Wonderer


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Trans Mongolian Journey : On to Mongolia, Gers and more..

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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.


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Trans Mongolian Journey : Irkutsk, and Lake Baikal

SAM_0169So finally we did IT … the long dreamt of trans -mongolian journey!! yay!

We started from Irkutsk, on the Tans Siberian line. How we got here is a long story but it involved flights and transiting over two days. Suffice to say we were exhausted when we got to Irkutsk.

We arrived at the airport which is by far the strangest airport I have seen. We realised that we had to fill up the  immigration forms. The form required us to fill in some information which was printed on our visa. The catch was that the stuff on the visa was in russian and we writing in english.  K suggested just copying the russian characters , but I wasnt convinced. There was no one around to ask. So we did the best we could. Luckily I had taken some time to learn the Cyrillic Alphabets and so with some reading , some guesswork we managed to get the english words to write.

Lesson 1 : If you are going to Russia, learn to read the Cyrillic alphabets ! It’s not that hard and VERY useful!

And so we had Irkutsk. We had to drop our bags of at the Trans Sib Hostel , and pick up our train tickets before heading to Listvyanka. We took a minivan number 20. The driver was really sweet, he studied the address we had in russian and then dropped us off almost next to the trans sib hostel. Except we didn’t know it was close to the hostel. But anyway , after some walking around , more guessing at the street names in russian and using our map, we found the hostel.

The lady who was a friend of the owner’s gave us detailed instructions to get to the place to pick our tickets as well as where to get the minivan to Listvyanka. It was fairly straightforward. The minivans leave just next to the yellow cathedral, and there is a BIG sign board with ‘Листвянка‘ (Listvyanka)  on it.

We were staying the night in Derevanka Resort. This place was SERIOUSLY hard to find and no one seemed to know where it was or even where the road it was on was. We walked up and down the ENTIRE length of Listvyanka before an old lady at the tourist information center could finally help us. Basically if you are going there , get out at the Krestovka bus stop and they mention, and walk BACKWARDS. Its right there … just a few meters BACK from the bus top.

Anyway Listvyanka was pretty awesome.  The next day , we had booked ourselves onto the Circum Baikal Train.  The train runs on a now defunct section of the original Trans Siberian track, and is filled with feats of engineering that the achieved when it was originally constructed in 1904. Seriously , 1904!!! what tools did they have then? Wheel Barrows and shovels?

The train  was packed . It stops at the best spots, most picturesque and scenic. And also for an hour lunch break where you can buy bread and rice and potatoes and OMUL from babushka’s on the side of the tracks. And there is a lot of time to walk along the tracks , taking the lake and fabulous views of it.

The trip takes 12 hours , if you start at Listvyanka, longer if you started from Irkutsk. As long as the lake was visible it was ok but the ride from Sludyanka to Irkutsk, was 3 hours … too long. Everyone was getting fidgety and you could see annoyance beginning to show in their manner , faces and talking.

Nonetheless the trip was awesome and highly recommended.

The next day we spent walking around Irkutsk. It was an utterly charming experience. Run down houses which looked really posh inside. Music that is played on the streets. Old and beautiful historical buildings. Roads named after Lenin and Karl Marx . Gorgeous cathedrals. The list is endless…