Destination Mongolia - Frequent Flyer Magazine
February - March 2007

the
Ultimate Escape

Yes, you can get away
from traffic jams and
stress - decades away
- and its only a couple of
hours flight from Beijing.

IN MONGOLIA. THE SUMMER AIR IS
usually clean even in the big cities and a 20-minute drive from the capital Ulaan Baatar can take you to places with nothing but fence-free grasslands, gentle hills, horses, sheep, and goats - 30 million animals - grazing under a pristine sky.

Of course, from time to time, your car has to wait while animals cross the road - where there is a paved road. Outside (Ulaan Baatar, there are no traffic jams except during the Naadam festival.)

A little further out, you could find yourself the only human being in sight. No one can hear you or see you. You are also out of cell phone range. And suddenly you see a horseman - no, a horse boy - practicing for the annual Naadam festival that determines the best archers, wrestlers and horses in the country. These are high on the list of things that determine a person's success or failure here, especially the horse racing.

 


In the summer, is the most comfortable time to visit weather-wise, you can approach tiny collections of two or three gers - usually the only sign of humans. A ger or yurt is a round felt one-room cottage. It takes Mongolians only a couple of hours to pick
up these dwellings and follow their herds from pasture to pasture. Mongolians are usually happy to let you photograph their brightly coloured furniture and family pictures and sheep shearing. Some gers
have solar panels and television sets. They will offer you something to eat and in summer, give you home-made bread, cheese or a cup of health-giving fermented marcs' milk.

I have found no one expecting anything in return. Many will even let you ride one of their horses - for free.

During the day, you can watch like weather approaching. Al night, the sky sparkles with stars yon cannot see in a big city. Sunrises and sunsets can fill you with enough health-giving beauty to comfort you through a busy winter.

But there is a downside. While it's a wonderful place to take children to actually
see wild horses living free, you might find yourself a long way from the nearest
doctor. Being out of telephone range has its advantages and disadvantages.

Inside the capital, you can stay in a well-located and adequate hotel like the
Bayangol for a little over US$100 with breakfast. Outside Ulaan Baatar, hotels are sub-standard and much cheaper. All have electricity but a few lacked hot water even in the evenings and most had terrible maintenance. We frequently had to insist on a change of room because of broken windows, toilets and locks.

In the summer, we preferred to stay in ger camps so we could ride horses and go
for long walks. Be prepared to share one bathhouse with all the other travelers though
you might find yourself the only guests.

Having to use a bathroom 30 meters away is an opportunity to see the night sky, but
it can be an uncomfortable experience if it rains and the electric power is turned off.

In the north around beautiful Lake Hovsgol. the summer night can be deliciously cool. While it is great to have an attendant make a wood fire at night and first thing in the morning, rain falling in your bedroom through the ger's chimney hole can be a challenge you might not want to deal with. Still, it is part of the adventure of getting back to a world of using airplanes that depend on sight not radar.

But at Hovsgol. you can ride a reindeer and meet a lady shaman who lives in a real teepee like those used by North American Indians. While it is wonderful to wake up some mornings to the sound of yaks or horses chomping on glass outside your
door, just make sure your children - if you have any - stay away from them unless
supervised. These big animals are not in a petting zoo.

Still, Mongolia is a great place for people who want to challenge themselves. It is not
for people who want name-brand shopping and big chain restaurants though McDonald's might appear soon. It is for those who want to broaden their world.
 

Ruth Lor Malloy

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