Picked up at 9am for the 2 hour drive to the NP which is 65km away - 2 hours surely not! I'm going to find it hard to describe what happened next! Basically after about 45mins we turned off the very poor main road bitumen surface and drove on...well the grasslands and dirt tracks. There was a rough 'road/track' to follow but bascially you drive where you want and make up the rules as you go along! Got invovled in numerous games of chicken and who can get to the narrow gap first! But like Beijing it all just kind of works and everyone gets on with it!
Also first day of the National Festival (Nadam): wrestling, horse riding and archery so probably a good day to be out of UB.
The NP is spectacular! Scenerary is breathtaking - on a par with the train trip coming out of Beijing. Camels, Golden Eagles, Yaks and little ground squirrels running about. Stayed in a Ger which was bloody cold until we lit the fire then it was like a sauna!
Food was traditional Mongolian and got to say lunch was good and dinner was outstanding. Met some interesting fellow travellers including Terry from Doncaster who is as rugby obsessed as me so we bored our respective wives to peices - good fun!
Big feat of the day was a 90min trek up a local peak - no marked footpath so that made it all the more fun. Rewarded with spectacular views from the top. Didn't see any brown bears which live in the park but did have to walk past a cave with lots of animal bones in the entrance! Other than that lots of ground squirrels and oh, a snake! All in all a top day!
Left Beijing knowing that I want to see more of China - behind the newness is the old China, the part that I wanted to experience, and I was not disappointed. Adding to this was the surprising warmth of the Beijing people.
Ulaan Baatar has a different feel...the people appear not overly interested in tourists and there are very few smiles. The city seems run down with pavements broken, gaping holes, landscaping non existent and what was most obvious is the people are much more Westernised.
There are few historical buildings and most businesses look very simple and basic and all with bars on the windows. Mongolia had a very harsh winter a few years ago and many farmers lost their livestock and have moved to the city which has led to a problem with unemployment and a breakdown of social cohesion. We were very conscious of pick pockets, hearing stories from other tourists we met who had the misfortune of being victims.
The hotel is excellent and the buffet breakfast the best quality so far. We eat up big at breakfast and then dont need to eat until later in the day. The hotel was full of medical people from Australia on an "Unconventional Convention" travelling through China / Mongolia and so we had some interesting medical 'lectures' at breakfast.
The Terelj National Park and our night in a ger, turned out to be the highlight of our Mongolian stay. Majestic mountains, large areas covered in fresh green grass with ger settlements sprinkled throughout was an unbelievably beautiful setting to be in.
The steep climb we did to the top of a mountain was worth it for the spectacular panoramic scenes, a bear cave ( we think) with the skeleton remains of an animal that had been consumed, and the passing of a snake 30 cms from us. We shared our traditional Mongolian evening meal with a bunch of Aussies (all middle aged, successful, well travelled business people) in the main ger that night and had a ball. Several men were originally from the UK having married Australian women, and Huw made a new rugby friend from Sydney. The night was cold and after lighting our wood fired heater in the middle of our ger we thought we were in a sauna it was that hot. We laid on our beds and listened to the rain hitting the ger roof ...all very cosy.
Our hard beds had a thin donna and one blanket - not enough to keep off the cold and we lit the fire several more times during the night to try to keep warm. The sun coming over the mountains in the morning was stunning and summed up the abolish beauty of this place.