Archive for the ‘Mongolia’ tag
The best of my summer with Hutch mountain biking in the vicinity of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Just back from Mongolia late last night but I still have tons of photos and video footage to share. Starting with some of the tourist spots I visited during my time in Mongolia (in the breaks between working and biking!).
- Sukhbaatar square, the main square in Ulaanbaatar.
- Giant Buddah and Zeisan war memorial.
- Terelj national park where I stayed in a Ger for the night (amazing waking up to all those oranges and blues)
- Bogd Khan winter palace (run down apart from one section that has been renovated)
- Giant stainless steal Genghis Khan statue. Really really big, and only built in 2006 – the plans are to surround it with smaller statues of his army.
I turned up in Mongolia with 1 suit and 5 shirts – the minimum (hey my weight allowance was mostly used up by biking gear). But due to low prices and the presence of the expert guidance of Will (who has had an entire wardrobe tailored here) I decided to get some new clothes made.
NB: My friend Michael has a “not for Mum” button for when he wants everyone other than his Mum to be notified about a new article (well there have to be some perks to programming your own custom web publishing software). Due to high meat content, if there is one time I’d want a “not for Michael” button this would be it…
After the translated Chinese menu post, some people have expressed concern that I am able to eat properly and am not living on a diet of exploded cows and Overlord’s elbows… (ahh bless – thanks for caring – I now know who the motherly types are!) So here’s my assurance that Mongolian food is actually relatively free of weirdness and is quite edible.
Having said that – it is also rather free of fruit and vegetables – its a traditionally nomadic society after all, living off the meat and dairy products from the family herd. For that matter it’s also fairly free of carbohydrates. Oh and flavor – not that much of that either. Yes folks, it’s like an enforced Atkins diet and if I didn’t try not to, it would be quite easy to end up eating beef 3 times a day.
Some photos to prove I’m actually eating rather well (albeit not particularly healthily):
I’m actually back in the UK right now for a short break before heading back to Mongolia for my second stint. In a backlash against the Mongolian diet, I’m eating tons of vegetables and fruit and am vowing to seriously cut down on meat when I go back there. For more on why this is a good idea, check out Michael’s article on how not to get cancer.
Security is tight here…
There aren’t that many North Korean restaurants outside North Korea. But Mongolia, having (relatively) good relations with North Korea does have one – in central Ulaanbaatar, just off Sukhbaatar Square, though finding the entrance wasn’t totally straightforward…
The restaurant was an experience not to be missed – we of course asked to be served specifically the most ‘north’ Korean dishes and the dining experience was completed with an overhead TV playing communist propaganda style music videos.
Rather than riding south as usual, Hutch and I thought we’d head up through the Ger districts and up onto the hills overlooking the north of Ulaanbaatar.
This ride brought some sights I’d not yet seen in Mongolia including:
- A large white date marked on a hillside built out of either chalk or light stone. Thing was it was the correct date – presumably updated daily by the inmates of the prison in the valley below.
- Stunning panoramic views of Ulaanbaatar (see photos)
- Rubbish! Tons of it – on the hills just outside the Ger districts – sometimes we were riding over whole hillsides of broken glass and other rubbish. The hills just beyond that though – beautiful.
At one point we attracted the attention of a group of young boys who decided to ‘help’ me up a hill by holding onto my seat post and running alongside. Eventually I had to give up as I could barely manage the hill even without the unpredictable tugging on the bike in all directions. After exchanging lots of grins and waves I managed to break clear of them when the gradient eased. We ended the ride with a fast descent back through the Ger districts – great fun.
Though far from comprehensive here are some of the Mongolian customs I’ve observed during my first four weeks here:
- Ovoos – these are a type of cairn made from stones or wood. Used for religious ceremonies and also to mark high points and landmarks, it is customary to walk around them 3 times and leave a small gift or even a stone. I’ve come across several of these whilst bike riding outside the city.
- No Bags on the floor – I was quite surprised when I was warned strongly against leaving my shopping bag on the floor (I’d attempted to place it under a chair as it seemed unsightly in a nice restaurant). It’s bad luck to put your bag on the floor apparently.
- When eating Khuushuur you should hold it by the finger tips… held this way the warmth from the food is good for the body.
- Every Tuesday is unlucky day! Narantuul market is closed and people avoid major purchases on Tuesdays.
- If you inadvertently touch the foot or knee of someone it is polite to immediately give a quick hand shake. You can imagine my surprise when someone ‘randomly’ tried to shake my hand at a party before I’d learned this.
- Shaghai is a series of games played with the ankle bones of sheep or goats. Traditionally, Mongolian’s collect a whole load of these and sometimes paint them. When thrown, the bones can land in 4 distinct orientations known as a horse, camel, sheep and goat (the horse being the best score). I’ve tried 3 of these games so far including using 4 bones as a form of dice as well as more skillfull games involving flicking them and throwing/catching them. And of course to be ‘lucky’ you should really only play with bones of animals you have eaten yourself.
All this luck/superstition is mildly amusing/fun for a while but I can imagine it could grow wearisome in the long run…
Narantuul is a huge market near the center of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Helpfully, similar items are grouped together – for instance a long row of jeans stalls, an area for shoes, an area for furniture and so on. In the couple of hours I’ve spent there so far I think I’ve seen only a fraction of it. However I did achieve my goal of purchasing a longer seat post for Hutch’s second bike that I’m borrowing – it came complete with saddle for the equivalent of £2.50. Yes – this place is super cheap!
I’d been warned of the dangers of Narantuul such as pick pockets and scam artists with highly honed techniques but had no problems – this time! An example is approaching a couple – one guy starts touching the female and when her partner raises his hands to intervene the other guy speedily unzips and empties his pockets. I hope to visit again – with nothing remotely valuable on me of course…
For now – in the pictures below, check out:
- the decent sized bike area
- unpainted wooden horse saddles
- weapons including muskets and swords
- traditional Mongolian furniture
- riding boots
- some delights of the underground meat section
I’ve had my first taste of biking in Mongolia – Hutch and I took a ride out of Ulaanbaatar up to the hills that are still partly covered in snow. It’s just a 10 minute ride out of the city and what a contrast – in a few minutes you go from heavily congested roads, to open roads and then mountain trails.
Our ride took us up a valley, past lots of Gers (traditional and still much used Mongolian homes) and along some snow lined ridges and single track. I was struggling somewhat with a cold and with the altitude (Ulaanbaatar is at 1,350m and we rode up from there) but it was great to get out of the city – hoping to get more riding in soon.