Few places on earth scream of the great outdoors like Mongolia. The very word conjures up visions of the untamed – Genghis Khan, nomads wandering the Gobi Desert with their livestock, & wild horses galloping across the endless steppes. Yes, the land without fences, the 17th biggest country in the world, is an outdoorsy sort of place. A boy scouts dream come true. My latest visit to the country was my second and I was determined, having failed the first time, to get out among all that nothingness.
Terelj National Park
Terelj National Park, home to a few well-known rock formations including Turtle Rock, is a couple of hours drive on bumpy, dusty roads from the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. It’s more touristy than authentic, more hilly than flat, but still offers the most convenient escape from the capital & has enough untouched open space to satisfy most.
A ger is a traditional circular tent with an outer & inner layer of (usually) canvas & an insulated layer of felt sandwiched in between (more layers in winter, fewer in summer). It’s all supported by a collapsible wooden frame, meaning the ger can, if needed and depending on size, be assembled in 1 to 3 hours, perfect for Mongolia’s 390,000 thousand nomadic herdsman who, while tending to some 30 million livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, yaks and camels – pigs and chickens are not kept in Mongolia), need to be flexible and mobile so they can move their settlement in search of better grazing. No lack it here in the Guru Tourist Park, but in the absence of electricity candles or lamps provide lighting and there is normally a stove in the centre used for cooking and heating. Toilets are always outdoors and if showers exist at all they’d be found in a bathhouse serving a ger settlement or community. Unchanged in centuries, a ger is still the preferred housing for most Mongolians, even in the suburbs of the cities. Needless to say out here in the countryside it’s all you’ll see.