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Mongolia

by André on November 4th, 2011

The last couple of weeks I spent in Mongolia, a country totally different from any country I’ve visited before. Travelling there independently is not as easy as in the rest of Asia since the country is big and you need a guide to show you around. Also, because it’s the start of the winter it can get pretty darn cold and I needed to upgrade my wardrobe quite a bit. But in the end it was a very rewarding experience, although I feel I need to come back in summer to experience Mongolia to it’s fullest.

So, what’s happening in Mongolia?
Well, actually not too much. But that is the charm of Mongolia I guess. The country is huge but only 3 million people live there, most of them in the capital Ulaan Baatar. This is also the only place you can really call a ‘city’, but even from there you can just walk into Mongolia’s Steppe-landscape and be surrounded by absolutely nothing.

My plan was to go into the countryside, rent a couple of horses and a guide and spend a couple of days horseriding. However, when I got to the countryside (Kharkhorin) and did all my preperation I got a bit sick and my stomach wasn’t cooperating. After waiting a couple of days I decided that five days of horseriding was not going to happen and I joined a bunch of Frenchies with a car-tour through the area for five days. I still did a bit of horseriding, saw the countryside, drank Vodka and slept with the locals in their gers. Also, I improved my French quite a bit!

Genghis Khan
Mongolia’s hero is Genghis Khan, who lived from 1166 until 1227. He is pretty much the founder of Mongolia after uniting a lot of different tribes and started the Mongolian Empire which eventually ruled over the China and reached up untill Europe. He had some pretty liberal ideas and founded a city with multiple religions living next to each other (something which even in the modern age can cause trouble).

The greatneas of Genghis is not only seen in history but can be seen in modern culture. Mongolia is a real democratic nation which is quite an accomplishment with Communist Russia in the north and China in the south. Also you can see Genghis on all the products; Genghis vodka, beer and insurance providers.

Gers
Outside of Ulaan Baatar most people still live like Nomads in traditional ‘tents’ called ‘Gers’. They are round and white and actually a lot more spatious than you would think than when you see it from the outside. But all of the families activities go on inside that tent; eating, sleeping and watching television. But since it is only one space you shouldn’t expect too much privacy.

People in Mongolia are very hospitable, and when you are driving around in the middle of the steppe you can pretty much ask anybody to sleep with them and they will (for a small fee) put their ‘house’ to your disposal. But don’t expect a Hilton. Most of the time it’s just on the hard floor and it can be bitterly cold in the morning when the fire has gone out.

Because the ger holds such an important role in Mongolian culture there are traditions related to the ger. You always walk into the Ger clockwise (which is a general (tibetan?) buddist thing) and never walk between the two pillars in the centre. You never knock before entering and don’t stand in the doorway. The fire in the centre of the ger is also holy and you should never put anything in/on it.

Vodka
Just as important to Mongolian culture as Genghis or the Ger is Vodka. It’s unbelievable how much empty Vodka bottles you will find in the countryside. And at any time of the day you can find people drinking Vodka somewhere. This also causes some problems because at any time of the day you can encounter some stupid drunk who’s going to shout at you for some reason.

At one point I was sitting in a restaurant with the Frenchies and a guys starts screaming something at us. We ignored him and then he started throwing food at us. We tried our best to ignore him a bit more and then all of a sudden the drunk changes his mind. He bought another bottle of Vodka and appoligized to us by giving us all vodka as well.

By the way, when you drink Vodka in Mongolia, there is one man who poors it and gives it to each person separately (clockwise ofcourse). Before drinking the Vodka you should praise the gods and dip your ringfinger in the glass and then splash(?) your finger in the air (three times).

Horses
With a country so vast, horses are the countysides main means of transportation. And because there are no fences in Mongolia it makes an absolutely amazing place to start horsebackriding. The horses are a lot smaller than european horses, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same ‘horsepower’. One of the horses I’d got when horseriding was a real ‘seabiscuit’ and whenever you say ‘Chu!’ (that’s what they say here to make your horse go) it galloped like the wind and you could go one for ages because there’s nothing to stop it. Unfortunatly by body isn’t that used to sitting on a galloping horse so my back and behind were a bit sour for a couple of days.

Now what?
I’ve left Mongolia yesterday and went for Russia. Since it’s a lot more expensive I’m not sure how long I’m going to stay but I will at least visit Baikal lake before I take the Transsiberian Train to Moscow.

From → Mongolia

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