Friday, August 16, 2019

Outer Mongolia - Experiencing Mongolian Tent or Ger (Part 3)

Inside the local Mongolian ger - Bayangobi

When coming to Mongolia, it was a must-try thing to experience living inside the Mongolian tent (commonly said ger). In our itinerary it included 3 different places for us to stay inside the Mongolian tourist camp. All the 3 sizes of ger we stayed were different, letting us experiencing different feeling, although the number of people remained the same (max. 4 pax in one ger).

1. Bayangobi Tourist Camp

Bayangobi Tourist Camp - Outer Mongolia

This was the first tourist camp we stayed - Bayangobi Tourist Camp. Ger were set in few rows. Depending on your luck, those stayed near the toilet was considered good location as the toilet cum bathroom was located in separate area. Especially for those who often visited toilet break at nighttime, like me. But if your ger was too far from toilet, worry not, as you still could do your business around your ger (only small business please....) hahahaha.... :P

Outside our ger - Bayangobi Tourist Camp

This size of ger was just nice for 4 of us. Not too big and not too small. As you could see at the below picture, in the middle they usually installed the manual room heater (burned using woods). That night the coldness was bearable, and therefore, no heater was required. The blanket was enough to keep us warm.

Panoramic view inside our ger - Bayangobi Tourist Camp

In each tourist camp they provided us with separated toilet and bathroom for men and women, dining hall, and souvenir shop. Bigger one was equipped with bar. Below was the typical souvenir shop seen all over Mongolia (the wheels were installed so when they moved around, this portable shop could be pulled up by few yaks or cows).

Mongolian style souvenir shop - Bayangobi Tourist Camp - Mongolia

The toilet plus bathroom was surprisingly maintained really well. They employed a worker to standby there the whole day to ensure that the toilet was clean at all times - to ensure the floor was dry and clean, toilet paper was available, and so on.

Toilet plus bathroom at Bayangobi Tourist Camp - Mongolia

The bathroom was also equipped with water heater. However, due to the limitation of the heater system size, it could only satisfy the first few users. When the hot water had finished, the next user had to wait for a while before the heater started warming the water back again. That also including the availability of the water. Those who taking bath later, most probably they would run out of water. Unfortunately my ladies friends and I were among those people who took bath late.

I had to use the water drip by drip to clean my body, as if the water came from heaven, really had to treasure them very well. Luckily I managed to clean myself, even washing my hair and everything. In place like this, clean water was really a treasure and not for taken for granted!!!

Had a wonderful time at Bayangobi desert - Mongolia

This area was located not far from desert. We were brought there to experience desert life with its sand dunes.

With the Mongolian camel :) - Bayangobi Desert

Riding camels in a group - Bayangobi Desert - Outer Mongolia

Riding camel and visiting the local herdsman ger was also another activity offered. We sat there and were given opportunity to ask question regarding their nomadic lives, a life that was really different with what we were having right now.

Grassland nearby Bayangobi Tourist Camp (Photo courtesy: Jack Lim)

Beautiful nature surrounding Bayangobi Tourist Camp (Photo courtesy: Jack Lim)

Nearby the camp you could find the beautiful grassland as per shown at the photos above. From afar, the place looked like having nothing, but when we got closer, it turned out that the grass was not flat, but it looked more like small hills on top of another and decorated with small flowers.

Beautiful and quiet place to do meditation :D - Bayangobi, Outer Mongolia

Yoga too... :P - Bayangobi, Outer Mongolia

My friends and I could not hold ourselves but posing with this beautiful nature :D

Before sleeping :D Inside our ger at Bayangobi Tourist Camp

At night we spent our time together inside our ger tasting Chinggis Vodka with their chips, chit chatting about anything else that came up out of our minds. Even when the electricity was gone, we had our torch light ready within our hand to brighten up the tent. And yes, after series of drinking, all of us took our small business just outside our ger, instead of heading all the way to the beautiful toilet nearby... Hahahahaha.... (vodka effect) :P

2. Anar Tourist Camp

Panoramic view of the Anar Tourist Camp - Outer Mongolia

Endless photo session near the beautiful Orkhon River - Kharkhorin, Outer Mongolia

With the background of my favorite animals and surroundings (mountains and river) - Orkhon River

We moved on to Kharkhorin the next day and we stayed at the above tourist camp. The location was good as it was very near from the Orkhon River. The view was simply natural, beautiful, and amazing!!! All your troubles were sure gone away after quenching the nature thirst over this place!!! Because it worked on me!!! :)

Circling the Stupa on top of the hill - Anar Tourist Camp - Kharkhorin, Outer Mongolia

Posing with Mongolian students at the Monument for Mongol States - Kharkhorin, Outer Mongolia

It was within walking distance to reach the river, as well as to reach the Monument for Mongol States. We had a short hike to reach the top. Despite the rain, we all reached all over the place and enjoyed the view so much!!! :)

Inside our ger - Anar Tourist Camp - Kharkhorin, Mongolia

This time our ger was quite small though among the three. It was just nice as the weather was colder at night.

