Travel Mongolia: Exploring the Countryside

Adventure Travel, Mongolia — By on September 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

Lost Girl Julie Falconer recently took a trip to the Mongolian countryside and explored Terelj National Park near Ulaanbaatar. Read on for a selection of her personal essays of her trip experiences, and click here for more on Mongolia on Lost Girls World. See Julie’s London travel blog and Asia travel website for more stories.

By Julie Falconer

Driving through the Mongolian countryside outside of Ulaanbaatar, the sky opens up and rolling hills stretch for endless miles. The green hills and mountains are dotted with sheep, goats, and traditional nomadic dwellings called gers.

As my driver speeds over a hill, a vision appears in the distance. The silvery apparition is tall, towering over the mountains behind it. As we approach, we realize it is Genghis Khan. It is a huge metal statue of Mongolia’s most famous historical figure.

Our car pulls into the parking lot and we stumble out, awestruck. The statue was completed two years ago, and depicts Genghis Khan on his horse. It is located on the very spot that he is fabled to have found his golden whip.

As we enter the statue’s visitor center, we learn that it was only recently completed. Additional construction is planned for the coming years, and eventually the area will feature a ger camp and a handful of restaurants.

Moving into the base of the statue, we find ourselves in front of the world’s largest boot. It is over a story high and is embroidered in the traditional Mongolian style. After admiring the boot, we continue down the stairs to a small museum with historical artifacts. We go for a quick tour before taking the elevator to the top of the statue. There we stand on the head of Genghis Khan’s horse, looking over the fields below.

It’s hard to imagine that there could be anything more stunning in the Mongolian countryside, but soon we are back in the cars driving through the beautiful Terelj National Park. Gently flowing rivers, stunning hills, and famous rock formations can be seen from the windows.

After another hour of driving, we arrive at Ayanchin Lodge, a camp with a row of white gers. Excitedly, we rush in to explore our homes for the evening. Each ger features four beds arranged in a circle around a central fireplace. There is a hole in the ceiling where light and heat can be let in and out.

After we choose our gers, we hike up a hill on the edge of the camp. Shod in flip-flops and sandals, we join the camp’s dog as we slip our way to the top. Turning around, the views of the valley are the perfect picture of the big-skied Mongolia that we had been anticipating since our arrival.

We stay up late, eating traditional food and keeping warm with tea and hot chocolate. In the morning we leave the camp to visit a nearby river. The water is snow-melt, and I am scared to get in. The others brave the icy current while I admire the groups of horses and yaks that have come to graze on the nearby land.

Our next stop is Turtle Rock, a well-known landmark in a small valley below a monastery. We hike the short, steep trail to the top, then return to the valley to go horseback riding. At less than $4 per hour, it’s the best value I’ve found on the whole trip.

Later we visit the monastery, a small square building surrounded by a ribbon of red prayer wheels. It is silent there, and empty except for the echoes of our footsteps.

Later we come to the Terelj Hotel and Tereljmaa Spa, a five star resort in Terelj National Park that is as opulent as the monastery is austere. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the hotel has a gorgeous interior, as well as an indoor pool, spa, and sauna that we don’t hesitate to use.

Later we go to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner, where the Belgian head chef prepares an amazing meal for us. The food is delicious, but we’re almost too excited to eat. The next day is the Naadam Festival, Mongolia’s famous summer event, and we can’t wait for the festivities.

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