We are in Mongolia!!

As is our new habit when we leave a biggish city, we leave Ulan-Ude early. We have read reports of ‘monstrous’ road works on the way to the border, so we have no idea how far we will get today. The lighting at 6.30am is gorgeous and we cannot resist a short detour through Klyuchi to see more colourful Russian houses.

Klyuchi, Russia

We did encounter the heaviest road works to date in Russia but they were not as bad as we had heard – road works move constantly so every traveller will have a different experience and once again, we were in luck. After an easy, ordered border crossing, total 3 hours for both sides, we are in Mongolia!!!!

We did not enjoy this stretch – how will we cope in Mongolia?!


We are in Mongolia!!

I am so excited to finally be here and buoyed by this renewed energy from being in Mongolia, we decide to push onto Darkhan for the night. It was a slow ride, the road being very narrow and streams of cars heading north for the week end. We find a nice looking hotel and after an 11 hour day, and 35 degree heat, we are ready for a cool shower.

We leave Darkhan after a late breakfast – the 35 degree heat at 10pm still and thumping music from a reception downstairs, celebrating the local hospital’s 20 years in operation (we did wonder what happened to the patients that evening?!) meant our night was not so restful. Luckily, being the 1st of the month the next day, alcohol stopped being served at midnight so the party finished not long after. As a drive to curb drinking, the Mongolian government bans the selling of alcohol on the first of the month, and around elections.

Again, the traffic heading north is constant, many slow trucks heading south like us, the road itself rather narrow and quite potholly making our journey pretty slow. As in Russia, it is left to the driver to pay attention and notice the stopped truck, road works etc. There is no warning. The 227kms took us 5 hours to get to our hotel in Ulaanbaatar (UB), by the main square.

Traffic in UB reminded us of Tehran: not aggressive but assertive driving. Hesitate or leave a gap, and you are left behind. You simply have to keep your wits about you.

Traffic in Ulaanbaatar

As luck would have it, a friend I met in Bahrain 10 years ago and spent 5 years in Ulaanbaatar after that, arrived in UB last night is and is going to a mini Naadam organised by some of her friends tomorrow and we are invited to join her. We decide it would be more comfortable for us if we can ride in a car with her as it will be a day long affair and we didn’t want to stay in our riding gear. So she quickly organises a van. This is our first example of how quickly and efficiently things get organised here in Mongolia.

During her time in Mongolia, Robyn and some of friends were actively involved in a number of charities. One in particular was to help the “Children of the Peak” – kids living off the town rubbish dump. The Julie Veloo (her friend) foundation, which built and runs a kindergarten for these kids and a summer camp is running today’s Mini Naadam. A pre-cursor to the Mongolian national Nadaam (festival) which takes place from 11-15 July. I have to mention we have arrived at an interesting time – elections on the 7th July (suddenly brought forward by a day a few days ago) and Naadam.

With Robyn

What a truly magical day and priviledge to be able to attend a mini Naadam. In addition to giving those kids a special day, the aim of today us to raise money for those kids, through raffle tickets, local food and drinks sales and donations. We start the day with horse racing. There will be several winners including the rider picked by the raffle ticket winner. One of the prizes is a young filly which has been donated.

Mini-Naadam preparation

Little girl waiting on her horse


The young racers chanting before the race

It is 10kms to the start of the race

The wonderful Baggi

An hour later, the winner arrives!!


The day continues with archery, musicians and wrestling. It was a day full of culture. The energy throughout the day was electric. We already love the Mongolians. They seem to be full of gentle, quiet, strength and, as one young student whom I chatted with for a while today said, full of pride for their country.

Archery competition

Musicians at the mini-Naadam

Musicians at the mini-Naadam

Little girl taking it all in


Wrestling

Proud wrestling winners waiting for the next round

Winners do the dance to the eagle gods

Horse race winners

Robyn is asked to present one of the medals

Airag is poured over the horse for thanks


Beautiful Mongolian saddle

We round off our day with a stop at Chengiss Khan’s massive 40 metre tall statue. Having spent all day out in the middle of nowhere (for us), we didn’t feel the need to climb into the horses’s head to admire the views.

Some of the 10,000 statues the government wants to build – you can have your face on one for US$10,000

In front of Chingiss Khan

We will have spent 4 nights in UB, done a bit of walking around, exploring, visiting the oldest monastery in UB, the only one that didn’t get destroyed by the Russians, some bike maintenance and cleaning, and met up with a Dutch couple who have just come the way we’re going. They were very helpful to get their insights and experiences and he gave Anthony his GPS tracker route so hopefully we should not get completely lost even if we veer off ‘track’ at times. It is always difficult to get other people’s views on the state and difficulty of a particular route as it depends on their level of experience, skill, attitude, age, weather conditions… The clock is ticking, remember, we need to cross Mongolia, back into Russia and out again by the 18th. We have agonised over the route to take but we decide to minimise the pressure and risk and pick the easiest route, the Southern Route which has the most tar.

