A couple weekends ago, I took a day trip to Terelj to visit the turtle rock, ride a yak, ride a horse through the countryside, and visit a monastery. The day was beautiful. The sky was a the perfect shade of blue and the clouds looked like cotton balls. It was hot but there was a regular breeze to cool down your brow. Terelj is a national park and everyone has to pay a fee to get in. If you’re mongolian, the price is 300 Tugriks. If you’re a foreigner, the price is 3,000 Tugriks. I, being Asian descent, kept my mouth shut and passed as a Mongolian. Jeremiah ducked his head low and the park ranger didn’t see him. There is a definite stigma against tourists/foreigners in Mongolia (and I think generally in any country). Mongolians assume all tourists/foreigners are wealthy. A misconception from Hollywood, I’m sure.
Terelj is a big place, but we focused our trip on Turtle Rock. It is basically a boulder formation that looks like a turtle. It is a major tourist attraction and when we arrived, several tour buses were unloading foreigners. We hiked up into the Turtle and even climbed on its back. Mongolian countryside looks a lot like the Midwest states of Utah and Colorado region.
After rock climbing, Jeremiah (my mormon friend from Utah, U.S.A.) and rode horses to a local church about an hour away by horseback. I must say, my butt was a bit sore the following day, but the ride was worth it. The first half of the journey, my horse refused to go faster than a walking man, but the second half, when we were returning to its home, it cantered the whole way. Mongolian horses are short and small, but, like all horses, are amazingly sturdy creatures. The upcoming holiday – Nadaam – will have three main competitions, one being a horse race. Apparently, horse racing is done by 7 year old children. In previous years, they had children as young as 2/3 year-olds race, but new safety regulations has increased the age requirement.
Along the road, herders were offering rides on camels and yak (for a price – after all, it is a tourist trap). I did ride a yak, but when you’re a tourist, all that entails is sitting on the animal as someone holds the leash.
We also climbed a quarter up a mountain slope, crossed a wooden/rope bridge, and up a long flight of stone steps to reach a monastery secluded in the mountain. It was exactly what you would imagine a monastery/temple to be like, with the bright colors, the shrines to gods, the seclusion in the mountain. All that was missing was the chanting from lamas, but this monastery isn’t used anymore, except as a tourist attraction.
Terelj is beautiful and a great escape from the city. It is only an hour away from UB. I recently met a friend who goes kayaking here. I’ll have to find out where and take another trip, but that is if I survive my skydiving adventure this weekend.