Mongolia: Sain Baina Uu!

Mongolia- Land of the blue skies stayed on my “Travel List” for quite some time and every year, I find myself delaying the trip due to some ‘reason’.  Mongolia had to happen in November 2015 since the one important goal I had in mind was to reignite the passion that I once had for travelling and to inject some much needed happiness into my somewhat miserable 2015 state.

A work incident, surgery scam, lengthy recovery, near collision with a truck, stress and work  made me dead. I felt inadequate in every possible way and Mongolia, with her vast plains, will certainly offer an escape from Beijing’s lingering smog. My father always stressed the importance of changing one’s environment. I agree.

After tasting the incredible spices and flavours of India, my travel bug was pushed away for 9 months by stress and mundane routine. Imagine my joy and disbelief when I finally saw that Mongolian visa in my passport. The push for the visa application was made possible since  Kenneth and Li Chin ( two sizzling world travellers )  flew in from Singapore. I met Kenneth during my February 2015 India trip. I was there to attend a friend’s wedding. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was by myself- my travel buddy left early leaving me to discover Jodhpur on my own. So it was great and I was super happy when Kenneth decided to say hi and ended up protecting me from myself.  I regret not having enough time to have coffee with him though! So there I was, with an incredibly well-travelled individual in my favourite place in India and now, because of him, I’m able to finally set foot in Mongolia. Anyways, the back and forth trip-planning emails with Kenneth  made me realise two things:

1) stop delaying your trips! Buy the ticket, book the rooms, find that tour package and just drop everything and go!

2) hold onto people who are willing to travel with you ( your worst side emerges during trips) and cherish them even more when they don’t end up hating you

We were ready for the adventure into the only country where nomadic lifestyle is a living tradition and a source of pride. After the trip, I’ll probably still swim in mediocracy and as I look back now,  the past me really shouldn’t have worried so much since  a) I was mediocre to start off with and b) I won’t swim but drown and still be well….alive. I’m more than willing to drown myself in travels and new discoveries than feeling like crap.

20160204_203347As much as a train journey would be great to enjoy the transition of landscape from China to Mongolia, a two hour flight was more convenient this time round.

The flight

The Mongolian Air OM 0224 was delayed for 50 minutes- not surprised since flights in and out of China are often delayed. I love sitting by the window since you can get a glimpse of some landscape during take off and landing.
DSC08975 The boundless land and mountains welcomed me as the flight approached the Capital Ulaan Baatar (ULB). I arrived 20 minutes before Li Chin and Kenneth who had to wait for a long time at Beijing’s airport. It was super to see Kenneth again and of course I was nervous to meet Li Chin. The drive from the airport into the city was relatively short ( pay no more than 20,000 MNT into the city centre). During the drive, one cannot ignore Mongolia’s industrial push and thirst for development. There are apartment blocks and constructions a mere 2 minutes away from the airport so an expansion of the airport might also be next? There seem to be a real estate frenzy too due to the number of upcoming projects. I sincerely wish that ULB can balance development with environment and never ever allow modernisation to erase tradition.

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Panoramic shot of the Square
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Central Tower is on the left hand-side
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Construction. Construction. Construction.

Li Chin – Kenneth’s incredibly good-looking sister- went to seek warmth in Central Tower.  I was surprised that we got along quite well since I have a habit of  being weird. After a quick walk at the Great Chinggis Khan Square and Government Palace, the November wind started to gnaw our bones so off we went. Central Tower is a centrally located high-end building filled with big brand outlets. Give me warmth in a cold Mongolian November anytime and above all, inject me with something different- something fun.

Random facts/observations:

  • There are 3 million people and 60 million livestocks. 30% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic.ULB houses 45% of the total population of Mongolia and the rest are scattered in the countryside.
  • 1.7people/km2. Half an hour drive out of ULB and all you can see are empty plains, mountains,  never ending roads and many livestocks.
  • It is the second largest landlock country in the world followed by the Republic of Kazakhstan.
  • 53% Buddhism and 3% Islam
  • Economic pillars- mining, agriculture, retail and services
  • Mutton is their favourite and it comes at 2000 MNT (roughly 1 USD) per kilogram.
  • Petrol ( as of 5th November 2015) costs 1480 to 1960 MNT/Litre

Best way to see Mongolia is to find a tour company.

Altai Nomadic Expedition is a professional tour company who can organize your trip. Just drop them an email, checkout their website and get ready to pack your bags   Website: altai-nomadic.com    Email: info@altai-nomadic.com

VISA- If you need a visa, apply at the Embassy.  I applied in Beijing. They only accept payment by credit card- NO CASH! Download the visa form as they don’t provide any on site. Process is simple and quick.