Arkhangai, Khustain Nuruu and nearby places

Mongolia is huge and the 9 days of my visit was never going to be enough to see half of what Mongolia happens. I didn’t get to see the Gobi desert, the east of the country or Khovsgol Nuur but thanks to Zula I did get to see a lot in Arkhangai and nearby.

Summer is absolutely the best time to go but I went in October (snow had already fallen in September and the temperature can hit the minus in double digits). It is also out of peak tourist times which can be a good or bad thing. But any visitor to Mongolia needs to be prepared for the sometimes bad or even no roads, squat toilets and cold temperatures which can drop by a much as 20 degrees in a day. If one is prepared for this they are likely to have an enjoyable time.
Joko drove Zula and me around many hours tirelessly. He used his experience and driving skills across a varied, sometimes dusty and difficult terrain.

Mongolia has many mountain ranges and I showed some photos of Switzerland and have heard it (Switzerland) is more beautiful but in fact I would say this is not the case just different. Mongolia is beautiful scenery wise in its vastness. The wide landscapes and vast mountain ranges, occasional sanddune, trees and occasional lake is really beautiful. You need a lot of time to visit Mongolia but it is worth it.

The first place we saw Khustain Nuruu National Park about 70KM west of UB (Ulaanbaatar) (Mongolian: Хустайн нуруу). Also known as Hustai National Park, there are plenty of Horses, birds and other animals throughout.
We also visited Ögii Lake in eastern Arkhangai, in central Mongolia and Kharkhorin (Mongolian: Хархорин). Once capital of the Mongol Empire during both Chinggis and Ogedei Khan. Also in Kharkhorin landmark is Erdene Zuu monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Outside the monastery there is a Phallus structure which I seemed to have missed apparently built to remind monks of their chastity obligations. During communism a lot of the monastery was destroyed, it is now active again.

When entering temples Buddhist will often turn prayer wheels and also enter within the temple in a clockwise order.
Both Buddhism and Shamanism are still very strong in Mongolia despite the communists attempt to eradicate it.
All over Mongolia, in the countryside and capital in temple grounds there are shamanistic cairn or mound of sticks and stones called ovoo. Mongolians circle around them clockwise 3 times, place a stone or stick on the Ovoo before making an offering which can be food, vodka or other offerings. The blue khadag a silk scarf that resembles the open blue sky is often tired to it and is also present in many Mongolian cars as a kind of charm.
Shamanism is reflected even in the design of Gers. Always facing south representing in its shape the sky and the pillars the cosmic axis. A guide to the proper etiquette of a yurt can be found here – http://www.mongolia-travel-and-tours.com/yurt-rules-mongolia.html

Staying in a ger is something foreigners often want to experience and the authenticity may depend on what tourist camp you stay. We stayed in an authentic one and there were no concessions (such as outdoor showers). It got very cold, not cold but freezing at the night. I found the bed rather small. The owner prepared a simple meal. Apparently there had been no new guests for 2 weeks.

The worst food in the world?

Many an article, guidebook or blog has described Mongolia as having the worst food in the world.. Is it true?

It is widely described as being bland, lacking in taste, and for the smell of boiled mutton
“The common complaint about mutton is that it is gamey. Granted. But the insidious part is not so much the flavour as the smell. When I returned to Beijing, Evan Osnos, now at The New Yorker, who has done some great writing on Mongolia’s gold rush, asked me, “So, do you still smell like mutton?” I did” –
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/welltraveled/features/2008/the_mongolia_obsession/the_most_disgusting_food_ever.html

“Mutton, in various forms – boiled, stewed, as a filling for steamed dumplings, cooked with fat and flour, or served with noodles – is the staple national dish, to such an extent that the smell is inescapable, and travellers often complain of smelling of it for weeks after their return from Mongolia. ”
http://www.pilotguides.com/articles/the-worst-cuisine-in-the-world/

“Foreigners who have spent a long time in Mongolia claim that even after they land home, it takes weeks to rid the mutton smell from their skin.”
Lonely Planet Mongolia 3rd Edition (2001)

Well due to the harsh climate and nomadic lifestyle it is understandable a lot of the food was for survival than culinary but today such comments should be understood as becoming less relevant year by year. Not only are there many Korean restaurants but I came across several nice Mongolian ones in UB.
Mongolian families such as Zula’s, and Soko’s prepared very nice salads and other dishes which tasted very nice and certainly not bland.
So while bland food can be found and eaten and can be some of the traditional dishes certainly in UB this can be avoided. And I came across nice restaurants and dishes Mongolian in the countryside too.

Joko, Zula and myself visited Ulaan Tsutgalan. A quite attractive waterfall close to the yurt we stayed.
Zula and myself also visited Tuvkhun Monastery (Mongolian: Төвхөн хийд) on the border of Övörkhangai Province and Arkhangai Province in central Mongolia.
It was quite a walk through a kind of first, and it was a relief to actually see the temple when wondering when it would appear as neither of us had been before and there was no sign.
The temple is often visited by pilgrims for its walk where one can be ‘reborn’ cleansed from their sins by a hike which appears to be a little dangerous at a few points.
Zula and I made the hike although my hike was purely for the view as I am not Buddhist. The view is beautiful and initially looked too dangerous we were not going to attempt it until an elderly Mongolian insisted it was an easy hike!
Well all I can say he is certainly talented as the hike was challenging in places and dangerously close to the precipice in parts. We made it though 🙂

We also visited Sangiin Dalai Lake and Elsen Tasarkhai as well as took camel and horse rides.