Our last journey by train – Ulaanbaatar to Beijing! This time we traveled through the beautiful Gobi Desert. We had great timing because it was cold and rainy when we woke up in our ger. And after spending almost a week in nature, we were ready to be back in a big city!
The downside to this part of the trip was border control. I really think we were busy almost 6 hours. First our train was checked by Mongolian border control and then again by the Chinese. That means checking passports and visas, as well as checking our room and luggage to make sure nothing was leaving or entering another border illegally. And to top it all off, the wheels had to be changed before we could enter China (our train car was literally lifted with us inside to take the wheels off and put new ones on). All of this in the middle of the night…
Our last day in Mongolia was my favorite day. I went to Mongolia hoping to experience the nomadic life and was able to in the end. We started the day very early, so we could be on time to see how the cows and yaks are milked before they set off wandering the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Inside the ger we were able to try yak milk tea, yak cream, and yak curd!
We were also so lucky that the weather changed during the night. Still a bit cold, but we had a blue sky and sunshine!
Although the snow and the cold temperatures made us cancel our trip into the mountains of northern Mongolia, we chose instead to explore Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and hike up to the Ariyabal Meditation Temple, where we crossed the “Bridge of Heaven” and climbed 108 stone stairs that lead to the main temple with 108 small stupas and 108 prayer wheels around the temple.
For our third day in Mongolia we decided to visit the Genghis Khan Statue Complex on the bank of the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog, where according to legend, he found a golden whip. The monument was completed in 2006 in time for the 800th anniversary of Genghis Khan’s coronation. The statue is symbolically pointed east towards the birthplace of Genghis Khan. The 36 columns around the visitor center represent the 36 khans from Genghis to Ligdan Khan. Once inside, you can also climb to the top for a panoramic view!
To finish our evening in Ulaanbaatar, we attended a performance of Mongolian National Song and Dance. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we loved it! The seating was first come, first serve and we arrived early enough to get front row seats. My favorite part was the horse dancing!
Our guide suggested we visit the National Museum of Mongolia during our trip to Ulaanbaatar. This museum is responsible for preserving Mongolian cultural heritage as well as defining the guidelines for museums in the rest of the country. The museum has a wide scope of history, beginning in prehistory up into the present. The biggest highlights for me were the section on Mongolian traditional dress and the 1990 Mongolian Revolution.
For our first outing in Mongolia, we headed into Ulaanbaatar to the Gandantegchinlen Monastery – Gandan for short. In 1990 (Mongolian Revolution, marking the start of the end of socialism in Mongolia) the monastery was restored and revitalized, when the restrictions on worship were lifted. We learned that Mongolia has strong ties with Tibet, and that the 13th Dalai Lama even stayed at Gandan in 1904.
How we wound up in a ger in Ulaanbaatar is something I still don’t completely understand, but we tried our best to make the most of it. We decided to book a more authentic Mongolian experience by booking a ger, along with a guide and cook for our stay. The photos on the site showed a farm a few hours outside of Ulaanbaatar where we could experience the nomadic lifestyle, with more than 50 yaks and a few horses which we could ride. The advertisement stated that we could relax on the farm, visit the watering hole, ride horses, help out etc. We were looking forward to our nomadic Mongolian experience!
The train ride from Irkutsk in Siberia, Russia to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia offered the most beautiful scenery. So I will already warn you that this is an image-heavy post filled with photos of the breathtaking landscape of Russia and Mongolia. We were lucky to be traveling when the colors were beginning to change, so we could see the gorgeous foliage.