As I write, we are currently relaxing in a ger (yurt) in the Terelj National Park, located approximately 2 hours east of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Inside, it’s nice and toasty (verging on sweltering). Outside, it’s a winter wonderland.
The snow is heavy enough that our ride to the bus stop this morning to return to UB couldn’t make it through the snow. We started walking the 2 kilometers instead, only to be called back by our host here. The road is closed. The bus isn’t running. We have to wait for the road to re-open at some unknown time. Outside, I can hear dogs howling and cows complaining about the snow. It just started to snow again. This should be interesting since we need to be in UB by 9am tomorrow at the latest to catch our tour to the Gobi desert.
Our visit to Terelj National Park has been a refreshing little side-trip. We arranged a stay in a ger camp with our hostel in UB and were given a piece of paper with the name of the bus on one side and a description of where we wanted to be dropped off on the other side to show to the bus driver.
Like clockwork we were met at the bus stop by a couple friendly men who drove us the last couple kilometers. They giggled amongst themselves the whole way — Toto, we’re not in Russia anymore!
The ger camp is set near the top of a little valley. Below us we saw more camps, but we also had sweeping views of the craggy mountains and bright yellow fir trees. Our ger had four beds in a circle around the stove and small dining table. We were on a full board package, so our meals were included and brought to us in our ger. At 35,000T (~$17) per person per day, it’s a good value. Obviously, no ger camp experience would be complete without an aggressively loving cat…
The fire in the ger was maintained by an older man who is very expressive… about something. We really had no idea. He has shown us how to keep up the fire during the night. When we went to bed the first night it was warm inside the ger, although when I woke up at 1am I found that the fire was completely out. By morning, it was pretty cold in the ger (likely below freezing outside), but I was still warm and toasty under my blanket (Michael apparently not so much).
The bus times to and from Terelj meant that we arrived on our first day around dusk and would have to leave at around 8am, so we opted to spend two nights in the ger. That way we could enjoy a full day exploring the area. Our ger was at the southern end of the park, between the Aryapala Meditation Centre (a Buddhist temple) and Turtle Rock. In the morning we hiked north, towards the temple. We initially walked along a dirt road, but then opted to hike cross country along the ridge. What a wonderful change to be out hiking again, off of dusty roads, and across such a beautiful landscape.
While we weren’t on a trail per se, it is clear that others have gone cross country in this area and we have gps (and some visual markers) to guide us. The Buddhist temple is high up on the hill, under a series of painted rocks on the hillside. At first, we weren’t sure how to get in. The temple is surrounded by the most secure fence we’ve seen thus far, and we had to walk around to the main entrance (which ensures that everyone pays the small fee). While not necessarily a “must see,” the temple itself was nice and made a good goal for our morning walk.
Back at the ger camp, we enjoyed our hot lunch and had a chance to talk a bit with a group from our hostel in UB that was stopping by for lunch as part of a tour. We even picked up some useful visa information for our upcoming visit to Burma.
Our afternoon was spent hiking over a number of ridges through the neighboring valleys. Our end “goal” was Turtle Rock, but the amazing views kept us searching out ridge lines that we could cross for a peek at the next valley. Although there are many ger camps and lodges in the area, very little of the land is actually fenced in once you get out of the middle of the valley. The area was great for hiking. Despite having no official map of the park (although we have gps maps), we were able to easily follow horse trails or make our own way based on line of sight targets.
With temperatures dropping, and knowing that we had completely failed to keep our fire going our first night, the old man in charge of our ger fire took extra precautions on our second night. He loaded us with additional blankets, added tons of wood to the fire, and even added a full bucket of coal to help retain heat. The end result was that our ger transformed into a sauna. We actually had to keep the door to the ger open for a bit because we were basically down to our underwear and still way too hot! Of course, we still had to get out of bed every couple hours during the night to maintain the fire (it even got cold enough to use a blanket), but I’m proud to report that we had enough hot embers to get the fire started again in the morning! It’s a good thing too, given that we woke up to about 4 inches of snow 😉
Evening Update: The bus delay ended up being fairly minor. After about an hour of relaxing in our ger, our host came rushing in to tell us that we needed to get to the bus. This time, she accompanied us and tried to act as our personal snow plow driver, creating two tracks in the snow with her legs.
We became a bit confused once we got to the bus stop because our host put us on the phone with our hostel, who told us that if the bus didn’t come they would have someone stopping by in a few hours on a different tour. What did they mean “if the bus didn’t come?” Why did we just trudge 2.5 kilometers through the fresh snow if the bus wasn’t coming? We knew that the main (paved) road was only another 1.5 kilometers, so if the bus didn’t come our plan was to get to the road to hitch instead of walking 2.5 kilometers back to the ger camp.
Our host waited with us for awhile and then took off. Once she was out of sight, we started walking towards the main road. Luckily, about halfway to the road the bus pulled up and we were on our way back to UB. Success! Tomorrow we’re off on a seven-day tour of the Gobi desert. Hopefully we won’t have too many more snow delays…
[This blog post describes our trip to Terelj National Park on October 3-5, 2016.]