Last night I slept like a baby. Granted, I did sleep in my thermals with three blankets but I was so cosy and content, it was a lovely sleep. Our ‘ger maid’ came in to stoke our fire for the night at 11pm so we were extra toasty to go to sleep. She then returned at 5am this morning to do the same, so that we could wake up toasty too. It’s surprising how warm it is inside the ger, I think we all expected to really feel the cold in the national park but as there is no wind and the sunshine is out most of the day, it really isn’t too bad. We’re all still (obviously) wearing five layers of clothing when we go outside.
Breakfast this morning was an absolute treat. We trooped into the dining ger this morning and waiting for us on the table were a selection of Mongolian bread/pastry type things, cornflakes, bread, butter, jam, tea, coffee and hot milk. Amazing. Then they brought out a hot breakfast as a second course! Fried egg, bacon and sausage (not the same kind of bacon and sausage you get at home) it was so tasty. A good breakfast to set us up for the day!
This morning we went horse riding. The Mongolian horses are known for being super sturdy, stout and very hardworking. They are also incredibly cute! They’re smaller than normal horses and have really fluffy coats. None of us were asked whether we’d ridden a horse before or where we knew anything about it, we were all put on a horse and off we went. The horses knew where they were going, they ambled alongside one another through the snow, we were riding through a valley in the mountains and the scenery was beautiful. The clouds were clearing and the blue sky started to come through.
My Tom was on a horse that looked a little worse for wear. It was like my old dog Poppy’s equivalent in horse form.(Poppy was our darling little pug that we sadly lost in April, she was quite old, a bit wobbly on her legs and such a character). As we waited for the other horses, Tom’s looked like it might fall over, it’s back legs kept swaying. About half way along the route, Tom’s horse decided to steer off to the left, off it plodded down a little track away from everyone else. I found this very amusing, his little horse was just oblivious to what was going on around it. Then the leader had to gallop after them and turn them back onto the right path.
My horse steadily trotted behind Florine’s and every so often would muster up the courage to attempt an overtake. Every time he tried this, Florine horse would pick up speed and turn his head to the side to try a nip my horse as if to say “oi, back off!” – this made us chuckle. I don’t think her horse liked mine.
After about an hour my face had started to really feel the cold and Florine couldn’t feel her fingers. We reached the base of a mountain where Bujuu asked us if we would like to hike up and see a Buddhist meditation temple about a third of the way up. This seemed like a great idea to warm up and get some feeling back in our toes! The view from up the mountain was stunning, the sky was clearing to blue and we could see the mountain range for miles. It was so beautiful. I have never seen anything like that in my life and I hope it imprints onto my mind forever. I got some great photos up there too, to add to the landscape collection. We were able to go inside the mediation temple and the interior was amazing, the intricate carvings and paintings were all done in bright colours, with paintings and silk fabrics hung from the walls. I don’t think the temple is used that much in the winter as it was extremely cold up there but Bujuu said they have a lot of visitors in the summer. The seasons in Mongolia are literally the two extremes, very very cold winters and really hot summers.
By the time we’d walked back down I was toasty warm again, Florine was warm too apart from her toes. She needs to get some of my Tom’s amazing thermal socks to line her boots! On the way back to the ger camp we stopped at the Turtle Stone. This is one of the most famous and well known aspects of Terelj National Park. It’s is pretty cool, from he one side it looks like a giant turtle sitting among the mountains. Turtles are symbolic in Mongolian culture as they believe turtles bring long life and peace, Bujuu told us they are used in a lot of decorative items.
Lunch was another traditional Mongolian meal and it was yummy! They eat larger meals at lunchtime and smaller meals in the evening. There we a couple of new faces in the dining ger when we arrived, randomly one of them was New Zealand born, Irish Rugby player Issac Boss! How random, to go half way around the world, in the middle of the Mongolian National Park and meet a famous rugby player. He was just stopping for lunch as he was on a day tour of the national park as part of a longer trip around Asia.
In the afternoon we watched a film the called ‘The Story of the Weeping Camel‘ which is about Nomadic life in Mongolia, specifically about a young colt (camel) who’s mother wouldn’t bond with it and the rituals the people performed to make her love her colt again. It was a documentary style film and was really interesting, the nomad way of life is fascinating.
We had some free time this afternoon so my Tom, Florine and I walked up the nearest (and smallest) mountain to watch the sun set. The scenery in the national park is so beautiful, every mountain looks different and I got some great photos of the sun setting from the top of the hill. It was tough going walking up there, the snow was nearly up to my knees! We walked back down it got quite steep in some areas and we had to hold onto trees for support. Either that or slide down on our bottoms.
We’re chilling in the ger now, Bujuu tells us it’s steamed dumplings for dinner, I could get used to all this hearty Mongolian food. There’s the option of archery using a traditional Mongolian bow in the morning, before leaving the camp to head back to Ulaanbaatar. We have one more night at the hostel there, before getting the train to Beijing. That train journey apparently involves an 8-10 hour wait at the border whilst they change the wheels on the trains, no toilet breaks for us for a day then!