Mongolia turned out to be a good preparation for China: almost no one here knows English and Russian. Maybe some advanced youth and some older people. Phrase books are almost powerless: the Mongolian Cyrillic prononciation is completely different from the Russian Cyrillic one, and the crooked-boiling sound “l” in the word “Bayarlaa” (“thank you”) only began to turn out sometimes in a week. In general, we were not understood.
Belarusians can stay in Mongolia without a visa for up to 90 days.
We drove along the route Ulan-Ude – Ulaanbaatar, entering the border crossing Kyakhta. It wasn’t alllowed to go through the border on foot, so we asked to get into one of the cars. Local people earn money to transport people, and we decided that hitch-hiking is great, but the wind is cold and it is easier to pay. We gave our last Russian rubles to the driver.
On the Russian side, our passports had been checking for a long time – too many stamps have accumulated over the past 4 months: “And the purpose of all these trips is tourism?”
We filled migratory maps on the Mongolian side. There were questions with a dirty trick: you need to specify the address and phone number of those to whom you are going. We recommend you to find in advance the data of your supposed hotel on the Internet. Since until the last moment we did not know the coordinates of our workaway-host, we wrote “Ulaanbaatar” and our Belarusian phone numbers. A couple of minutes – and we finally passed.
Mongolia is a contrasting country. Here traditions are intertwined with modern trends. In the yurt we were listening to lectures about Herbalife, and along Ulanbaatar streets there were walking both people dressed in European style and people who looked as if they are going to an exhibition of national costumes.
In general, the Mongols are friendly and sympathetic. The hitchhiking is quite good. Some features: due to the huge size of the country, you can drive up to several hundred kilometers, but if you are going without money (“mungo baihkju”), the driver should be warned – many people are working as taxi drivers. All that you want to say to a stopped driver you should better translate and write on some paper in advance. When Masha first started reading out the text from the sheet of paper, the driver frowned and took the piece of paper. Since then, we immediately were putting this note in the hands of drivers.
One of those who drove us on their way to Ulanbaatar invited us to visit his brother-shepherd, so we first went to the ger (Mongolian yurt). Women stoked the oven with dung, cooked buzzy and Mongolian tea, they were threatening us as well.
Men were settin up satellite TV (electricity was taken from two car batteries, charged by diesel generator and solar panels). We were treated to vodka: Vova succumbed. It looked like this: the wife puts on the table a bottle and one glass. The head of the family poured the man to his right. He waited until he had a drink (all the glass or just s a little), without a toast, practically in silence. The head poured it again. Next the next man drank. Now the owner drank and poured it again to the person sitting on the right.
And the other driver almost did not speak English and Russian. We were talking through Google-translator and with the help of the option “call a friend” (Russian-speaking). But he fed us, took us home to sleep, bought tickets for the night train and put us on it.
And then he was calling us some times, but, unfortunately, it was very difficult and incomprehensible to communicate by phone.
In Mongolia Buddhism is blooming in a magnificent color: everywhere there are many datsans (Buddhist temples), and arts are adorned by the attributes of Buddhism. Fortunately, religion, according to our observations, does not affect the behavior of the locals.
Buddhism as a brand:
Mongolian cuisine. The collapse of vegetarianism
In the Chinese town of Huairen, there is living a girl who has remained a vegetarian in her world tour…
For budgetary national cuisine, we were eating in local institutions – canteens and a cafe, hidden, for example, in the clothing market. There were no English- / Russian-speaking signage, menus and personnel.
Sometimes our attempts to translate the menu looked like this:
All portions are huge. All meals contain meat. If suddenly there was something vegetarian in the menu, they have no such thing in stock.
The main surprise was Mongolian tea. It is written “цай“, it is pronounced … something like “tse”.
Occasionally in some cafe you can find ordinary black tea in bags, but usually it is cooked with milk, butter and salt. Sometimes there are pieces of lamb swimming there. Or at the bottom of the cup you find some millet porridge. We have a suspicion that tea is boiled in uneaten cauldrons after cooking – so they don’t need to wash it twice. At home Mongolians pour the tea in an bowl as soon as it is empty. We almost got used to this drink. If you have no money, you can eat some hot Mongolian tea. But it is nasty when it is cooled. Soups are often based on this tea. As a second dish … Wait, what is the “second”? Even one portion of food is enough for two person! Even the Mongols themselves often leave food on plates. In general, instead of soup, you can order rice / noodles with meat and vegetables. Meat is separated into small pieces, as in lagman, or in the form of steak / cutlets. You can get an additional omelet and salad “Stolichny” (one-to-one our New Year’s Olivier, but without peas).
