We had planned on leaving UlaanBaatar (U.B.) at 9 a.m. as we were going north towards Siberia and having our last stop in Mongolia at a city called Darkhan. We finally got our act together and left at 10:30 a.m. Ksenia, our guide demonstrated great patience with us while she waited. One of the reasons were we so late in leaving was that a service attendant at a gas station had put 65 pounds of air into our tires when they should only have 42 pounds of air. Russ had to find the air gauge and fix each tire! (Communication problem).
As we left U.B. and travelled along the countrside we noticed more houses and less Gers, although there were still plenty of Gers. The wooden houses and fences are all unpainted wood but the roofs which look like corrugated tin. (You know the wavy up and down look inside of a piece of cardboard). I was thinking that it would get pretty noisy inside the houses when it rained with all these tin roofs but I was corrected. The material is not tin but a composite of materials (probably heated to mix together) and is hard like ceramic which explains why the roofs come in different colours. The colours signify the position of the family in the community. Red is for government employees or a very wealthy person.
We drove through a valley just outside U.B. and you couldn’t help noticing how beautiful it was. Lush green grass on both sides of the highway with rolling hills (small mountains) that looked like green velvet. Every once in awhile there would be a white Ger and their livestock scattered up the hill. Always the blue skies! The scenery was postcard perfect and I was sorry to be leaving Mongolia.
In one spot, there was an outcropping of trees growing in bunches on top of the rolling hills and the scenery looked like the English countryside. We were expecting the rock walls and hedges used by the English to pen in their sheep, but of course the countryside of Mongolia is all open. Only the houses in villages and cities have fences around them and the fences are used to keep the animals out because animals are free to wonder about even in the villages. As we got closer to the Russian border the wooden houses increased and the number of Gers decreased, plus there were vegetable gardens, stables and greenhouses. This indicated to us that these people (perhaps Russians) in these villages stayed put over the winter and were no longer inhabited by nomads.
At one point we drove off the highway for a pee break and noticed a little boy off in the distance beside a Ger. Temuujin, called out to him because we wanted to give him a hat. His mother came out of the Ger and they both walked over to us. She told us that her family was there for the summer but they were moving soon to go back to the middle of the Gobi Desert for the winter. It takes them 15 days to get to their winter home. They have 500 animals and no camels. They have 10 cows and the rest are sheep and goats. They come to this spot because of all the grass. Her husband has a truck and that is how they move their Ger. The little boy who looked around 6 or 7 years old was responsible for all the baby goats and they had 80 of them!! She also told us that she was responsible for all the milking. The cows were milked twice a day and the goats were milked at night. We gave them both hats and a colouring book and crayons for the little boy.
When we got back on the highway we noticed that we were not the only ones appreciating the beautiful scenery, people were bathing in a river and having picnics. We even saw a field of Sunflowers. It looked amazing just because it was so unexpected! We finally arrived at Darkhan which is the 3rd largest ciry in Mongolia. Population of 75,000 and was meant to be the manufacturing center in Mongolia but after the collapse of the Soviet Union many of the industries failed. Hence Darkhan is a rough and ready town and so was the hotel. Hard bed, lumpy pillows, paint peeling off the ceiling, no shower and no hot water. But having said all that it was clean and safe. The best thing about this stop was the fact that we had to be up at 4 a.m. to prepare for our border crossing into Russia.
At our Mongolian farewell dinner Temuujin, taught us a Mongolian toast. You dip your ring finger of your left hand into your vodka and then flick the vodka out towards your friends saying “Good will to family and friends” then you dip your same finger again and flick out saying “Blessings to your country that it may be prosperous” repeat and say “Blessing that there will be peace in the world” then you touch your forehead with this same ring finger and everyone downs their vodka.