Me-go: Around-the-World

Second Only to Ulaan Baatar


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Amazingly there is an internet cafe in Tsetserleg, Mongolia’s second largest city, where I am today. That sounds big, but I think it’s only around 20,000 people. We didn’t leave UB until one in the afternoon yesterday because someone in my group of four had only just arrived and wanted to see UB a bit before leaving. When our Russian van showed up we were told that a fifth passenger had been found—a monk from Singapore named Ho. I try to say “Hey, Ho!” as much as possible. People here seem to be very confused why he doesn’t eat meat and why he’s in a yellow robe.

We left around two and with only a thirty minute stop at some sand dunes, we arrived at our first ger in the former capital around 10:30pm. Because it’s summer the sun was just setting and the sky was a beautiful purple. Our ger was in the backyard of a local family where they had set up for tourists. Another small group arrived much earlier and were inside the family’s shack watching the World Cup Switzerland game on satellite TV. I have seen a fair amount of gers in the middle of nowhere with a solar powered satellite dishes.

The night sky was beautiful with lots of stars, some shooting stars and the big dipper. The owner cooked us some dumplings which we devoured. The others wanted beer so I was given the money to give to our Mongolian driver, Neema. He made me ride with him into town where people we still shopping with their horses and playing basketball on a wooden board in the dark. Our ger had 6 beds arranged around the perimeter and a table and stove in the middle. It’s quite hot suring the day in the sun, maybe 85, but about 50 at night.

We all got up around 7:30 today because it was so light out. I saw Ho meditating on his bed across from me and went to the extremely well maintained out house. Breakfast—hard bread and jam—was served at 8 and we set off to see the town’s sights around 9. Karacorum was Mongolia’s capital around the time of Ghangis Khan but when China took over they completely destroyed it. But when you think about it, a nomadic culture isn’t going to have amazing ruins of permanent structures anyway. There are some large turtle statues that used to mark the city boundaries and a very large monestery surrounded by a wall on four sides crowned by 108 stupas. Buddhism in Monglia is mainly influenced by Tibet, which was somewhat influenced by India so it’s an interesting mix. Some of the buildings had Chinese tiled roofs and some were larger two story stucco structures in the Tibetan tradition.

The monks there were having a service (whatever you call it when they read and chant scriptures) and two young monks climbed to the top of a tower and blew shells to announce the event. They were trying to avoid having their picture taken but there was a very persistant Italian tour group who were trying to trick them. Once the leader quacked like a duck (his signal for the group to move on!) and they left the boys were a bit more accomidating. With my awesome 18-200 Nikon zoom I was able to get some portraits without much dificulty.

The exterior paths to any of the sights, like the city markers, were surrounded with long tables of souvenirs. Most of the things were heavy and obviously made in China. I saw lots of knives my brother would like but I’m not about to start buying things yet.

After the hour and a half or so we moved back into our van and drive to the edge of the city for lunch. We had packed food and a stove to make things but this resturaunt was quite good. Neema doesn’t speak more than a few English words but he told us one thing was good so we ordered that and pointed to some fried meat-filled pancakes a man was eating nearby. All of the food was quite good. The mystery dish turned out to be a mutton steak with some sort of sauce on it, two scoops of white rice, a potato salad-type dish, some sort of cole slaw all topped with a runny fried egg.

While everyone else went to the bathroom I made friends with some kids playing on a gate. They were giggling and being kids and liked to see their picture taken. I would say that half of the people here want photos taken and half refuse. We drove on for quite some time and didn’t end up making it to Tsetserleg until around 5:30. We dropped off our things, stopped by a cafe owner by an Englishman and asked them to stay open late for us before walking around. The other American wanted to see the Temple museum and both the resturaunt and museum closed at 6. They agreed to stay open and I walked around town taking pictures of signs with the other girl in our group, who’s from Northern Ireland. We actually had met online on Lonely Planet’s message boards and decided to meet here in Mongolia because we wanted to see the same things. It turned out great, we get along well and have a similar attitude about most things.

It’s still light out and I’m going to try to recharge my camera battery tonight if possible and maybe wash some of the dust off of my body. Tomorrow we head out around 9am for The Great White Lake which will take most of the day—maybe until 6 or 7pm. It’s supposed to be a beautiful drive though with canyons and mountains. Our first day was mostly those rolling hills or steppe covered in smooth grass, kind of surreal looking like the background on Teletubbies. Today we started to see larger hills, mountains, wildflowers, streams and even some pine trees. I think as we start to head north toward the town of Moron and finally Khovsgol Nuur it’s going to get even more beautiful and closer to the Siberan environment.

4 responses to “Second Only to Ulaan Baatar”

  1. stu thompson Avatar
    stu thompson

    Having heard how meat-friendly Mongolia is, I am very curious about the food situation, me being a veggie-head. Let us know how manageable it is in them there parts. 🙂

    And where are the Mongolia pictures? Stop slacking! You have a viewing public to appease!

  2. Claudia Cavazos Avatar
    Claudia Cavazos

    I think Megan has a pretty decent size fan club going on…woohoooo! Go Megan!
    Happy trails!!
    Pura Vida,

  3. bonnie Avatar

    Hi Megan, having a great time following your travels!

    I came across your webpage while researching a trip to Cambodia. Still planning to go there this fall and maybe pop into Laos as well. Which did you prefer?

    Safe travels and keep blogging 😉

  4. Megan Avatar

    Stu, it’s a bit hard and rushed to upload pictures from these little towns! I will have a few days in UB before setting off to the Gobi and promise to post pictures of the beautiful countryside. Back in UB the photos were all a little grey and of concrete buildings.

    I’m traveling witha monk and he’s managed not to eat meat at all. However, he did buy 16 packets of ramen noodles in UB. Usually they will make him something at the family we stay with and it sometimes looks better than ours! I’ve taken photos of my food so far, we’ve gotten lots of bread, some soup…

    Are you asking me to rate Cambodia vs Laos? I would say Laos has more to see (I spent 4 weeks there vs 3 weeks in Cambodia). But you HAVE to see Angkor Wat so maybe do both… how much time do you have?