We went to sleep in Russia and woke up in Mongolia… Ha! Not quite! As we have reached the Russian-Mongolian border at around 8pm, first the Russian border police intimidated us with thorough check of our train compartment and documents. With quite some relief we watched the train starting to move after about 2 hours. Just when I thought of washing my teeth and face, it was the Mongolian border police’s turn to make us feel like criminals. They have checked our compartment and then we had to open every single luggage for thorough check. Most interested they seemed to be about medications. We almost lost half of our malaria pill stash, but finally the lady approved. They collected our passports and left us sitting in the compartment where we just stared at each other not quite sure what just happened.This time we shared our coupe with 2 German girls also travelling to Ulaanbaatar. We sat there quite a while so someone suggested we should play cards. A game of ‘Durak’ it was, which the girls thought us earlier in the day. Durak meaning something along dumb or stupid, so you can guess who was the best at it. Another huge relief came when our passports arrived and been handed back to us, stamped. So that was close to 5 hours on and in between borders. Was fun! Finally I could head out wash my teeth and put my head down for 5 hours.
In the morning we all looked a bit tired and although the beds on Trans-Mongolian have some to desire, I wished I could stay for another couple of hours. I just realised that I called the train Trans-Siberian all the time, but it is essentially it all the way to Ulan-Ude, from where the tracks split 3 ways to Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian and later to Trans-Manchurian.
The sun was just coming up when we arrived at Ulaanbaatar. The German girls, Hanna and Marta, had a Hostel booked so we have agreed to split the Taxi cost and check out whether they had free beds. Luckily the ‘Sun Path Hostel’ had a private room for us and Doljmaa, the owner, has a special skill. She can measure up people with a glance and she knows exactly what the person needs. She’s super good at organising and helpful beyond words. If you’re in Ulaanbaatar or touring Mongolia, you want Doljmaa and the ‘Sun Path’ hostel on your side. Personally I’ve met a ton of great people here, I wish I could take them all home...
Quick shower and we were out on the streets of Mongolian capital. Everybody kept saying that there is not much to do here, but I think we have spent great 4 day. Yes, maybe it is a little like any other city with a bussiness district loads of people and traffic jams... air pollution is really bad. People however, are really nice and some aspects of city quite extraordinary. The Gandan Khiid Monastery, National History Museum, Genghis Khan square, Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, Choijin Lama Museum and The Genghis Khan Statute Complex, which looked absolutely great in the late afternoon. Since I've seen Joanna Lamley’s documentary about Trans-Siberian Railway, I wanted to stare him in the eye… She sold it to us and we didn’t regret to sit in a van for 2 hours to see the giant statute.
UB, as everyone calls Ulaanbaatar here, is really a hub of backpackers settling down here to plan their tours before they hit the remote parts of this beautiful wild land. So did we. After a day or so, we have decided to ditch the pre-programmed tour and hire a driver, who will take us across Mongolia to the most furthest part near the Altai Mountains to a little village of Sagsai. The journey itself is planned to take 14 days and we will see tons of landscapes I've never dreamed of, meet local Mongolian and Kazakh families and experience the life far out of civilisation and set back in time. Past the first 3 days there is no more guest-houses or hostels, so we will rely on our driver to arrange our meals and overnight stays in gers with nomad families. How cool is that?! Apparently (and so far true from the experience we can speak) Mongolian nomads are very welcoming. When visiting a family ger, there is no need to knock on the door, just shout ‘Nokhoi Khor’ which translates to ‘hold the dogs’. So I’m being told.
We will be off the map for the next 14 days. Wish us good luck! If we survive ;) we should be entering China in the Altay region from a village called Bulgan. From there we will head for Urumqi, which is the capital of Urghuy region in Xinjiang province. Apparently this region is where Hungarians originate from. An estimated 80% of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs live in the southwestern portion of the region, the Tarim Basin. (That last sentence I’ve copied from Wikipedia.) Not sure what I’m hoping to accomplish by visiting… maybe finding my family tree???