So after 3 days around Irkutsk, we finally took the Moscow-UB express to get to Ulan Baataar. All trains in Russia run on Moscow time, no matter how far from Moscow you are. Which makes sense, I guess. But when you have to cross a border , then it gets interesting, because the stations in Russia are listed in Moscow time, but the stations in UB are listed in Local Time , which is NOT the same as Irkutsk time. So at some point on the 30 hour journey you have absolutely NO idea what the time is. Pretty liberating, huh!
Anyway back to trains, the Russian train 006 was really clean and cosy, with nice bedding . Sheets are given out when you get in.
We shared our coupe with two very fun Norwegian gals. We only had tourists in our wagon. The crossing takes 6 hours in the best case scenario. It’s a BAD idea to drink beer to kill the boredom. The toilets on the train are shut and you are NOT allowed out onto the platform. A simple border crossing becomes a test of human bladder endurance. 🙂
But we made it, and early morning we were in UB. We had booked our ger in advance and so we went off with our driver Bahubu. Bahubu was full of stories about Mongolia, and Russian colonisation of Mongolia. of how lake Baikal really belonged to Mongolia. It did make us a little sad. Once upon a time , the Chinese had to build a 3000 km long wall to save themselves from the Mongolians, and today such a beautiful country has hardly any industry, or resources.
Bahubu, also took us to our first taste of ‘airag’, fermented mare’s milk that the Mongolian drink all day long. It was OK, not as bad as I had heard but, well, I wouldn’t drink it again, unless someone put a gun to my head. Also be warned the milk does funny things to your intestines and mine were grumbling for a long time after.
Our Ger camp was within the Gun Galhut nature reserve, and very beautiful, literally seemed to be the middle of nowhere. The Mongolian steppes beat every expectation we had, and I was really sorry that we didn’t stay longer. The wide open spaces, the absolutely fresh air, the nothing-ness all round … I have no words.
We walked about, explored, picnicked, it was fantastic. The temperature was 15 C ., which in my world is ‘freezing’. At night the temperatures dropped further , the ger did NOT warm at all. We had fire built in the stove inside which lasted all of one hour, and the rest of the night we basically slept completely bundled in sweaters and scarves. In the night we stepped out of out ger… and from horizon to horizon the night sky twinkled with so many beautiful stars. I have never seen such a sight in my life, except in a planetarium.
We left the next morning , but I left my heart behind somewhere in the wide open spaces of the Mongolian Steppes.