Agnes and myself are off to asia via St. Petersburg, Moscow before catching the transmongolian and arriving in Beijing on August 27th 2006. That's as far as the exact planning is at right now. Afterwards it'll be travel in China for a few weeks, down to South Korea and then back to China and hopefully reach Tibet. From there cross into Nepal, then India and then Southeast Asia, after that ..... ?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

China post #15 - Farewell to Mongolia

Back to UB for 2 nights and to have a proper look at the place. Seemed a lot dirtier, dustier and disorganised than the first time. Kho met up with us in Modern Nomads for lunch and she had lots of gifts, fair play. We had to replace her lucky leprachaun which she unluckily lost. One thing about Mongolia that's changed since becoming less communist (they are still the ruling party) is that it's history has been rewritten and national heroes are OK to hold in high esteem again. The biggest u-turn has been with Chingiss Khan, who seemingly wasn't such a bloodthirsty savage and was into diplomacy rather than war - will George B have the same said about him in 800 years time. So now practically everything is named after this re-discovered national icon who is has a gigantic image on a hill facing UB - vodka, beer, the airport and yes, even the Irish Pub in UB!

Back on the train, we were sharing with 2 mongolian girls who didn't say much until 2 english lads - Jazz and Steve starting sniffing around our cabin. Anyway, we crossed the Gobi desert and as it got more and more arid I was glad we hadn't gone on the camel trek across it.

We eventually reached the Chinese border on the 2nd night and were actually on the train as they changed the boggies because China has the normal track gauge whereas Mongolia has the non-standard Russian guage ... you can see where old loyalties were. The Chinese welcomed us with solemn marching music over the tannoys as the train pulled away from the platform heading for Beijing.

China post #14 - Lake Khuvsgul

One and a half hour flight (only 2 hour delay) from UB to Murun airport where the baggage reclaim was like some type of mongolian bingo! Into a big, comer-like van with a padded roof and off on some of the worst roads I've ever been on for a 4 hour spin to our ger camp on lake Kuvsgul - Mongolias biggest body of water. We arrived at midnight and looked up to see am amazing night sky; you can see why it's called the milky way in Outer Mongolia - no electricity in this place, never mind telephone or internet.

We spent 6 nights at the Natures Door camp and the staff were just the best. So friendly and helpful and I discovered that nearly all were university students on a summer earner. The waiter at the restaurant, Tooroo, was a very nice chap and by coincidence we ran into his wife and baby daughter (photo above) while on a beer break from horse riding one day. A nice girl came in every morning to light the stove in our tent too! We went walking along the lake, biking, horse-riding (I was eventually let off on my own) and we climbed up one tough mountain. I met a group of friendly Mongolians on holiday by the lake one day and the only one who spoke english was familiar with only one Irishman ..... Chris de Burgh ....

The horse-riding is the sorest and most dangerous thing that you can do there, but definitely the best fun. As you may observe in the photos, I was a bit big for my mount or rather the poor horse was a bit small for me. I shouldn't say poor really, as mongolian horses are frisky and aggressive little feckers. We saw more than one guide get a kick (one while riding along behind me) and they are known to give a nasty bite too. You think that you're in control of the little bugger, but then he sees a bush he fancies a munch on and no amount of tugging on the reins will stop them until they have a mouthful. The most spoken nomgolian word must be "Tschoo! Tschoo!" which is supposed to make the horse move faster, but the whip is the only thing that they understand - especially when there is a big heavy foreign rider. Our guide stopped in at a ger once and re-emerged with a terrifying looking truncheon type thing made out of strands of leather - the horses moved after that. We even made it as far as Toilogt that day. On the way back he beat them up a gallop - a great feeling, yeehaa!

We met a few Catalans in the restaurant, actually we were interested to talk to them because we had seen them running from the sauna to the lake in their bathrobes and diving in. I tried it myself and confirmed that it was freezing in there!

On the last night at about 5 I awoke to a crackling sound and an orange sky in the skylight of our ger. I opened the door expecting to see a bonfire somewhere, but it was one of the big 4 bedroom lodges which was totally ablaze. People were running all over the place with buckets of water, so I woke Agnes and we went to help. The lodge was beyond saving, but the adjacent one and the forest behind was in real danger going up. Despite being beside a huge lake they didn't have a decent hose to reach the blaze and we spent 2 hours running back and forth to the kitchen water supply with buckets and pots and basins before the situation was under control. Thankfully, no one was injured in the whole disaster.

Eventually it was off to bed at 8 for a few hours sleep before heading back on our 4 hour drive to the airport at 1 p.m. The reward for our help was a whopping 140$ bill for our pickup and drop off to the airport 120 km away. They had quoted a 5$ charge each way per person, but this "misunderstanding" was because we were not a group of 7 or more. I was furious and complained, but they had us over a barrel as we risked losing our flight - it really left a blemish on a very enjoyable week.