Wide, open spaces. Fresh air. Wild animals. Nature.
After weeks in crowded China (which was a very enjoyable trip), I was glad for the open space of Mongolia.
I spent a day getting oriented in the main capital, Ulaanbaator (or Ulan Bator, or simply UB) and visited Chinggis (Genghis) Khan Square. The square is also known as Sükhbaatar Square after the revolutionary leader, Damdin Sükhbaatar, who declared Mongolia’s independence from China. The bronze statue of Sükhbaatar on his horse surrounded by a backdrop of buildings and mountains in the distance is probably the most familiar image of UB. At the north end of the square is an enormous seated bronze statue of Chinggis Khan in front of the Parliament House.
I also visited the National Museum which covered a very informative and interesting history of Mongolia.
Coming to this country without a plan I debated what to do first. I figured it’s a horse country so I should find a nice area where I can ride a horse. And stay in a ger (yurt). Camping in a ger and horse-riding. Yes, that would be a perfect Mongolian holiday.
I checked out Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, an easy one and a half hour bus ride from UB. But it was so touristy and crowded that I turned around, looked at my map, and saw Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area just 10 km to the northeast and thought I would have a better luck finding some space there.
Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area is designated a wildlife preservation area where herding and tourism is strictly controlled by the government. I boarded an old Russian jeep and off we went on a very bumpy ride to Khan Khentii, passing herds of horses and sheep, sometimes waiting for them to get off the road so we can continue along.
I also passed by this humongous (40 meter high) silver statue of Chinggis Khan. The glistening statue seemed out of place in the middle of the steppe, but apparently it was built on this site because it was the spot where Chinggis Khan found a golden whip. The statue has an elevator inside and steps leading to the horse’s head. Perhaps before I leave Mongolia I will make a proper visit to this site. The driver saw me trying to take a picture and slowed down for me.
At Khan Khentii I stayed in Jalman Meadows camp. It’s above my daily budget but I’ve been backpacking for almost two months now and I thought I deserved a treat. This camp is in a beautiful location on a steppe valley with the Tuul River flowing below and surrounded by hills. I explored the area on a horse, crossed rivers, vast steppes and forests, rode a bike along the river, hiked up the hills, and just enjoyed the open space that makes one want to burst out singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”
And best of all, I met some very good people in this camp. My time here was a great introduction to Mongolia.
Jalman Meadows Campsite: