A trip to Mongolia isn’t complete unless you’ve seen Turtle Rock and the of course the wild Takhi. Crazy Sarah from the hostel, who can only ever be described as beautifully insane, took myself and a French couple to Terelj. She promised us an exciting trip, boy did we get one. First stop was the Louis Vuitton store, naturally. Apparently the view from up top was a must see. I wouldn’t know, we never got that far. Sarah dragged us bedraggled backpackers through the store, where we entered some smancy VIP room and looked at overpriced jewelry and handbags. What utter drivel and a waste of time, how a store like that could have opened in UB is beyond me. It’s the first and last time I’ll ever set foot in a L V store. pshhhht!
We hopped on a bus from Peace Avenue in central UB bound for Gachuurt for T500. It was crammed full of happy campers and locals looking for a weekend escape. We stopped the bus at some random spot in near the park at Sarah’s demand and we climbed out in the middle of nowhere. This was to avoid having to pay park fees, *shrugs*. So we walked for ages. A local family who Sarah claimed know well *shurgs again* took us in for lunch in their ger. The usual milk with tea and salt, flour noodles (teu hung) with mutton. It was awesome to watch them prepare the meal and enjoy the heaving plates of the oily goodness. Next we trekked off to find the famous Turtle Rock. It was cute, I had the “fraggle rock” theme song stuck in my head! Little Mongolian kinderlings were climbing it and having fun. It reminded me of the creepy tortoise ‘Morla The Aged One’ from The NeverEnding story.
We happy snapped for a while, there is also the “Old Man Reading a Book” rock formation and a “Monkey” to find. What ever, I like pareidolia.
We then walked further north to the Aryapala Initiation and Meditation Center. It was an interesting walk. We saw a man removing the fur from an unlucky marmot with a blow torch. I couldn’t take a picture of this, it was far too grisly for me. Google it if you must. Then I saw my first edelweiss flower! So much happiness, I picked it and pressed it. I still have it 🙂 Time for another song…
The trip back was one adventure. Sarah thought it fit to hitchhike back. So we did. We started off with two huge old Chinese trucks. I’ve never been so
uncomfortable in my life, I’d never ever want to be a truck driver. We averaged around 5-10km/h on the “roads”. Of course one broke down and needed a tire change. So we waited and headed off again. There must have been a misunderstanding somewhere ’cause the drivers, who initially promised us they were heading to back to UB, kicked us out and dropped us in the middle of nowhere, as you do. Sarah then discovered she’d lost her phone. She hitchhiked back to Turtle Rock, we didn’t hear from her for three days after that…
Us three walked until we found a junction with a few road side stalls. Like stranded orphans we tried to flag down cars and ask for lifts. Some said yes, some said wait. Finally a Mongolian film star and his family stopped to pick us up! He spoke great English and told us they often head to Terlj to relax. We ate seeds and nuts in the back seat and chatted for ages.
Another trip on a whim was to Khustain National Park. I got chatting to lovely Joe, a fellow hostel guest, about going to see the wild Takhi of Mongolia and if we’d ever get to see them. His birthday was around the corner and we somehow managed to talk a bunch of backpackers from the hostel to do a trip to Khustain to see the wild horses. An added bonus was for us to go to the Khurel Observatory and do some star gazing. This is one of my most favourite places in the world, the little observatory is on the Bogd Mountain just south of UB. http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-6596/118/1/012061/pdf/jpconf8_118_012061.pdf
Clear skies and an awesome astronomer who has a wicked collection of 80s music,showed us some cool stuff that night through the scope that like. Like
the bands of colors of Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons. I was over the moon to see my second favourite moon EUROPA! We camped under the stars right near some ovoos and saw a shaman performing some rituals. It was also great to see a real shaman in action. There’s something quite divine and mysterious about shamanism in this part of the world. I read a book on it called “Riding Windhorses”. http://www.scribd.com/doc/93617041/Riding-Windhorses. It’s all about balance and direction. Mongolians have an innate sense of direction and are so in tune with their natural surroundings. I never gave it much thought until I learned the sense of peace one develops after finding ones way and balance. After Mongolia, I developed an internal compass. This came with always watching sunset and sunrise, and living in a ger. It’s a whole microcosm in there man!
“The ger is not only the center of the universe, but also a microcosm within
it. In fact, it is a map of the universe at large, and the vault of the
heavens is reflected in the arched shape of the interior of the ger roof.
The entrance is always to face the south, since that is the front of
ger. The north side, called the hoimor, located behind the fire, is the
most honorable spot in the ger. It is here that the sacred objects, ongon
spirit dwellings and other religious images are placed on a table. The
sitting place next to the hoimor is the most honored and is occupied by
elders, chiefs, shamans, or other respected guests. The right, west, side
is the male side, and is the sitting place for men and storage place for
men’s tools, saddles, bows, and guns. The left, east, side is the sitting
place for women, and cooking utensils, cradleboards, and other women’s
objects are placed there. Since the southern side is the least honored
spot, young people are usually seated on the southern part of the left and
I always have to know in which direction I’m facing, if unknown I feel terribly uneasy and lost.
We stayed up for sunrise, and the next day we headed off to see the wild Takhi. It was quite a drive down to Khustain about 100 km southwest of UB. It felt so good to see endless grassland again a refreshing contract from the ugly grey capital. At the park, we watched a cute documentary about the wild horses and how they’ve been reintroduced to Mongolia. They were all but extinct due to hunting, human encroachment and livestock overgrazing the land. A few horses were captured in the early 20th century and kept in zoos outside of Mongolia in the hope of reintroducing them back to their native land. Between 1992 up till now these horses have been successfully reintroduced and kept in the park, a remarkable feat. They are also referred to as the “Przewalski’s horse” after Nikolai Przhevalsky (a Russian explorer of Polish background) who is said to have first discovered the species. He was such a legend, sadly he died of typhus near Karakol on Issuk-kul in Kyrgyzstan. And yes I went to Karakol to pay my respects.
Back to the Takhi. We were lucky to spot them (with 50 thousand other crazy tourists) as they came down at dusk to drink at dusk. They were beautiful, stunning and majestic. They are a different species to horses, as they have 2 extra chromosomes. I saw a stuffed Takhi one in a museum and it was huge. They have bigger skulls than normal horses and are pretty stocky. I was glad that I saw the real deal and not just a taxidermy relic.