Inside the decorative dining room with my local guide at the background - Anar Tourist Camp

We had 3-course set meal for both lunch and dinner. They served continental dishes. Loved them all! :)

Turning the manual heater inside our ger - Anar Tourist Camp - Kharkhorin, Mongolia

We even had to ask the staff to turn the heater inside our room. Unlike other ger, luckily we had Bhutanese lady here who knew how to control the heat from this manual heater. Our room was kept warm until we slept because of her skill :D Thank you Sangay!!! :)

Waiting for the sunrise to come at 4.30 am - Anar Tourist Camp

I was awoken few times early in the morning as my friends wanted to see the sunrise. We were not sure when the sunrise began. That was why I woke up as early as 4 am and only to find the sky was still dark.

Sunrise at Anar Tourist Camp (Photo courtesy: Peggy)

Sunrise at Anar Tourist Camp (Photo courtesy: Peggy)

I finally gave up when it started to rain. I thought, would the sun still come when it was raining?? Moreover the friend who wanted to see sunrise at the first place was sleeping all the time. Hahaha... I got lazy and decided to continue to sleep.

Sunrise with the rainbow at Anar Tourist Camp - Kharkhorin, Mongolia (Photo courtesy: Peggy)

Only the next morning after having breakfast our tour leader said that there was a rainbow. Our tour mate, Peggy, managed to capture the sunrise and the rainbow. She had kindheartedly sharing the pictures with us. And I could not wait to share them with you all here on this post. Hope you enjoy the posts so far :)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Outer Mongolia - Places to Visit in Ulaanbaatar (Part 2)

First time flying with Mongolian Airlines

It was my first time flying with MIAT (Mongolian Airlines). It was such a joy to experience the different types of airlines while traveling. Each airline represents the country where they were from. The first thing I loved doing after boarding to the plane was to take out their in-flight magazine and read it. In there, I could find many information about people, places, and so on. It made me understanding more about the country and their culture as well.

Chinggis Khaan International Airport - Outer Mongolia

Chinggis Khan International Airport was located 18 km southwest of the capital, Ulaanbaatar city. By the time we reached, the sky had already turned dark. We were transferred immediately to our hotel - Bayangol Hotel - to have a rest.

On second day onward we started traveling and first, we visited places in the capital.

1. Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum

The front part of Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

It was built between 1980 to 1903. It used to be the winter palace where the 8th Jebtsundamba Khutagt (the spiritual head of Gelug lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia), who was also the last King of Mongolia, known as Bogd Khan, and his Queen Dondogdulam - the White Tara - lived and ruled the country for over twenty years. Now it had become one of the oldest and most valuable museums in Mongolia.

The beautiful Peace and Happiness Gate with 2 flag poles - Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum

At the front part of the Bogd Khan's green palace you could find the Shield Wall (the grey wall on the left), the Peace and Happiness Gate with 2 flag poles (the gate on the right) - to commemorate Mongolia's independence, plus the Three Open Pavilion Gates (the gate in the middle) with no door, where the King and Queen used to welcome the high ranking nobles, state officials, and monks. The gates with no door represented all the goodness and fine things of the universe constantly entering and flowing through their open doors.

Bogd Khan Palace Complex housing the seven 'wisdom glorifying' temples

The Bogd Khan Winter Palace - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The palace complex was separated into 2 sections: the seven 'wisdom glorifying' temples and the winter palace. After the Queen passed away in 1923 and the Bogd Khan in 1924, their possession of historical, cultural, and artistic values, idols, ethnographical items and household items along with a variety of stuffed animals were transferred to this museum. Many interesting items included Bogd Khan's throne, bed, his ornate ceremonial ger lined with skins of 150 leopards, a pair of ceremonial boots given by Russian Tsar Nicholas II, a cloak made of 80 foxes skin, and so on. They were amazingly beautiful and worth the visit! :)

2. Zaisan Memorial at Zaisan Hill

The outer part of the Zaisan Memorial - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Zaisan Memorial was built on top of the Zaisan Hill to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who had fought and sacrificed during the WWII. They had protected, gained freedom and independence for the Mongolian's People Republic.

The inner part of Zaisan Memorial - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The monument itself resembled the Mongolian fireplace, symbolizing life. It featured a circular memorial painting that depicted the scenes of friendship between the people of the USSR and Mongolia.

