The Mongolian steppe came to sight as our plane approaches Ulaan Baatar, I couldn’t contain my excitement anymore. A dream comes true and I am in Mongolia is a reality !
A landlocked country, known as the “Land of Eternal Blue Sky” and sandwiched between 2 giant neighbours, China and Russia, Mongolia is sparsely populated with only 3 million people yet with a livestock population of 50 million. Yes you read it right, fifty million.
The Mongol Empire was founded by the great Genghis Khan in early 13th century. It was further glorified by his grandson, Kublai Khan and established the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongols ruled China for 97 years and battled for land that stretches as far as Eastern Europe and Vietnam.
We were met by our guide upon arrival and swiftly transferred to the hotel. As our vehicle approached the hotel vicinity, we all cracked into laughter as <Singapore Food> came into sight. We didn’t travel this far to come to Mongolia for Singaporean food. Nevertheless, it was the nearest eating place to the hotel and we wanted a quick lunch so that we have enough time to get ready for our programme this afternoon. The restaurant does not serve Singaporean food actually, it’s Asian food.
An hour long traditional and cultural folkore Mongolian show awaited us in the late afternoon. We were treated to amazing throat singing performance - a unique and enchanting form of musical expression. A mixture of husky chanting and low growling overtone singing practiced by people in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Tuva and Siberia. There are also other performers playing other traditional musical instruments and contortion performance.Unfortunately, photo taking is not allowed during the show hence we can only show you some amateur skills from our lovely cyclists.
Before the day ended, we had dinner with our Cycling Lead who share with us what to expect for the next few days out in the vast Mongolian Steppe. He did manage our expectation in the humblest way, I must say.
Rise and shine ! We are all ready and raring to go. Meet our Mongolian team who are going to take care of us for 4 days out in the grassland. 30 minutes into the drive, we left modern Ulaan Baatar behind and in place was vast grassland as far as your eyes can see.
Our cycling begun on flat hard gravel trails. Wind caressing on our faces as we rode across the plains, sunshine beaming through the clouds yet we do not feel hot at all. It’s right in the middle of summer but temperature in the day remains a good average of 22 – 27 degree Celsius. We don’t really feel the warmest time of the day as we are usually cycling during that period and the wind is often cooling.
Morning tea is always ready around 10 AM each day. The table will be set and hot water ready whenever we arrive. As the cycling get challenging during certain stretch of the day, we often rode fastest when a tiniest glimpse of our vehicle is spotted in the immense plains. Because it means, tea break or lunch break !
Our cook is always very shy when we went near her to check what’s for lunch. We will always be politely shoo-ed away as she busied herself preparing our lunch. So, we continued with picture taking and looking for the best spots for toilet breaks.
No meals were ever repeated, even during dinnertime. No matter how simple, we were often delighted with the 2-course or sometimes 3-course meals.
It’s not all bed of roses cycling in Mongolia. We were considered pedaling in some of the easiest beginner terrains in the steppe. Nonetheless we aren’t any mountain bikers or skillful cyclists, there’s still an element of difficulty for all of us. There humps that we had to overcome on gravel trails, sections of gentle rocky trails, far and few tarmac we rode on and the wind – coming in all direction, stream and river crossings. But we all took it in all our stride and gladly accepted them. We were surprised all of us overcame them within our means and capability.
Despite the mini challenges here and then, we had tremendous amount of fun. We saw, not limited to, galloping horses, herds of sheeps with their shepherd (boys), sunbathing cows and flying hawks. You can cycled carefreely not worrying about oncoming cyclists or vehicles because they are almost non-existent. We could stop whenever we like to take a break.
Every end of day is also a surprise as we checked in to the ger camps. Each ger camp is unique in its own right. Each ger camp is equipped beds, pillows, blankets and a heater. It can be twin, triple, Quad or Quin bedded depending on the size of the ger. However, we only bed 2 persons or single occupancy in each ger hence there is always plenty of space. The only time that we house more than 2 persons are the ger camp in the highlands. A replica of a Khan’s ger where we stayed in the General’s ger instead of the gers of the soldiers. All of us enjoyed the experience and we get to dress as the Khan or General there. We also had our hands to try some archery under the watchful eyes of our drivers turned coach.
The gers are not equipped with ensuite bathroom. Instead we use the bathrooms and toilets in a separate building within walking distance from our gers. There is hot water for showers so comfort is not largely compromised. Even while we are in the highlands where water is scarce, our Mongolian team set up portable hot water showers for our use.
As we returned to Ulaan Baatar for our final night, I realized the hotel is well located in the city centre. We are just 450 M (6 minutes stroll) from a local supermarket and you can stock up some Mongolian food souvenir; 700 M (9 minutes stroll) away from Shangri La Centre – a modern retail mall that feels like home and 800 M (11 minutes stroll) away from the Sukhbaar Square.
Enroute, we made a stop at the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, part of the Genghis Khan Statue Complex. It is a 40 metres tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, on the bank of the Tuul River located on the east of Ulaan Baatar. The statue is facing east towards his birthplace.
Our 6-day trip swiftly came to at end and time has really flown by. Everyone returned home with fond memories and new friendships made. Some even planned to return to this wonderful land of the Genghis Khan.