Camping in the Cold

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Ulaanbaatar, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
We are now back in Ulaanbaatar, the coldest capital in the world or so our guide says. The temperature ranges from -49c in winter to 38c in summer although at the moment it seems a comfortable -5c.
Driving out of the city we noticed a car with red flags on it, "it's a car with no driver" says our guide, what she means is a learner .

We visited the National Park about 50km from the city, it is a stunningly beautiful landscape for visitors although I am sure it is a harsh environment for the nomads who live there. In the winter they move their animals to lower pastures where they have stockades for the animals (there are predators like wolves), whilst there the children attend school. In the summer they move up onto the mountains taking their yurts and possessions with them (cooking utensils, woodburner, cupboards, TV and satellite dish) and three months holiday for the children.

What does a Mongolian watch on TV? I am afraid it is X Factor, Top Gear, a version of Candid Camara called Gags which is filmed in the UK but we have never heard of and of course Mr Bean. No wonder they think we Brits are a bit odd.

Fortunately there was no TV in our Yurt, just beds, a table and a wood burner. The edges of the yurt were buried in earth so I don't know where the oxygen for the fire came from but we didn't suffocate so I suppose it filters through the felt covering . The wood burner seems to be a standard type in all yurts but are not up to UK specifications, they are not airtight so only keep going for a few hours. So we don't freeze to death a lady comes round at midnight, turns the light on in your bedroom and relights and loads the woodburner. She is back again at 6am to repeat the process, not somewhere to spend your honeymoon. The toilets were about 100 yards away so we drank very little to ensure we didn't need a pee in the night, last year we did the same to avoid being eaten by lions, this year to save us being frozen.

We visited a Mongolian meditation centre, it was closed for the winter so we were spared any meditation but the path up to the centre had several hundred boards with pious thoughts on them such as;
Rust grows from iron and destroys it; so evil grows from the mind of man and destroys him.
To worry in anticipation or to cherish regret to the past is like the reeds that are cut and wither away.
Life is like a bed of roses, you have to look out for the pricks .

I made up one of the above, no prizes for guessing which.

Mongolian food seems to be mutton soup, mutton pasta, mutton ..... It is very tasty but after three days of mutton we are going off it a bit.

Apart from the wonderful scenery the highlight of Mongolia has been the Intellectual Museum, something we noticed in the guidebook and bullied our guide into taking us to (she sat outside!) It displays the life work of Tumen-Ulzii Zandraas, a genius who from the age of 11 has been designing and building complex three dimensional Mongolian wood puzzles. It is one of those brilliant museums which are one off's, a bit like The Land of the Incontinent in Craven Arms. (For those of you unfamiliar with Craven Arms it is called the Museum of Lost Content and well worth a visit, but otherwise our advice is remain unfamiliar with Craven Arms). We met the great man himself as he was hosting a group of schoolchildren. There is a picture of him presenting George W Bush with one of his puzzles, the caption did not say if George had yet managed to undo the packaging.

Tomorrow we are back on the train (at 7am) for the last leg of the Trans-Siberian, 32 hours to Beijing. After that we only have three and a half weeks in China doing the usual sights.
So our next update, assuming the Great Firewall of China does not stop us, will be from Beijing in two days time.
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