Preparations for Mongolia

Preparations for Mongolia

Booking the flight to Mongolia

In order to push myself to train harder after the leg bones fracture I booked a flight to Ulaanbaatar, approx 3 months after the last surgery. The tickets Oslo – UB are not in a cheap range and needless to say that I am always on the hunt for the cheapest possible option.

My plan was to enter the gentle age of 42 in Gobi, so the dates I was aiming at were at the end of april, during the cold season with not so many tourists. This was an excellent idea as the trip went on exactly like I wanted it to go – the hikes were pleasant and I had the freedom to be alone almost the entire time during my excursions.

Booking the hostel in UB

I was following my proven recipe – find & book the cheapest room in the city. I literally need no luxuries or special treatments – I know that I will be outside absorbing the environment with all my senses, and the purpose of the room is exclusively to provide shelter after a long day.

Khongor guest house is located 10 min from the Sukhbaatar square, the very center of the city center in Ulaanbaatar. Everything I could imagine is quite accessible from that point. The room was exactly what I needed, and I cannot even imagine a room which is more plain than the one I booked. It contained literally only a bed and a small table. The view from the window shows a basketball on which teenagers are shooting hoops. The hostel service, their politeness, suggestions and troubleshooting were in the “outstanding” range and I cannot recommend them enough.

The gear needed for hiking in Mongolia

My solo trips across the North Atlantic islands made sure that, as the time went by, I collected all possible gear for the cold(er) range areas. I literally had no need for buying anything new, I was entirely ready. I just needed to fill the suitcase and board the plane. Brought 2 pairs of hiking shoes with me, wool baselayers, several cashmere sweaters and the rest were technical clothes.

Researching Mongolia

I started reading about Mongolia as a destination for my/our trips a long time ago. It is extremely attractive to me. Mongolia has a fantastic culture, rich history, deep connection with nature, known hospitality and a tremendously rich spectrum of activities which can be done there.

My primary plan was to walk & trek & hike. As much as the leg allows me. In every possible terrain and circumstances. I made a to do list and as the days went on I was just shooting off everything planned to do and see.

I also booked a few train rides across Mongolia, one was southwards towards Gobi, and the other towards the Russian border. I liked the trains so much that I “regret” that I did not book more of them.

I was losing my mind when I woke up in the morning, very early, on the train ride to Sainshand and seeing The Sand on the railroad.

Planning the activities ended up being long browsing the internet and tour operators which would bring me to places I cannot reach myself. There are not a lot of those so I picked out carefully a few trips done by local providers.

From what I saw, Mongolians are not so skilled in English. Their default foreign language is Russian (if it was not obvious enough from russian cyrilic alphabet which is omnipresent) and not a lot of people were able to use even basic English. I am, of course, quite ok with that as I do not expect that every citizen of every country outside UK/USA has the ability to speak it. The locals’ hospitality and pleasantness transcends every barrier imaginable, and I am beyond happy with the exchange we had.

I love reading about cultural differences between nations. The only thing I love more is debunking stereotypes and breaking ancient molds in which people put each other for whichever reason. Mongolians were a special treat in a way, as I had no prior contact with them. All I had to rely on are the historical facts, myths and several culture related articles regarding Mongolian customs, behavior and interesting tidbits. My primary plan was to be as polite as I can be and not to behave in an offensive way in any possible scenario, as my Prime Directive is to mind my own business, but to be relentlessly humble and open mided in case someone wants to interact. Mongolians being presented as direct, open in approach, cordial, friendly and extremely curious does not even begin to describe their fantastic personalities in real life. This deserves a separate story because it had a tremendous impact on my being in Mongolia and being someone who is rarely impressed I will not spare words to praise the Mongolians that I have met.

Local and traditional mongolian food

Mongolians are known to serve a lot of meat on their plates. This brings extra points in my eyes as I turned to meat quite a lot in recent years, and I truly enjoy good cuts. I was looking forward to grassland fed cattle meat, historically and worldly renowned dairy products and eating them in such a special place.

I saw that in Ulaanbaatar, particularly in the street that I was residing in, are located tens and tens of mongolian and also korean/japanese/indian restaurants and eateries. The food is extremely cheap, especially compared to food prices in Scandinavian countries. Whoever likes to explore new cuisine would really enjoy this country.

This was a portion of tsuivan in a ger, near Elsen Tasarkhai. No, it did not contain cabbage. :D

Safety in Mongolia

One of the important factors while traveling is choosing a place in which I can thrive in my own indulgence of local culture and nature without nuisances. From what I saw, Mongolia is very safe in general. If you go there, you will not be decapitated by a horsemen horde. Try to think and act beyond stereotypes and understand that we are not in the 13th century. Women are not being pestered, no one will beat you up for no reason or just because you walked by. The biggest problems, according to the internet, are caused by pickpockets and backpack slashers. Also, I was told, if you forget your backpack with a laptop on a bench, do not expect to find it there when you return later. Luckily, I had literally no problems with any of these issues. Generally – be aware of your surroundings, avoid shady areas, avoid small alleys during the night, be polite and non conflict inducing – and everything will play out in your favor.

Holding an eagle

Besides walking in Gobi, I wanted to hold an eagle on my arm. This is a major bucket list item and I am trying to shoot it off for years now. I cannot imagine a better country to do that. I found that this is something which is not rare and complicated to access so I was looking forward to the idea that near Genghis Khan statue are the eagle holders who will lend you a bird for a moment or two just to hold it.

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