Buzzy (dumplings) and piroshki (sort of chebureks with meat + vegetables + rice) are popular as well. One pie costs 600-900 tugriks (0.4-0.6$).
Total: a budget dinner for 2 person costs 5000-6000 tugriks (2-2.5$).
The first 5 days (thanks to Workaway!) we were living in a ger in Ulanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
Here the gers stand next to the wooden and high-rise buildings, and there is nothing unusual or shameful about living in ger. And this is the house of our dreams:
Have you imagined the Mongolian Carlson?
So, 2/3 of the inhabitants of Mongolia live in gers. One time our Workaway-family had been renting a room in the apartment for six months. Did they did not like it.
It happens that one family has both house and a her. It is preferable to winter in her, because it is warmer.
This is our ger before the door is insulated:
Masha and Simba are making a blanket for the upholstery of the door:
The ger after:
Ger is a really warm dwelling, upholstered in felt and covered with tarpaulin. In the middle there is a stove, which is heated with coal (2000-3000 tugriks (1$) per bag), poles or dung.
Firewood and coal sale on the street:
The pipe goes into a circular hole in the ceiling, it can be covered or opened from the outside.
They say that in the old days people from one glance at the sky in this window could determine what the weather will be like today and tomorrow. And we recently raise our eyes – and there is snowing directly into house from this hole.
The Mongolian studio apartment is thought out to the smallest detail: to the right of the entrance there is a kitchen cabinet, table and other accessories. On the left there is a washstand.
Opposite the entrance there is the table for meals to the far end of the ger.
Beds are distributed along the wall or, as it was in our her, mattresses are laid out on the floor every night.
“Where are you taking shower here in the village?” – In the river. – “And in the winter?” – And the winter is short!” (Belarusian anecdote)
The shower problem is solved like this: you can heat the water in large basins and wash in the middle of the her, or you can go to any closest paid shower.
Prices: Shower (30 minutes) – 2500 tugriks (1$) Together in one shower (45 minutes) – 5000 tugriks (2$). Sauna with one shower and therma, the number of participants is unlimited (1 hour) – 6000 tugriks (2.4$).
You can live in hostels, but Mongolia has taught us to look for the cheapest accommodation – hotels that are not marked on maps.me and booking.com. You need to step aside from the center and find a shabby building with the sign “Hotel”. Or without a sign at all – some hotels can be found with the help of local’s advice. Example: in the border city of Altanbulag, blown by the dank Mongolian winds, we arrived at night, there were almost no cars for hitchhiking. People who took us across the border suggested us to spend the night in the hotel (doss house) “Saara”. It was without a sign (we barely could find it!). And without any shower, with one toilet for two floors. One room cost 16000 tugriks (6.4$).
In Ulanbaatar, after checking out from the ger, we booked a room at the “Garage” hostel through booking.com, but when we got there we were denied: previous guests wanted to stay for another night, and the feeble administrator could not refuse them.
We used the hostel’s wifi to write them bad reviews, and without the help of the services we found a local hotel with a room for 25000 tugriks (10$).
And it was in Mongolia that for the first time we practically asked for a night’s lodging for local people. In the city of Zamyn-Uud, late at night, we knocked on the frontier ger. Conversation on the body language: “Can we set up our tent next to you?” – “It’s cold outside, let’s go to the ger”. – “We’re going to sleep in the street, everything’s fine!” – “Let’s go, let’s go!” – “Well, thank you very much!”
There were three people: two in bed, one on the floor. The one on the floor moved closer to the LCD TV, and we bedded our sleeping mats next to him. We exchanged a few phrases, they offered us a tea, they giggled over our “Bayarlaa” (replying “thank you” in Russian with funny accent) – we felt funny and cozy.
In the morning we were awakened and sent to warm China. By the way, about the weather.
Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital of the world. There are few trees in the steppe of Mongolia, an icy wind blows, and nowhere to hide from it.
This is one of the central parks of Ulanbaatar:
At the end of September, during the day, there was a plus temperature, at night it was minus. So in Mongolia it’s great and colorful, but we are glad that we are leaving to warm ourselves up.
P.S. More photos – in the album of our group Vkontakte.