Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mongolia Trip: Tsagaan Suvarga

I am back in Sydney and already halfway through my second day at work! I really did jump straight from my holiday back to work and it was a little difficult yesterday. As mentioned numerous times, I have just returned from my two week holiday in Mongolia! In Mongolia I went on a 12 day tour to the Gobi desert and to central Mongolia.

Day 1 - Monday 8th August 2016
The tour had a little bit of a late start. We were originally told we would be leaving at 8am however I tried to embrace it as I knew the concept of being on time in Mongolia was going to a rare occurence based on my previous research.

The vehicle we were allocated was the typical Soviet van / Russian van that are reknown in Mongolia. The Soviet Vans are frequently used on tours as it has been said they are reasonably cheap to purchase initally and the parts are easy to obtain. They are also notorious for breaking down easily so this is something to be mentally prepared for. That being said, the vehicle that I was on did not experience any major issues (one flat tyre, the window handle fell off and the spare tyre fell off).

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But sure enough, we were slowly on our way to the Gobi region! One thing to note is that Mongolia is a very big country with an almost non existent infrastructure system. This is the core reason as to why I decided to join an organised tour as it would have been impossible to travel around otherwise. The drive from Ulaanbaatar to our destination was 500km. However, what I neglected to factor in is that I have only done such distances on roads and it takes a lot longer off-roading (which is what is required for the majority of the country). Day 1 of the tour was spent almost entirely in the very bumpy van. It was also very hot that day at around 30 degrees Celsius and I unfortunately had the middle back seat wedged in between a Canadian and an American. The windows of the van also only open on a hinge and need to be propped open and naturally, the van does not have AC. It was a very hot and slightly uncomfortable ride however I was too excited to have it bother me too much.

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How the window was kept open.

Lunch was at this small random road stop restaurant.

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The traditional food in Mongolia is very fatty and almost bland. As the country is below freezing temperatures for most of the year, the nomadic families cooked meals that were very hearty and would allow them to survive the ultra harsh winters. The country is not known for its crops (due to weather) but rather for their livestock. There are 5 animals associated with Mongolia and they are: goats, sheep, cows / yaks, camels and horses. Lamb and mutton are the two commonly eaten meats (occasionally beef as well) and they are in fact my two least preferred red meats. The meal at lunch was definitely a taster of what was to come in terms of food for the next 12 days.

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Fried rice type of dish - mutton, rice, carrots, potatoes and chunks of fat!

Due to my research, I had already tried to mentally prepare myself for the absence of western style toilets and running water. Lunch time was my first encounter with a squat long drop toilet which was interesting. It really was just a hole and wooden planks.

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Ah toilets

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By the time we arrived close to our destination, it was already 8pm! It was a very long day of driving. We arrived at the White Stupa or Tsagaan Suvarga. It is a cliff face that has eroded naturally over time and the different colours of the cliffs are due to the different layers of sediment over the past 10 million years! The formation is over 50m high and spans over a length of 400m.

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Milk 'tea' which is more milk than tea It was camel milk! As part of Mongolia tradition, for any visitors are provded with a cup of milk tea (or fermented mare's milk) and some biscuits. Mongolians are known for their hospitality.

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Ger camp

There were so many stars in the sky! This was actually only one of the few nights on my 12 day trip where it was a beautiful clear night!

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I still need to learn more about how to take star photos however it was really amazing to see the difference between this and my previous camera!


This was my ninth trip as part of #take12trips. To see previous trips please click here.

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