28th September - 6th October 2003
We stayed in the UB Guesthouse in Ulaan Baatar, cheap, convenient, good company and English videos to watch in the evenings. A total change after five months pedalling across Ukraine and Russia where we met almost no westerners and the only telly was in Russian! Our first day was spent finding our way around the city and doing a bit of shopping. We were able to buy a new compass to replace the $3 one we'd bought in Irkutsk that had already broken, and buy hand painted watercolour cards to send home.
Next day we visited the Chinese embassy and applied for 90 day tourist visas. People had told us all sorts of things about how these were issued at random and how few people got them, so at 5pm that day we were over the moon to find that we had them. No tedious visa extensions for us!
The last day of September dawned grey with flurries of snow. But we didn't have to get on our bikes just yet, instead we were off to a nearby national park for a couple of days relaxation - and we were going by taxi! We went to Terelji, a beautiful area of steppe and craggy rocks about 70km N.E. of Ulaan Baatar. Here we stayed in the guest ger of a family that owns a herd of horses and lives by taking tourists for horse rides around the park.
Even the snow couldn't stop Ju petting the horses:
The family fed us what I think must be "westernized Mongolian food", everything based on milk and mutton, but with vegetables and rice as well. Ju had a go at millking a cow (difficult!) and we learnt some Mongolian from them (they spoke only a little English, which was good because it forced us to use Mongolian). Each day we went for a couple of hours horse riding and spent the remainder of the day wandering over the hills, relaxing in the ger by the stove and being fed.
The man of the household, Ottgo, and I got on really well. On the last day he dressed me up in a herder's cloak and hat for a laugh and a photo, and took us to a neighbouring ger for airag (alcoholic drink made by fermenting mares' milk).
Back in Ulaan Baatar we visited the tourist sites. The most impressive was the Gandan Tegchilin monastery, the main building (shown below) contained an immense gilded Buddha that reached all the way to the ceiling.
We also went to the "Black Market" where we bought water containers for crossing the Gobi. We found a thirteen litre plastic jerrycan that was just the right size to fit between the rear panniers. The only problem was that it had been used for orange juice concentrate so all the water we put in it came out tasting of oranges!
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