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The Best of the Steppes Thanks to Good Ol’ Genghis Khan
If you are looking for an adventure on your next vacation? You can’t get any more adventurous than Mongolia! Exotic, completely different, wonderful and friendly people, and even some food all add up to the trip of a lifetime. Once, I don’t know, because quite frankly I’m ready to go back!
Here’s our top 10 things everyone who visits this truly off-the-beaten-path country needs to do!
One – Find yourself a company that will take you on a trip in a Russian van! This is one country that I wouldn’t recommend driving yourself, mainly because just outside of the capital city the road ends, and if you are lucky, you will be on dirt tracks. Other times, you are completely at the mercy of your driver, and his navigational, mechanical, and linguistic skills as he takes you places you would never find by yourself.
Two – Sleep in a ger! The Mongolians are still largely nomadic and during our time there, we saw more than one family tearing down, putting up, or just transporting their entire home and load of possessions on a truck. We stayed in different gers each night, but they were all comfortable. Fitted out with beds, a wood stove, and decorated in lively colors and traditional patterns, it was a nice bridge between tenting and a hotel room. The biggest downside was the hike to the outside toilet, which we dubbed the “slit-trines”.
Three – Stop along the way and get to know the locals. The summertime is also shearing time, and we saw many families working hard, using hand shears, and willing to let us watch and even ask questions. It was a fine balance, because summer is short, and they have a lot to do, so we tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. This family loved having us there, and even shared some fermented horse milk with us. Yum!
Four – Ride a Mongolian pony! If you have heard anything about Mongolia at all, it is that they are and always have been master horsemen. We made sure before we took off to let our driver know that one of the things we wanted to do is ride horses, and we stayed overnight with the family that owned these beauties. It’s hard to tell from this shot, but the ponies are very short, and I laughed every time I snuck a glance at Jim, whose feet were just about dragging the ground. The ride itself was so much fun and through the most gorgeous countryside.
Five – Try your hand at living the Mongolian nomad life. This family was so welcoming, and by the time evening milking hour approached, Mom knew I would be there armed with my camera. She showed up in her prettiest outfit and even wore pearls! She offered to let me try and milk the yak and the goats. Needless to say, I would starve. I couldn’t get anything from those beasts.
Six – See a show! If you look behind the throat singer, you will notice we are not in an auditorium. We are in the ger that we were spending the night in. Our hostess asked us if we wanted to see a throat singer and some acrobats, and how cold we say no? We had our own private show, and the family was so proud to tell us all about it.
Seven – Visit the exotic Gobi desert and ride a camel! This was not my first camel ride, but it might have been one of my most fun! First of all, on a Bactrian camel you get to sit between two humps. This, I have to tell you, is a lot more comfortable than riding in front of the one hump of a Dromedary. You don’t feel like you are going to fall off. On this ride, the girls got us situated, then their little brother who was about eight years old took us out on the trail. Just him. No one else. It was a blast. We were completely in charge of making our camels do what we wanted them to do. So much fun and the views! The views were magnificent.
Eight – Visit Karakorum. As far as tourist sites go, there just are not that many in this wind-blown country of nomads. Karakorum was the old capital and today you can visit the walls and a few buildings that mostly belong to the Buddhist temple.
Nine – Take advantage of any restaurant you drive by! Sleeping with local families in their gers was fantastic, but let’s face it they do not have a lot of extra food so the meals were quite spare. Jack, our driver, quickly learned that every town that has an eatery was going to be visited by us. This was a fast food ger serving traditionl Khuushur, and a better snack I’ve never had! There were not many restaurants, but we tried every one we passed and found good wholesome food. Eat out!
Ten – Wander around the capital city of Ulan Bator. It certainly isn’t the prettiest city, with its Soviet buildings, dilapidated infrastructure, and of course the ubiquitous Irish Bar or two, but don’t pass up the chance to do some shopping, eat at a restaurant, and stay in a hotel with running water. I suggest you do this at the end of your trip; you will appreciate it so much more!
And Bonus! – Ballroom dance at sunset with your hosts and their guests! Yep! These young girls cranked up the generator and out blasted some Tchaikovsky which they deftly danced to. I could have watched them for hours. Out in the middle of Mongolia, you have to make your own fun!