Choijin Lama Temple museum


With fellow motorcyclists, Janny and Peet


Anyway, we set off very early tomorrow!!!!

– Anne

Ulan-Ude

We set off from Chita at 6.30am unsure of how far we would get due to the reported road works but we are grateful they were not as bad as we had expected. Some drivers were a bit too keen when the road got good again… We were second on the scene, everyone else stopped, checked everyone was ok and quickly went on their way again – hopefully a little slower…

Too fast for that corner…

After leaving Chita and continuing our journey westwards, we noticed a sudden change in the ethnicity of the people, their attitude towards us, and towards life too I think. We got an instant sense of contentment, belonging, curiorisity, enjoying what they were doing.

Great meeting Russians on the road

A happy little chap


We had a massive riding day, 626kms from Chita to Ulan-Ude, exhausting but it felt great, my favourite riding day and we knew it would allow a full day’s rest here.

Rest meant exploring for half a day and spending the second half doing administrative work – starting the process for our Uzbek and Iranian visas, that takes so long, bike checking, dealing with software issues etc.

Here are some images of our day today (wifi here is the best so far in Russia!):

Serious ground rail crossing barriers


Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude museum, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

The world’s largest statue of Lenin, Ulan-Ude, Russia

Enjoying Ulan-Ude, Russia

WWII memorial, Ulan-Ude, Russia

WWII memorial remembering non combatants

Ulan-Ude, Russia

Drinking water, Ulan-Ude, Russia

Ulan-Ude, Russia

For anyone passing through the region, we both highly recommend taking a day to visit this gorgeous town. We could have gone to Lake Baikal but chose to get more of a sense of Ulan-Ude and its people instead. And we are very glad we did.

The day runs away from us again and we feel we have done a fraction of what we wanted! We have experienced so much, yet our blogs only capture mere snipets. The most poignant moments however will remain as powerful images in our minds and memories as we do not take photos of them, which we can’t describe appropriately to give them credit. Such as the old lady, a medal pinned to her chest, walking along the old soviet era monument, looking up to it, then slowly walking on. What were her thoughts, memories, experiences?? We will never know but we will remember her. Or the beautiful sight, amongst the pure and moving chanting in the church, of a young woman, staring into the distance through the candles in front of her, praying. Or the images of a woman on her own, dressed for work presumably, waiting for a bus out in the middle of nowhere in Siberia.

We have enjoyed our time in Russia, the people we have met, their generosity, the roads, just not the horse flies!! We are heading for the Mongolian border just south of Kyakhta tomorrow – let the real adventure begin! Wish us luck…

– Anne

Chilling in hot Chita

Only 3000kms in 6 days since we left Vladivostok and when we see our accommodation in Chita, with air conditioning, we decide we need a rest: we are definitely no hard core riders!!! We are a little embarassed that our Korean scooter riders are only two days behind us. But that’s ok, we’re probably their grand-parents’ age.

Time for a good shower (our hovel last night had no running water whatsoever, no tap outside even – it’s funny how we much prefer camping to such places but the heat and horse flies put us off, especially after our longest day riding), some washing, money changing, blogging, a little exploring and resting. And a little shopping too: our hovel last night fried my power converter/recharger when we suddenly got power in the late evening – my mistake really.

Over the past week, it has been incredibly frustrating for me to realise how little Russian I remember. While I can make myself understood, often with the aid of Google translate, which I do manage to correct at times, I have no idea what I am being told! Although I did understand one poor woman’s frustrating retort telling me she couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand her!!! Anyway, some words and grammar are slowly coming back, and luckily I can still read Russian easily.

This luxury in Chita was only a little more than double our hovel the night before!

New engineering students on their graduation march through Chita

Proud parents waiting to see their children in the procession

Russian tv journalist reporting on Chita’s university graduation

Graduation speech on Lenin square, Chita

Lenin square, Chita

Chita – old and new buildings

Old home in Chita

No fur needed at the moment – 35 degrees days

Chita train station

Chita cathedral

The inside of the cathedral was breathtaking – I have no idea if photographs are allowed but I felt it inappropriate as everyone inside, young and old, were praying to different saints in different parts of the cathedral. We lit candles for our guardian angels.

Not much more news really. Loved walking around Chita and seeing the graduation march – great timing! Just wanted to give you a quick tour of Chita before we head into Mongolia in 4 days’ time. Using up our sim card data pack as wifi is near impossible to use here. As you can see, the weather has changed for us now: the winter gloves have been packed away, and it is 31 degrees as I write this at 9pm.

We will be in touch again when internet allows – could be 3 weeks, by the time we cross Mongolia, back into Russia and into Kazakhstan, so no panic. Just keep your armchairs oiled for our return…

– Anne