We didn’t really know exactly what we were going to do in Mongolia but had a few ideas. After chatting with our host Baatar he offered to take us on a tour which would take in some of the adventurous places we were thinking of. We checked out prices and worked out that his was a pretty good deal.
So this morning found us getting picked up by Baatar and being driven to an ATM to withdraw 1 million tugriks for our trip!! I feel at times that this country might spend more time counting money than anything else!
Anyway we were soon on the road and our hunch about Baatar turned out to be correct. His English was excellent and his openness and knowledge about the country meant for an absolutely fascinating drive out to our first National Park.
We started by asking a few questions and eventually the conversation flowed covering many wonderfully amazing facts and insights into Mongolia. I shall just try and list a few to remember:
Interest rates for savings in the banks at 20% for local currency and 7%for US dollars.
Mongolians allowed to own apartments but (apart from a few in the suburbs of Ulaanbaatar) no one is allowed to own land as it goes against their nomadic background. For this reason farming is only a relatively new practice dating back only as far as 60 years.
He remembered the communist era. Everyone had food, shelter and clothing but the difference between the poorest and the richest person was minute.
Remembered Coca-cola as being the real treat. It cost a US dollar and was only available from special tourist shops. He remembered getting enough money together to buy a coke and how much it was savoured and the can even kept as a souvenir.
Chewing gum was what everyone craved and when they got it it would be chewed until the end. There were no bananas until 1990!!
The change from communism to democracy was well welcomed but a very hard time as it took the country time to adjust. There were food stamps to stop people from starving but essentially people were opening up shops without anything to sell in them.
The food stamps meant that the people got all of their essentials including vodka!
We had a good discussion about the different types of communism and once again we noticed that it was said that the way of life wasn’t truly bad. For while no one got ahead no one was left behind either.
The pollution issues in Ulaanbaatar stem more from people burning coal to keep warm rather than factory pollution.
The nomads traditionally have five animals, horse, camel, cow, goat and sheep. The horse is the pride of Mongolia but actually is the least useful (especially now there is a more modern nomad riding around on a motorbike). They are still kept but more as pride. The sheep and goats are kept together as the goats can lead the sheep to grazing land and the sheep keep the goats warm.
Sheep’s wool is so cheap it’s not worth selling.
It’s so amazing to see huge areas of land without any fences at all and the animals just wandering in herds. They are branded for identification and the goats and sheep are brought home every night to try and protect them from wolves.
Religion was effectively wiped out between 1921 and 1990. The Buddhist monks were not seen as productive and many were wiped out and the others made to work. Buddhism was still practised but mostly in the open only by older people who had nothing to lose or it was done in private.
Christianity is rising. There are (as always) many religious groups coming out and converting people. To be fair it was said that they probably do more for the community than the Buddhists do and they provide bibles translated into Mongolian whereas Baatar said he had never seen a Buddhist text in anything other than Tibetan.
Back to the day…while gleaning all this info we had driven to Khustain National Park which is home to the Przewalski’s horse. These are a wild horse native to Mongolia and are the last of the wild horses but unfortunately almost became extinct but have recovered somewhat due to this National Park’s effort in breeding them. The actually differ genetically from the domestic horse.
When we arrived we thought it was quiet but Baatar couldn’t understand why it was so busy. There were a dozen or so cars in the car park. Anyway we set off into the park in search for horses but couldn’t see any at all. We stopped at one point and heard some animal calling from one side of the valley so decided to go for a walk to see what it was. The noise was truly quite chilling and we soon worked out that there were a few calling to each other. When we finally caught sight of them we found out that they were Red Deer another native of the park and quite rare to see!
Sarah and I were set off on a hike by ourselves while Baatar retrieved the car and on the way while we were avoiding stepping in the many gopher holes we saw a viper which was fairly exciting.
Back in the car and a little further down the road we finally saw what we were here for…the przewalski horse. They were a different colour to the domestic horse but looked very clean and in very good shape. We went for a walk to see how close we could get but they were fairly skittish.
We had a late lunch in a roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere which consisted of local fare of stew and rice but was pretty delicious.
Later we arrived at our ger camp and as soon as we arrived we went on a camel ride with the owner of the camp. He couldn’t have been more stereotypically dressed if he tried and the camels with their double jumps were like something out of the movies. We followed our leader around some dunes while he serenaded us. It was really quite an amazing moment there in the middle of Mongolia miles away from anything.
By the time our ride finished the sun had gone down and it was freezing!! Luckily a fire had been lit in our ger and food soon arrived to warm our insides. We sat and ate heartily chatting about our amazing day!! We were given a bit more wood to keep our fire going for a while and a couple of sleeping bags and blankets. We were warm enough to begin with but when we woke up through the night it was freezing. Still we had enough warm clothes and blankets and were fine!! T
Withdrawing a cool million from the ATM.
The main road through Khustain National Park
You do have to zoom in but those are some Red Deer on the horizon.
Some more shots of the Khustain National Park.
The Takhi wild horse.
A typical scene on the steppe. A ger, some livestock and some beautiful barren scenery.
The owner of the ger camp where we were staying.