This One, Central Mongolia

We left southern Mongolia without seeing the snow leopard, Gobi Yeti, Death Worm or the Albas. Into the final third of the trip, we found that eating mutton everyday can get a little sickly. We’ve had quite a few variants of mutton such as; mutton noodles, mutton rice, mutton soup, mutton dumplings, battered deep fried mutton, sizzling mutton, scotched mutton and mutton mutton. The phrase ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ just doesn’t make sense as there’s no disguising the fact that however mutton is prepared, mutton will always be, mutton.


All muttoned up

As we left the Gobi and headed back into something that resembled civilisation, we called into the Ongiin Khiid monastery. What was once home to over 1000 monks now lies in ruin after almost 200 lamas were wiped out during the 1939 communist purges.


Erdenezuu monastery is situated in the Mongolian ancient capital. Built on the ruins of Kharkhorin in 1586 on the orders of Abtai Sain Khan, a distant relative of Chinggis Khaan. One of the nation’s largest monasteries, it was interesting to see some of the young monks walking around with iPhones.



Throughout this Mongolian trip we have been accompanied by our driver, Lawyer, what a complex character he is. With only basic English under his belt, it’s amazing that we can still somehow manage to communicate. His most used phrase is ‘this one’ which he seems to use at the beginning of every sentence. For example ‘this one good’ or ‘this one no meat’ or ‘even just pointing and saying ‘this one’. You can image how confusing things got when I showed him my Dolce and Gabbana aftershave named ‘The One’. Top guy though.



It would be rude to come to Mongolia, a land where the horse is king, and not partake in any horse riding. At Orkhon river valley the snow was very heavy, but for me, this added to the experience. We rode across some beautiful landscape, waded through freezing cold rivers and stopped off to see a frozen waterfall, amazing. With my new moustache and outrageous robes, it was easy to imagine Chinggis himself taking on this very land by horse back. We nicknamed our horse guide Gazza, because of the uncanny resemblance he had for the fallen soccer star. Maybe this is the reason why he hasn’t been spotted drunk in any of Newcastle’s drinking haunts lately…





The Frozen Fall


The Fog on the Tyne is aaal his

Back in Ulaanbaatar we were tired, had a list of ailments as long as my arm, and probably never smelt as bad in my life (including the morning after the night of my 24th birthday at the Rupali Indian restaurant, curry hell anyone?), but the whole thing was well worth it and I’m happy to say we survived the brutal Mongolian nomadic winter!


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The Land Of The Blue Sky

As the UAZ headed into Southern Mongolia, the landscape became abode of snow from a blizzard a few days previous. Although still incredibly clear, it’s no surprise Mongolia is nicknamed ‘ The Land Of The Blue Sky’. Passing through tiny ‘middle of nowhere’ towns, I witnessed some rural Mongolian life and wasn’t sure which direction we were heading. In a world where smart phones and Facebook rule, this is one of the few places I’d felt completely off the radar.


A short stay in Dalanzadgad town, then enter the Gobi desert, home to the extremely rare snow leopard. I was informed that the snow leopard is almost as rare as a Mackem in Milan, so decided there’s no point in even trying to spot one…

What we may have a better chance of seeing is one of Mongolia’s mythical creatures, the Death Worm or the Gobi Yeti. The worm is said to reach lengths of 4-5 feet, shoot deadly acid and discharges powerful electricity, I cant help but think of that 80’s B-movie Tremors. The Yeti features in a number of legends, one in which it kidnaps a wrestler. More on Mongolian wrestling later…

We settled for a couple of days at the giant Khongor sand dunes to partake in some camel riding. As usual we ended up with the most disobedient beasts from the herd. Mine in particular defiantly had the hump. If I said left, he said right, if I said go, he was more content on dropping his bait. Thankfully they calmed down and there was no more horse play (or camel play) in the afternoon.




