Towards the end of my NOC journey in Beijing, my batch mates and I went for a self-proclaimed grad trip to Mongolia. There were various alternatives of transportation but we later concluded that taking the trans-siberian railway route would be the most cost-efficient. Although it was a 30-hours train journey, I really thought it wasn’t all that bad. Perhaps because (1) company (2) vast landscapes that sums up as a jolly good view (3) fresh air.
P.S We took a 2 hour plane ride returning to Beijing.
It was quite comical because all of us assumed the trans-siberian train would be like the other trains we took to other parts of China. This means that there wouldn’t be food served on the train – so we packed an entire kampong worth of food onboard only to realise there were meals provided. Not saying they were fantastic though so I’m glad we actually prepared our own food too.
The fascinating thing for me about riding on the trans-siberian train was the people I get to see and interact with. The passengers onboard were mostly travellers from all over the world, each with their own story to tell. We had our cabin for ourselves for the first half of the ride from Beijing to Erlian (Inner Mongolia) but afterwards, Dahlia joined us and occupied the upper-deck bed on my side.
Dahlia is a 74 years old Israeli grandma, who is on her second journey around China (& Mongolia as an exception). She went looking for her roots in Harbin, where her ancestors moved to from Russia during World War 1. Decided that Inner Mongolia was too much like China so she made the swift decision to go Mongolia – and that was how we bumped into her. She loves her coffee, a proud grandma of three, prefers traveling alone, has been to most part of the world – think Ethiopia, a very logical and used-to-be-idealist women, who holds a PHD in Archaeology.
What I found amusing was how she has so many interesting stories to tell. And for that she humbly commented, “wait till you are my age then you will have many nice stories to share.” I can’t wait.
We were just in time to visit the Nadaam festival in Mongolia – the biggest national holiday celebrated since its independence. Unfortunately, the government announced 5 days of public holiday to all Mongolians so everywhere was closed and we had quite a bit of trouble finding food. Nevertheless, all of us really enjoyed the festival. We were introduced to Khuushuurs (fried dumpling filled with lamb meat) and horse milk – former was really delicious but the latter weren’t quite kind to our taste buds. It is apparently the staple drink in Mongolia.
The Mongolians are a really friendly bunch of people. This adorable girl kept turning her head towards us to figure out what sort of language we were speaking and she spontaneously posed for a photo with us.
Ben and his satisfiable bowl of lamb soup cooked in hot stones. Tried a few mouthful of it and the lamb meat tasted so good. In fact, the days we were at Mongolia had us eating lots of lamb meat. I wasn’t a fan of lamb meat to begin with but being in Mongolia, I had to and they have the best kind of lamb meat!
Mongolia has a State Departmental Store. It was located along Peace Ave – a road littered with recommendable restaurants to dine-in, but everywhere was closed, even most storeys of the departmental store. We only managed to go up to the last storey of the building that sells Mongolian souvenirs, cultural costumes and knick knacks.
One of the highlights visiting Mongolia was attending a wedding of Ben’s friend. After the wedding though, we had spare time to visit the Kaisan mountain, which overlooks the whole Ulaanbaatar city. I liked how the city wasn’t what I was expecting for – the streets were clean, people smell nice, air was perfect, food was good. There were many high-rise developments going on and it almost seemed like a mini Singapore filled with mountain landscapes in between. On top of all these, Mongolian kids all look way too adorable.
During our trip, we also made it to the famous Terelj National Park and stayed overnight in a traditional Mongolian Ger. Every glance outside of the car was absolutely picturesque and you got to also watch out for nonchalant cows sashaying across the drive way. Side note, how fortunate would you be as a cow living here vis-a-vis to your fellow mate cooped up in metal cubicles having their nipples constantly being squeezed?
We went up to a renowned buddhist temple, where the prince and princess of Mongolia climbed all the way up to get married. One thing I realised about these places of attraction, including entering the compound of Terelj National Park, was that tourists needed to pay at least a sum or 10x price of what the Mongolians are paying. So for the case of this buddhist temple, it was free admission for Mongolians but we had to pay a sum.
Drove towards the end of the accessible area of the park and we reached UB 2, where our Mongolian Ger was located. The weather in Mongolia was pretty windy – avg. 20dc in the day so it could be quite cold at night. Also, you could smell horse poo pretty much anywhere till my nose has succumbed graciously to it.
To combat the harsh cold, that ordinary-looking fireplace saved the night. Or must I say – way overboard. The Ger turned ridiculously hot that it almost became a challenge to breathe normally and hence causing a panic attack. Ben immediately took on the role of a hero and pushed open the door, swung it back and forth for convection to occur. It turned out to be a comical night because really – picture three pathetic souls huddled together in combined beds with 5 layers of blanket (see five beds there?), three layers of t-shirts, socks on getting ready to sleep and that just have to happen.
Besides that calamity, it was mostly just fun. Look ma, we went for horse-riding! The whole riding experience was pretty cool – coupled with the panoramic view so it was nothing short of amazing. Ahh I wanna go back now.. This trip, albeit a short one, was very much enjoyable and I wouldn’t go for a change of companions too. 🙂
Thankful to have you guys go through the good, funny, tiring times together. I still do secretly watch our retarded videos on repeat mode and as much as I would want to share it with the world, I presume you guys would just prefer it to be for my eyes only. Till our next trip together! 🙂