Ulaanbaatar is stunning. Despite being named on WikiTravel as one of the most drab looking cities in the world, a bumpy one-hour bus ride out to the Terelj National Park will quickly change this notion. I arrived into Ulaanbaatar on Wednesday 27 November after the first leg of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Trans-Mongolian line) from Beijing and spent the night in the city before I was treated to the magic of the nomadic Mongolian lifestyle in a traditional Ger Camp.
The scenery in the National Park where the camp is located is simply breathtaking. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and enormous rock formations, the Ger Camp is dwarfed in comparison to the surrounding highlands, but still provides more than comfortable accommodation. No, they’re not tents. Don’t ever call them tents!
Each ger sleeps four people and provides a pretty clear indication of how the nomadic Mongolians live. A wood fire is the centrepiece in each ger and is essential, especially now in winter when the temperatures dropped to as low as -25 degrees and the maximums didn’t come close to a positive number!
The highlight was by far the hiking around the mountains that overlooked the Ger Camp. The National Park is 1,650m above sea level, which made the hikes a little bit more challenging with thinner air, not to mention the steep terrain! The sweeping views into the valleys below were postcard worthy and the tranquility and peacefulness was unbelievable. Being able to hear birds that were hundreds of metres away flap their wings because of the lack of noise was an experience in itself.
The Ger Camp was modern in that it had power and sockets to charge devices, but the break from the World Wide Web and cars was nice. I rode a horse for the first time and loved it, we played a traditional Mongolian ‘board’ game called flick the bone, visited a nomadic Mongolian family and drank fermented mare’s milk – an alcoholic milky specialty of the locals and dined like Kings on an array of salads, soups and meat dishes.
The Five Senses of Ulaanbaatar – Terelj National Park
Terelj National Park looks like a snow-covered desert. The mountains were snow-capped and the ground in the Ger Camp area was spattered with snow, whilst the land was quite brown and dry.
Terelj National Park smells like wood fires. Each ger had a wood fire in the centre of it and the smell of burning wood and coal will stay with me for a long time!
Terelj National Park feels like gloves. You can’t venture outside of your ger without a pair, or two pairs of gloves on!
Terelj National Park tastes like meat. Meat is a Mongolian staple and every salad, soup and main course contained a substantial amount of meat. My tour guide told us a saying they use in Mongolia: Meat for men; grass for animal. Enough said!
Terelj National Park sounds like peace. I’ve already touched on it, but the calmness and peacefulness of the Ger Camp was unreal. A week or two out here will help you become one with nature.
My time in Ulaanbaatar and the Terelj National Park was beautiful. I took in the sights of the city whilst also getting to experience the nomadic Mongolian lifestyle in a traditional Ger Camp. I would recommend those travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway to make a stop here for a few days or even visit Mongolia as a lone destination. Now to jump back on the train and head towards Irkutsk and Lake Baikal in Russia!
Country number 33 – Mongolia… Check!