Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ulan Bator, Days 4 - 6

A ger district in middle of Ulan Bator.
Gandan Khiid Monastery

Matt enjoys a beer after a long day.
Chinggis (Genghis) Khan monument.
From the base of the monument, an elevator lifts you to Chinggis' crotch.

The aptly-named Turtle Rock.

The time-lapser at work.  
Alice the camel has 2 humps, so go alice go, boom boom boom. (it's a camp song) 

We woke up this morning and saw that is was a comfortable -2 degrees, a great day for hike. Unfortunately we realized the weather app was still set to Fahrenheit. Ah well, -19 Celsius with clear skies and no wind, could be worse. The Chinese visa situation cost us first a 4 night trip, and then even our 2 night trip. We would not have had time to make it to the Gobi, and the closer sand dunes and camel rides were not exactly enticing (although we were told the two hump camels here are possibly easier to ride, and nicer than the one hump dromedaries of the Sahara). We settled on a day trip to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, known for it's animal-like rock formations, Bhuddist meditation retreat and (unfortunately) encroaching development. A driver picked us up early to take us out of town, he spoke very little english, but was an excellent mime. He also had a impressive nonchalance about driving into opposing traffic in order to miss pot holes, and a dislike for listening to any Mongolian pop songs through to the end. A British journalist working for the local English language paper hitched a ride with us to a hotel, where she was covering the US embassy's morning open house to watch the close of polls/ early results of the election. 

Our tour started in earnest at the giant steel statue of Ghengis (Chinngis) Khan on horseback. He is about 1hr outside of town, and someday will be surrounded by a metropolis of tourist ger camps and parks. His pedestal is a large museum, and since we were the first to arrive that day we had nice young guides falling over each other to explain different parts of the museum. I am still in awe of the mechanical technology the early Mongolian people possessed.

From Chinngis we made our way to the park, again only an hour away, but it seems that most drivers pick their own routes across the steppes to get there. We were actually glad we had not rented our own car.  We are pretty sure a huge number of tourist ger camps have sprung up since our guide book was published, the valley floor was littered with unoccupied gers (it's low season). We hiked from time-lapse location to time-lapse location for a few hours, before meeting our driver back at a ger. We partook in the requisite "have tea in a local's ger". It was black tea that was salty and oily, but not as creamy as the mongolian butter tea we had heard about, or as rancid as the tibetan milk tea. It may actually be the tea that locals drink now, and not the tea they challenge tourists with. Tea with salt and butter/fat is interesting, and palatable if you think of it as life-sustaining soup rather than a cuppa. As we were headed out of the park we saw some camels grazing by the road. Our driver jumped out and started herding them in to poses so we could take pictures. They must have been tourist camels because they were pretty good with the photo ops.

- Bree