet and hot water tank.
Before being able to indulge in these facilities we were picked up from the station and taken straight to a Nomad family to see their way of life. Talk about getting stuck straight into Mongolian living! I have to admit this was pretty cool. We were shown their land, their animals and inside their Ger tent. The nomads were extremely hospitable and offered milk tea and milk curd. The milk curd was an interesting looking object. Its appearance resembled white, hard mincemeat (please do not be put off by that description, there is no way to make it sound attractive). It also had a very interesting taste. If you closed your eyes and thought hard it almost tasted a little like dusted milk bottles – slightly!
What are Ger tents like inside?
For anyone not sure what I’m talking about, they are circular portable tents covered with skins or felt and are homes to nomads. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the Ger was: ‘How amazing that they pack this up and move it!’ …. they look just like a permanent home. I don’t know about you but I’ve always wanted to have my own house built, so I can imagine building the Ger gives one hell of a sense of achievement! Although I can also imagine taking it down takes a lot of effort!
The space inside is surprising, it’s like entering a Tardis. It’s also just like being in a friend’s front room, with furniture and soft furnishings around. There was no toilet and there were no windows but the panels inside were adorned with beautiful, decorative cloth. In the middle of the Ger was a stove with a long chimney that goes out of the centre of the tent, this stove keeps it nice and toasty. The stove acts as both a kitchen and a source of heat. As you would expect, they are experts at maintaining the temperature inside and if it gets too hot they cool it down by rolling up the felt at the bottom and letting the air blow through. So simple but so effective! It sounds simple enough to maintain a temperature but I learnt very quickly during my Ger experience that this is most definitely a skill!
Must know about Gers
I learnt a lot about the Ger tents during this stopover. Quite ignorantly, I had always believed their homes were called Yurts. The Mongolians see this as somewhat of an insult to misname their home. In Mongolian, ‘ger’ means ‘home’.
Here are some important things I found out about entering a Ger:
When you enter the Ger the door is very small so remember to duck really low (even I had to bend to enter – which is saying something).
It’s also important you step over the door step/ neck and not on it as this is considered to be bad luck.
As you enter you should step left and walk through clockwise.
Never pass between the two central pillars!
Traditionally the women sit on one side of the Ger and the men on the other.
Visit to Turtle Rock
After visiting the nomad family, we were taken to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park to visit the amazing ‘Turtle Rock’. Which is pretty much what its name says it is, a rock, in the shape of a turtle. This granitic formation stands 24 metres high and makes for a great photo opportunity. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a drone it’s also a super place to capture some footage with an awesome backdrop.
There’s even a small shop nearby. You can buy traditional Mongolia souvenirs, keyrings or magnets to remind you of your time there! I have to admit I was sucked right in and bought myself a Mongolian boot keyring! They also sell Haribo laces which, mostly because of the novelty, I also bought a pack of!
Pretending to be a nomad
We were more than pleased and excited to be welcomed to our Ger tent at one of the tourist camps in Gorki-Terelj National Park. We spent 2 nights at the ‘Heaven’ Ger camp. I LOVED it in here. It was a more authentic equivalent of glamping. Our Ger was a circ
ular unit with large single beds that were covered with a sheet and a cosy faux fur blanket. The heart and hub to our Ger, a wood burning stove. The campsite workers kindly ensured the stove was always burning and would arrive first thing in the morning to refuel it for the day. After minutes of the stove crackling away, this room become the cosiest place! It reminded me of a winters night at Christmas time where you all migrate to the living room and surround the fire. After spending many days living in a train cabin, this Ger tent felt like a mansion!
If you’re a keen animal lover you’ll love the adorable dogs that roam the camp. They are very excitable and love saying hello and trotting along behind you when you explore. Fear not, they never venture too far with you. They would stay in the camp when we went off exploring the mountains and would eagerly await your return. On many occasions when I went outside the Ger I found at least one of the dogs curled up tight and snuggling up to the edge of the tent to keep him nice and warm.
For any animal lover or dog owner you can relate to that amazing feeling of being around animals. I personally find dogs extremely loving creatures and to have this around you each day added to the ‘homely’ feeling of this place. Also, even though I had only been away from home a few weeks by this point, I was missing my own little dog who was back home. That has to be one of the biggest challenges I have found when travelling, missing my nearest and dearest – including my sidekick pooch.
Exploring the mountains: Prep!
I was more than prepared for the Mongolia weather. I was wrapped from top to toe. I had fleece lined tights underneath my trousers, layers upon layers under my coat as well as gloves, a snood and bobble hat. After ensuring I was warm, the next kit essential was finding a walking stick. To help me feel more comfortable with the gradient I found two large walking sticks (one of which was super cool and had a ‘Gandalf’ look about it). With all of this it made for a really cosy walk.
Exploring the mountains
To try and overcome my fascination with the inside of this place I decided it was time to take in what was outside. Amazingness (can be found in the Urban Dictionary). That’s what was outside! Surrounded by mountains, blue skies, fresh air. I was in heaven! Obviously with such a vast expanse around me I wanted to explore. Many hours were spent hiking the mountains. Now these treks were intense and I have no hiking or trekking experience. I have to be honest, there were a lot of tense moments where my fear of heights almost crippled me. Considering before this I would get ‘jelly legs’ being in the loft and would end up getting stuck, I was really proud of myself. I definitely think that the mountain climbs helped my fear of heights. Plus, once you reach the top of these mountains the views are outstanding! I felt such a sense of achievement but was also in awe of the beauty of raw, untouched nature just doing its thing. During one hike we made it to the top of the mountain and it started to snow. Wow. We sat at the top and just took it all in.
Exploring the mountains: The aftermath
For me, after a full day of hiking I struggle to think what could be better than sitting by the log burner to warm up then heading to the kitchen block to be greeted with a selection of meaty, warm, filling dishes. I was no longer living on the noodle and soup diet but back to the meat filled diet I know and love. One night we even had orange cake for pudding – I was in my element! All my favourite things –
<3 I was surrounded by nature
<3 Was living in the most adorable Ger tent and cosiest bed
<3 Had plenty of food, consisting mostly of meat
Ghenghis Chan is a must see!
I was more than disappointed when our 2 nights at the Ger camp ended but we were heading to see more amazing sites. I was excited to see what would await us as we headed to our hotel in UlaanBaatar. Though I missed the cosy Ger, I will say that I did enjoy having an ensuite bathroom and some comfortable luxuries courtesy of the hotel. Whilst in UlaanBaatar we took a tour to visit the one and only Ghenghis Chan statue. The size of this guy is overwhelming. It is humongous. As you approach him he begins to tower over you. You get a real sense of the power and impact he had on this country.
What's up next?
Want to find out about my time in Beijing, then look out for my next blog. I’ll be writing about my first time experiencing the Chinese culture.
If there’s more you’d like to know or want to share your stories send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org . I’d love to hear from you.