Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Land Travel

One of the first things you learn upon arriving in Mongolia is that travel is a pain. You leave the airport and take a bus, taxi, van, whatever out onto the “streets” of Mongolia and learn that travel here sucks. The vehicles are old and rickety, the paved roads are unmaintained and the unpaved roads are…way more common than the paved ones, and the distances are far, very far. Despite all these things, people have to travel and so there are routes to get around.

Some are rather blasé, a simple straight shot down a paved road or an overnight train ride. But others are more epic and provide plenty of food for the imagination. When I first arrived in Mongolia, the most inspiring and interesting and, to me at least, attractive trip was the trip to Bayan-Olgii. Bayan-Olgii was an inspiring destination in itself. It’s where Kazakhstan meets Mongolia; it’s where shamans still perform rituals; it’s where men hunt on horses with eagles; it’s got mountains, mosques, and lakes. When I arrived in Mongolia, I’d never heard of Bayan-Olgii; I didn’t know that Mongolia had different ethnicities or that some percentage of the population speaks Mongolian as a second language and Kazakh as the first. Once I’d heard all this though, I wanted to live there. Failing that, I wanted to visit.

There are two ways to travel in Mongolia, by land or by air. Air travel is expensive and boring, so when I was planning my trip this summer, land was the clear choice. Did you ever know someone who climbed mountains just to see the view or someone who ate a chocolate covered ant just to know what it tasted like? Well, I took the bus from Olgii (the capital of Bayan-Olgii province) to Ulaanbaatar just because I wanted to know what it was like. It was long and mostly boring, but with some beautiful sights along the way that I couldn’t have seen from a plane. I met some interesting people and got to learn a little Kazakh from my bus mates. The route went from Olgii, through Khovd, Govi-Altai, Bayan-Hongor, and Uverhangai, to UB. The entire trip was bumpy and tiring, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, just very boring. Next time I take a deck of cards.

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