Red hero

Red hero

After a long flight between Oslo and Ulaanbaatar (in total over 15h of planes and almost 24h of transit to/from airports and layovers) the only thing I wanted to do was to walk and I was extremely looking forward to any actual movement. I was desperately trying to fall asleep during the flights but it did not happen even for a minute. The day, on top of everything, started by arriving at the Oslo central station and seeing that every train, in every direction to and from the Oslo central station, was canceled. Oh, well.., I thought, sighed deeply, and started searching for alternative ways to reach the Gardermoen lufthavn. Luckily, whatever went wrong got fixed in a way unknown to me; approx 30 minutes later I sat down in flytoget and soon after I reached the airport.

Istanbul layover

I had a very short layover in Istanbul; it was so short that I had to literally gallop from one side of the airport to the transfer zone and gate to Ulaanbaatar, and had just enough time to appear at the gate at the last second. I was standing stunned by all the light and richness of the duty free zone, it looked like xmas in Oslo x 10^76 (and that says something). I was stunned by the size of it, and later found out that after the Heathrow airport it was the second one in terms of number of passengers in Europe and 7th in the world in 2023. Not surprised even one bit.

Arriving at the gate to Ulaanbaatar was a very special moment, as it was the first one when I started to feel that I am actually getting closer to Mongolia. I ran towards the gate to UB, assuming, “This’ll be a flight with a half empty plane, who goes to Ulaanbaatar, ffs?”. I was wrong. The waiting room was full to the brim with beautiful Mongolians. Mongolians! I felt like this was the breaking point for this trip.

The -stans

I have a (known) thing for -stans. Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan… They are top destinations for my palate as I know that I would have so much fun there, especially on the off road path.

When the plane was flying over these -stans (also: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran) it was completely dark outside so the view through the window made no sense, but tracking on the display all of those names that I have been researching for years – Samarkand, Bukhara, Aral lake (written in Croatian), Baikonur cosmodrome (also written in Croatian), Dushanbe, Khujand… –  made me truly yearn again for an opportunity to land in one of the -stans finally, and properly enjoy all of them.

Thunder & lightning

The darkness came with an occurrence that I was not expecting at all. The plane was approaching an enormous cloud in which the thunder and lightning could be seen, grilling it from the inside. I was entirely stunned by this and the only brain cell left which was not completely dedicated to absorbing this beauty had the task of making the video of it and keeping my jaw closed. It did not excel at either of these things. Hence the mediocre video made in low light conditions, but hopefully clear enough for you to see this beauty.

When I shared the video with my friends, they were shocked by the fact that I did not have a panic attack on the plane. The reasons for staying calm were: the lightning did not take down a plane for decades; even I know this. They are made to withstand them and it is not rare at all to be hit by lightning while in the air (we are just unaware of that). And the most important thing to mention is – if the pilot perceived this cloud to be a danger, he would not fly this close to it in the first place. I was more worried about getting that minimum amount of desperately needed sleep, which was not happening at all, and there was a vacation packed with activity in front of me.

Mongolian dawn

Seeing the dawn on the horizon through the window threw away all tiredness in a second – I felt finally that I was approaching the much desired destination. The approaching warmth of it was something I really needed at that moment.

Mongolia from the air

The last minutes in the air were a special treat. If you know anything about me, there is no need to be told how much I adore the mountains and wilderness, and enjoy such views.

Reminded me of Greenland’s west coast. Sighed, cuddled the screws in my knee and thought: “No, you probably won’t be walking down there, at least for a while.”

Airport & shuttle to UB

The Genghis Khan airport is freshly built and it is located approx 50 km from UB, near Zuun Mod. The planes of the Mongolian airlines (MIAT) proudly carry, expectedly, the names of their great khans. I ordered a shuttle ride from the hostel’s service in order to avoid the ongoing bus related complications and it took us over 2 hours to reach the hostel, which says a lot. I arrived in the city at cca 9 o’clock which is a peak period in any city, and UB is known to have a road infrastructure which does not support such rush hours. I don’t mind, at all, I was on a vacation and had zero pressure on me, but the locals hate it with the hatred of a thousand angry gods. Just nod, play along, show empathy, pat them on their proverbial back and confirm that the same thing happens in every other larger city when the majority of population is on their way to work.

Khongor guesthouse

I booked my stay at Khongor hostel which is located in the city center on the Peace avenue. I ordered a pick up from the airport and the hostel’s employee was waiting for me. During the 2 hours of the trip to the hostel we exchanged a lot of impressions about traveling, hiking and especially Mongolia.

When we reached the hostel, I landed in the bed for just a few hours, to even out that extreme lack of sleep I was struggling with while in the plane between Istanbul and Ulaanbaatar. It felt so unnatural, as my primary instinct is to move, no matter what, but I was beaten up by thousands of kilometers in the air. As soon as I returned to reality, I went out.

The first stop was: Sukhbaatar square.

Meeting Damdin Sukhbaatar, Ögedei, Kublai and Genghis

10 min by foot from the hostel lies the core of Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia, the heart of the city – Sukhbaatar square. There are horsemen statues of crucial historical khans – Genghis Khan and his son Ögedei and grandson Kublai, along with Damdin Sukhbaatar, who was a communist revolutionary.

The square is the home of the most important governmental buildings, it is extremely well maintained and has that wide open space sight which I adore seeing. It was not packed with people and the light was perfect for a person who was confused by the concept of time/space at that moment, as I got even a bit of refreshment.

Walked a bit around that area, and found a lot of animal statues. This is something that I saw quite a lot while i Mongolia; Mongolians love animals quite a lot and they tend to set animal statues and dedications in many places. I assigned this to their outdoors related history and exceptionally direct connection with nature.

My first mongolian lunch

My first day in Mongolia had to include the most mongolian food there is – buuz. It’s impossible to avoid it due to the fact that there are so many eateries which offer buuz in the city. Buuz is as plain as it gets – it is made of dough similar to the one of gyoza/pierogi, filled with meat. Mongolians in most cases use mutton, and there is a minimum amount of spices in it – only salt and a smidge of pepper.

The day ended with landing in the room, feeling truly satisfied with how the vacation started, and extremely looking forward to the next day and the curiosities it would bring.