Another windy afternoon stop off at the shamanic flaming cliffs, or Bayanzag in Mongolian, was the classic desert surrounding of complete emptiness. I wondered if it was an Aussie who coined the name of this prehistoric archeological site ‘here mate, come and check out these flaming cliffs!’.



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Let the Ger Times Roll

Twelve days of little showering, staying with nomadic families and eating goat every day while travelling in an old soviet UAZ, not your typical winter getaway.



The first leg of the trip, takes us towards the Eastern Mongolian steepe, across baron plains, frozen streams and herds of wild horses. Nothing could drag me away.


Along the way we will be sleeping in traditional Mongolian dwellings known as gers (pronounced yert, if you’re from Rothbury then just say, ‘goat’). Gers are simple, round, tent like structures with a wooden frame and a textile exterior that can be assembled and dissembled quickly for the constant movement that comes with the nomadic lifestyle. Very simple inside, the gers consist of a stove in the middle which is used for cooking and warmth. Dried dung is the fuel of choice in Mongolia. Mix the smell of burned dung with the smell of mutton and there you have it, the smell of ger. The only thing a ger lacks is a naughty corner, but I suppose there’s always the naughty steepe…


Tsaagan Suvraga is an area that can be described as ‘badlands’. This eerie, eroded landscape was at one time beneath the sea and is rich with fossils and clam shells. The huge limestone formations stretched for as far as the eye could see, it was also a little bit windy…




Michael Jackson dance moves practice



Inside the gers can get unbelievably cold at night if the stove is not maintained. This was the case on the second night of the trip when I didn’t sleep, just waited, Chuck Norris would be proud. Now I know why these nomads are always moving around, brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘cold feet’.

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Red Hero

We took an overnight train to Ulan Ude , the capital of the Buryat republic, in order to catch the connecting bus to Ulaanbaatar. With only an hour to spare, it was just enough time to visit the world’s largest Lenin head, even if it was 6.30am and still pitch black. Whoever crafted this Lenin head has decided to give him more Asian features, it was more like coming face to face with the Wizard of Oz. All Lenined out and not needing a brain, a heart or any courage, we strutted down the yellow brick road and onto the bus to Ulaanbaatar.


The bus was more like an ice box on wheels, luckily I was wedged in next to a twenty stone Russian woman for warmth. Stopping at a service station I decided to have my first taste of Mongolian cuisine, the same old problem occurred of not being able to understand the menu. The cheapest thing was 1000 Tugrik ( there are 2202 Tugrik to one pound) so I just went for that. Turned out to be a bowl of lettuce covered in that old foe ‘dill’, not a good start.

Ulaanbaatar (literally red hero) is the world’s coldest capital, this was apparent as soon as we stepped off the bus. UB is also the second most polluted city I have visited (Middlesbrough is obviously the first). The whole city has a putrid burning smell that that is caused by traffic and construction, but mainly garbage being scorched outside the city in the ger camps.

Sukhe Bator square in the centre of the city, is a site of patriotic celebrations and a main meeting point. A giant statue of Ghengis Khan over looks the square where George Bush made a speech on Mongolian freedom in 2005, no one understood a word of it.



A walk through the suburbs took us to Gandan Khiid, a monastery complex home to the spiritual head of Mongolia, the Khamba Lama. I was was shocked to learn that in the 1930’s, almost all of Mongolia’s 700 monasteries were destroyed and over 14000 monks executed by Stalin’s communists for refusing to give up their vows.



How many pigeons?

We paid a visit to the black market, which sells absolutely everything, including kitchen sinks for dirt cheap prices. I tried to buy a pair of pink Calvin Klein kegs, which the lady wanted 3500T for. I went in with an offer of 1000T, the kegs were abruptly snatched out of my hands and returned to the stall. I take it they don’t do bargaining here…



The Zaisan memorial perched on the top of a hill on the southern edge of town, has good panoramic views of the city, albeit clouded by the smog. Looking forward to getting out into the country to see some nomadic life….



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