Tag Archives: Mongolia

A train full of eight year old gymnasts…across the Russian border

As the stern looking babushka descended our compartment steps, complete with red hat emblazoned with a hammer and sickle motif, our train could not be going anywhere but Russia. She would be our provodnitsa  ( carriage attendant) for the thirty something hour journey from Ulaanbaatar to Irkusk in Siberia. Something about her appearance fulfilling every stereotype of an older Russia lady (in my head) made the prospect of finally getting to ‘The Mother land’ all the more exciting.

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A soviet memory…Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar has lots of interesting things in it: museums, temples, palaces. But between those places the city is a little drab and austere, reminiscent of when Mongolia was part of the Soviet Union. Large, practical apartment blocks dominate, with dusty parks in-between, the newly wealthy inhabitants of the city spending more time in the new department stores. And did we mention the pickpockets? Someone told us before we got there that pockets in Ulaanbaatar are like Mongolian ATM machines…luckily we didn’t have anything stolen but this wasn’t without a lot of dodgy blokes trying….Now this might sound like we didn’t have a good time in the capital…but we did. Perhaps we liked the soviet aesthetics, or that some of the attempted robberies was so bad they became funny or maybe we just liked that the city had flushing toilets…who can say!

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The ruins of an empire…Kharkhorin

Pushing the car out of the sand was not how we were hoping the journey would go. In authentic Mongolian style we hitched a lift with a family travelling the same route as us and gave them a bit of money towards the petrol. Bundled in the back of the car Ryan got their young son (dressed in traditional del coat and fox fur hat) so excited he’d been sick…When they asked if we wanted to stop to see the mini Gobi desert we jumped at an opportunity but I hadn’t appreciated that ten minutes later we would be digging the fine sand from beneath the wheel arches out with our hands, ready to push on the bonnet. But I guess this was the exchange for giving us a lift?!?

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Riding a two humped camel, running up a 300m sand dune and eating dinner from a bucket…The Gobi Desert

Quickly pulling on my boots, coat and hat I ducked out of the small door of the family’s ger we were sharing for the night in hopes of finding the toilet. In the winter, in the wilds of the Mongolian countryside, it can get pretty damn cold. -40C are not unheard of and though it wasn’t that cold tonight I still needed thermals on under my trousers and the quicker the pee the better! My first problem was attempting to avoid the family’s herd of goats who were nearby, shinning the torch ahead the reflections of dozens of eyes shone back in the darkness. The next was to try to locate the ‘toilet’ itself. I say toilet it was really just a hole, with a couple of planks of wood on top and some boards around the side, to protect your bare bum from the sand or wind! After successfully finding my target I picked my way back to the outline of the ger and briefly looked up at the sky. Never, since sleeping in the back of the car in the Australian bush had I seen stars so bright and never in the northern hemisphere. Without a light for miles around in ever direction the sky was awash with silver specs and then one shot across the sky…yeh I know its cheesy but I saw a shooting star in the Gobi desert and I had a ‘wow’ moment…

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Journeying west…the train to Mongolia

The lights were off in our train carriage and as the door was pulled open the border control guard shined a bright torch in our faces. He was checking our appearance against the photos in our passports and his demeanour was serious. This part of border crossings is often a tense moment, mainly because Ryan looks distinctly different from his passport photo. Lets just say there has been a huge movement of hair from his head to his face which usually goes one of two ways: the guard laughs or he takes a long time examining his passport, presumably weighing up whether Ryan’s a threat to national security…well he does have a beard after all!

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