A trip to the countryside
Turelj Travel Blog› entry 14 of 37 › view all entries
I've been in the smoky city for two weeks, and I kept hearing from the other travellers that the real Mongolia is in the countryside. It would be a shame to come to Mongolia and only see one city, so I set up a trip to a nearby National park, Terelj. I found an NGO that not only offers prices below those of tour operators, but also gives a larger share of the money to the nomads. I was able to arrange my own itinerary too, so I asked for vegetarian meals (I'm not keen to try the ubiquitous mutton) and told them I would be biking by myself to the park. I think they were a bit worried about this plan, but I told them I could manage.
I left early Tuesday morning and it took me about an hour just to get out of the city.
Once I left town, I made much quicker progress through the barren countryside. It was chilly, but I was well-covered on my bike. About 25 km out of town I ran into my colleagues Damien and Sorouche who, after biking to Mongolia from Europe, were on their way to Beijing via the Gobi desert. We rode together for a mere three kilometres before the road forked and our paths diverged again.
I entered Terelj park (after repaying a park fee that I had already paid in my tour package) and rode past the many giant rock formations that the park is famous for. It was obvious that this is a touristy park because every 500 m were signs advertising "Tourist Gers." I rode on, climbing up steep, unpaved switchbacks before arriving in the town of Terelj itself. I waited outside a local restaurant and soon a lad on horseback beckoned me to follow him. He led his horse down the broken road, but I chose a smoother path on the sidewalk and began pedalling as fast as I could. The race was on! His horse was hesitant to run on the rocky road, so I was able to push ahead.
He brought me to a cart with an ox attached to the front. I hoisted the bike up onto the cart, then asked him where I should sit. He offered me the horse, which I happily accepted. I haven't ridden a horse since I was a kid, and even then someone else was leading it. But I found this horse extremely easy to ride and I had no troubles. We led the horse and ox cart across a river (there was no bridge) and rode to the nomad community where I would be staying the next few days. The nomads were all curious about my bike, so I let them ride it. Let's just say they're better horse-riders than bike-riders!