Our train carriage to Ulaanbaatar was full of tourists and a couple of Mongolians. On leaving the Russian border Zhenia orchestrated a Vodka toast that included everybody on the carriage (about 30 people) to celebrate our Russian exit.
We shared a compartment with Namsurem, a Mongolian woman who spoke Russian. Zhenia and her chatted and laughed so much on the train that she invited us out to a Dance & Song Concert where we finally got to hear the throat-singing we missed in Tuva!! Here's Namsurem and her 3 year old grandson, Temujin.
N.B. This is typical Zhenia and one of the reasons she makes such a great travel companion.
Earlier in the day we had got chatting to two Aussie girls, Mez and Emma, who were looking for people to fill their jeep to go out to central Mongolia for a 3 day horse riding trek. So, bright and early the next morning, an olive green Russian jeep with French-beret and leather vest wearing driver named Bairraa were waiting for us to set off. The 7 hour ride to the ancient capital, Kharkhorin, consisted entirely of unpaved dust roads, valium for motion sickness and autumn colors and landscape to boast about (if you were sober).
We crashed at a family ger (a large white felt tent used by nomadic Mongolians for shelter) for the night, which was comfortably equipped with electricity(powered by solar energy), a table with 6 chairs and a wood burning over for heat and cooking. Sleep was sweet. (see below for example)
The next morning we drove to the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia called Erdene Zuu Khiid (Hundred Treasures). Built in 1586, it had between 60-100 temples, about 300 gers were set up inside the walls and up to 1,000 monks were in residence. Unfortunately, Stalin destroyed most of it but it is slowly being rebuilt.
We stopped for lunch overlooking the valley we were to head into. The skull of a horse ornates an ovoo, a pyramid-shaped collection of stones (wood or other offerings) placed on top of a hill or mountain pass in a shamanistic traditional offering to the gods.
Waterfall of Orkhon Khürkhree in the Övörkhanga Aimag region. We stayed the night here in another Ger before setting off by horse back to Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes Region).
We each rented a horse and were guided by Tommur and his grandson. Here, Zhenia’s horse takes a drink before riding off for 65 km into complete wilderness.Never have we been surrounded by such an abundance of shit (yak, horse and cow) that we absolutely had to bring back the special photographic tribute to the SHIT (remember Sevilla and the Sahara?). It is so abundant here that locals use it for fuel instead of wood burning in ovens.
After a painful but exhilarating horse ride that took 8hrs we finally arrived at the nearest of the lakes. Here's our Ger at sunrise the next morning - very frosty.
.....and one of the very aggressive Yaks...
That day Zhenia decided to give her bum a rest so Tom went out with Tommur our Aussie friends to see the other lakes. Tom poses near the largest of the eight lakes. Tom and Tommur bonded while collecting pine cones for their nuts.
Our horses rest by a lake...Our guide, Tommur, takes a break and a cigarette...
While Tom was away Zhenia made friends with Tommur’s grandchildren. She made them a Wendy house for them out of an old bed frame. The girl is 4 and the boy is 5.
Later that night, after wondering what the awful stink was in our Ger we discovered several dried out sheep carcasses under our beds. Everything smelt of mutton, our clothes, beds, even our money. That night the party began. Out came their mp3/dvd player (powered by a car battery) and on came Madonna, Black Eyed Peas, even Goddamn Craig David. Zhenia got the dancing started (of course). And while we shared our Vodka with our hosts they pulled out Yak Vodka (distilled fermented Yak milk), a clear liquid that tasted like, er...off milk - pretty grim. We did enough shots with Tommur for him to do a special buggy-down Mongolian style for us with the ubiquitous cigarette hanging from his mouth.
In the morning (as if she didn’t have enough yak vodka and fun the night before), Zhenia decided to take a stab at yak riding. This picture was taken about 10 seconds before Tom slapped the Yaks behind to make Zhenia go flying.
Tom got really into his "cowboy" role and all the girls started calling him a man's man. He did however impress Tommur when he managed to stay in his saddle when the horse nearly fell flat on it's face while cantering cross country.
Back on the road on day 5 of our trip, we were all beginning to suspect Bairraa, our driver, of hustling us, the dodgy bastard. After the absolutely the last straw, we asked him to drive us back to Ulaanbaatar.
On our ride back, we spotted a community of vultures resting and double-hump camels getting ready for a trek.The few days we had left in Mongolia were spent living it up in the city, eating great Korean food and drinking Mongolian pilsner in an English pub. China here we come....