On a spontaneous adventure, my friends that I went to Telrig with decided to go to Sand Mountain and Harhorin. This is the farthest out from UB that I have traveled, it’s about 5/6 hours away from the city. We stayed in the gers, which I would like to say was authentic, but we slept at a tourist trap so hot showers (albeit you could only stand under the water for 5 minutes), toilets, and electricity were all available. It was still pretty neat to stay in a ger for two nights, and when we visited a locally family for some horse milk, I did get to witness the daily grind of a real countryside Mongolian family living in their ger – with no electricity, no showers, no toilets, and nothing for miles around except their family and their livestock.
Driving away from civilization, it really looked like we were driving to the middle of nowhere. It was gorgeous landscape, flat grassland with small mountains in the distance – mostly rock but some covered in scraggly grass. The towns we passed through to get to Sand Mountain had one road that crossed within five minutes. I was glad that I wasn’t the one navigating when we came to a fork in the road, but luckily, Ghana has a GPS on his phone. The only connection between UB and the countryside is a thin phone wire that they string out only to a certain point in the countryside. I am mostly surprised that the telephone poles are still vertical (but most do have some extra support from another pole to form triangle).
There is only one paved road, but it isn’t completely done so for about half of the trip, we were off-roading it in a small sedan. I wouldn’t recommend off-roading in Mongolia’s countryside with a sedan, but Ghana’s skillful driving maneuvered us out of some very tricky spots and on towards our adventure. We arrived under the cloak of night, so haggling for a price wasn’t very successful. However, it was a clear night with little to no clouds in sight. The ger camp we stayed at shut off it’s electricity after a certain hour, like an unstated curfew. As I made my way to the toilets, stumbling through the unknown scenery, I happened to look up and my breathe was taken away. I have never seen so many stars in my life. They were so bright! Are they always this bright? No matter where I stood, if I looked up, the night sky was lit with more stars than all the seeds in the world.
The first day, we explored Sand Mountain. I felt like I was in the Gobi Desert amongst all the sand dunes, but in reality, Sand Mountain is a straight line of sand dunes that stretches for several kilometers and then dissipates. I have no idea how all the sand arrived to this location. My theory is that it used to be a river bed and now all that is left is sand (but this is unlikely since the sand is above the level of the ground around it). Perhaps these used to be massive boulders that have been weathered down to only sand?
Once you crest the first sand hill, you become lost in world of only sand dunes. I rode a sad-looking camel who was in much need of some water, but I suppose I can still scratch that off the bucket list. The novelty of the sand dunes wore off under the sweltering hot sun and we all retreated back to the cool shade of our ger tent.
After lunch, we went off-roading through the grassland, to a mountain in the distance. There were temples and a cute souvenir shop that was petite-size, like most things in Mongolia. We climbed to the top of the rock mountain, but the rain chased us down off it’s slopes and back to the ger tent for the night.
The second night, there was a group of Koreans that came to the camp. They had come to Mongolia as volunteers, but now they were on the last leg of their journey. They made a bonfire, and we had a song war with them – they won. I never knew how much Koreans love to sing, but I should have guessed from my Karoke nights, Korean songs are quite popular in Mongolia.
We drove out to Hahorin on Saturday and reached there in time for some lunch. After a quick bite to eat, we walked around the ruins of the former capital of Mongolia. It’s basically all gone, but they have rebuilt some of the temples. Even though I don’t know much about the place or the history of Mongolia, I enjoy visiting historical sites (although no one needs to spend more than a couple hours at the place). After walking around, we drove onto Orgun(spelling?) Lake. It was very shallow, but some friends we made at Hahorin still attempted to swim while Angela and I picked up seashells and feathers along the shore.
We made a makeshift dinner with our traveling friends before driving back to UB. It was already nightfall by the time we reached the city, but Ghana and Angela stopped at a place to get some shish kebabs. When I heard this, I was expecting food on a stick, but we pulled up to a fast-food style building. It is probably the closest thing they have a McDonald’s in Mongolia (Apparently McDonald’s and other similar fast-food chains won’t enter a market size if it is under five million people). Shish kebabs turned out to be pita wrap or tortilla wrap with meat that looked like the gyros I used to eat in America.
It was great trip – minus some camel puke and mice eating our food at night. A++