Last summer, Real Russia were lucky enough to work with Jessica, an American travel writer that has visited more than 95 countries in the last few years, sharing her experiences with the world through her blog How Dare She, her Facebook and her Instagram page jess_ismore.
Alongside writing two fantastic, and informative, guides about planning a Trans-Siberian adventure (Travelling solo as a female on the Trans-Siberian and Making the most of the Trans-Siberian), she has put together a few blogs exclusively for Real Russia, going into more depth about her incredible experiences travelling the most famous railway in the world.
In this first blog, Jessica shares her opinion on Mongolia and its incredibly friendly people.
Take it away Jessica!
When I thought of the Trans-Siberian railway, I honestly never thought of Mongolia. I thought of cold days in Russia huddled around a bottle of vodka. More on that in my upcoming blog about Russia. But as I started to investigate the Trans-Siberian journey, I was excited to find out it could be started from Beijing. Which meant that the previously mysterious Mongolia would be on my route.
On the train from Beijing, you know you’ve arrived in Mongolia when the cars start clanging around. At the border, the wheels are changed for the different tracks and I should have had a few more beers from the dining car if I wanted to sleep through it.
Bogie changing at the Chinese-Mongolian border
Despite the somewhat restless night, I woke up at about 5:30 as the sun started to rise. Taking advantage of a train full of snoozing passengers, I grabbed my camera and searched for the best spot to see the sunrise. Soon, light was pouring over the landscape of the Gobi and I knew I was going to get what I came for.
Sunrise over the Gobi desert
Before I knew it, we were arriving in Ulan Bator, as was a snow storm. In May. But I guess they don’t call it the coldest capital in the world for nothing. Luckily, I just had one night in the cold capital before heading back out to the desert to see the real and raw Mongolia that had been so hyped. Off to 8 days in the desert.
So, what was Mongolia like? Four words: smiles, landscapes, animals and meat.
Smiles. Mongolians are known for their hospitality, and for good reason. We went ger (pronounced like ‘gear’) hunting to find a place to stay at night, and it was expected that you could show up to any ger, unannounced, and be taken in. Every family greeted the group with warm smiles and tea. At one home, the father of the family even hinted he had a son for me if I liked Mongolia and wanted to stay.
Landscapes. Going around the country was a constant battle of charging my camera because I just couldn’t put it down. The variety is wide – from ice gorges to sand dunes, lakes to sparse deserts – but absolutely stunning all the same. The summer made for long days and incredible, late, sunsets.
The Flaming Cliffs
Animals. The nomadic culture of Mongolia stems from the need to make sure the animals are fed. If you don’t like cuddling baby goats, then maybe Mongolia isn’t for you (then again if you don’t like cuddling baby goats, you may need to re-evaluate life). Don’t try to cuddle the baby camels though, mom doesn’t like it and she’ll be sure to let you know. The cows are fuzzy and the horses majestic. And you’ll see more than just livestock – mountain goats and rare birds take as much advantage of the landscapes as humans do.
The smiling goat
Meat. While I’m no vegetarian, I am not a big meat eater. Which was a challenge in Mongolia. Mutton, horse and camel are common staples of the Mongolian diet. Don’t cringe away just at the sound of it though. It is worth a try, and some like it more than others. But it can be hard to think about it when you’re having dinner in a ger surrounded by the family’s livestock. We even got the chance to see a camel slaughter, which is so rare to get a peek into that our guide had never seen one in her whole life living in Mongolia. Two families came together to take on the huge task, which was completed far from the other camels who are smart enough to get a sense of what’s going on.
Food in a Ger Camp
Back from the desert, I had one more day in Ulan-Bator before hopping back on the train to Russia. While I waited for the laundromat to wash the entire Gobi out of all my clothes, I wanted to check out the bustling capital, and couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the traditional and humble (and massive) black market, with the shiny tall buildings housing the country’s business side, all with towering mountains in the background. How could a country be so modern, and just kilometres away, so authentic to their origins? It’s truly impressive.
Luckily, the train from Ulan-Bator to Russia offered the same views and time to reflect on the previous week.
I expected to like Mongolia, but I didn’t expect for the warmth of the people to so wash over the cold of the landscapes. I expected beautiful sites, but I didn’t expect for the vastness and diversity of the countryside to keep my jaw perpetually dropped.
Happy camels in the desert
Thanks Jessica, for sharing your experiences in the incredible Mongolia. Be sure to come back soon to read more about Jess’s adventures along the Trans-Siberian railway, and make sure to follow her inspiring global adventures on her travel blog How Dare She, Facebook, Twitter and her Instagram jess_ismore.
If you want to follow in Jess’s footsteps, Real Russia offer a comprehensive range of tours, taking in the three different ‘Trans-Siberian’ routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, and Moscow and Beijing.
Click here to take a look and book now!