Posing with Mongolian falcon from the top of the Zaisan Hill

Ulaanbaatar with Tuul River view from Zaisan Hill - Mongolia

From this place you could see the panoramic view of the entire city of Ulaanbaatar together with the Tuul River flowing past the city.

3. National Museum of Mongolia

National Museum of Mongolia - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The National Museum of Mongolia was established in 1924. The museum contained many historical, archeological, and ethnographical artifacts from prehistorical time to the contemporary era.

National Museum of Mongolia Timetable

There were 9 halls inside displaying items according to historical periods and themes, such as: the ancient history of Mongolia, ancient states, traditional clothing and jewelry, the Mongolian empire, traditional culture, traditional life, artifacts from 17th century to the beginning of 20th century, the socialist Mongolia era, and the democratic Mongolia era.

With background picture of Genghis Khan - National Museum of Mongolia at Ulaanbaatar

For a first timer like me, it was a good place to learn about the Mongolian history. As mentioned earlier, I could learn about their earlier life, their tradition, culture, lives, and so on. And when you heard about Mongolia, you would also hear about its famous founder and first great Khan of the Mongolia empire - Genghis Khan, born with name of Temujin (1162-1227).

Other than Indonesian history, I never learned about other countries' history. To prepare myself before visiting this country, I spent some time to learn about him from this BBC documentary. So at least I had slightly idea about who and what the guide was talking about :)

4. Sukhbaatar Square

Sukhbastar Square 

Previously known as Chinggis Square, was the central square of Ulaanbaatar. It was located at the heart of the city and surrounded by iconic buildings, such as: the Government (State) Palace, Mongolian Stock Exchange building, State Opera and Ballet Academic Theater, Central Cultural Palace, and so on.

Sukhbaatar Statue - in the middle of Sukhbaatar Square - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

A large statue of Sukhbaatar stood in the middle of the square. He was one of the leaders of Mongolia's 1921 revolution and who had declared Mongolia's final independence from China. This square was named after him.

Government Palace with monuments of Genghis Khan, Ogedei Khan, and Kublai Khan - Ulaanbaatar

There you could find the monuments of Genghis Khan, Ogedei Khan (third son of Genghis Khan and second Great Khan of the Mongol empire), and Kublai Khan (the fifth Great Khan of the Mongolian empire) - at the Government (State) Palace facing the Sukhbaatar Square.

In front of Genghis Khan monument - Sukhbaatar Square - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

5. Gandantegchinlen Monastery

The front gate of Gandantegchinlen Monastery - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The first monastery (Gungaachoiling Datsan) was built back in 1809 by the order of 5th Jebtsundamba Khutuktu. In 1838, it was moved into the present location and built along with his private residence. In 1938 the monastery was closed (due to the influence of Communist government) and reopened in 1944. And with the end of Marxism in 1990, restriction on worship was lifted. They started building it again and now it has grown into Buddhist schools, University, library and temples housing hundreds of monks, even hospital, and it is still growing now.

Feeling blessed at Gandantegchinlen Monastery - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Gandantegchinlen - this Tibetan name was translated into "The Great Place of Complete Joy". This place was indeed upholding its name. Let me share you my experience.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, one of my great motivations visiting Mongolia was to visit Buddhist temples. And this temple was one of them. The night I reached Mongolia, I sprained my back when lifting my luggage up into the luggage rack inside the hotel. If you ever sprained your back before, you would know how painful it was!!! I had it once before that and it took me few weeks to recover. So that night, I was feeling horrible!!! It was only my first night reaching Mongolia and there were 7 more days to go!!!

"How can I prostrate fully if my back is paining tomorrow?? It is one of the temples I really wanted to visit!!!" That was the first thought that came into my mind. Followed by, "How can I participate on those activities stated in the itinerary???" - I was referring to horse and camel riding, walking and exploring nature, and so on.

I could not sleep well that night. Went to bed at 12 midnight but managed to sleep only at 2 am. That too, I was awoken 3 times for toilet visit (the cooling air made me visiting toilet easily). At 5 am, the summer sky in Mongolia had turned bright, and I was awoken by it. I slept all night with the pain and despite of cooling air, my body was sweating.

Walking path towards the main temple - Gandantegchinlen Monastery, Ulaanbaatar

The next morning the pain was still lingering there. I had to walk, stand, and sit down slowly. Since we visited so many places in a day, I had to bear with the pain in order to enjoy my trip. This temple was the last place to visit on the day. As I went down from the bus, Sherab asked me how my back pain felt like. I told him, the pain was still there. Then we had to walk a distance to reach the main temple.

In front of the main temple - Gandantegchinlen Monastery - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

In the entrance, I was distracted and forgot about my pain when they said I had to pay Mongolian Tugrik 7,000 if I wanted to take the photos inside the temple (it was common in Mongolia to have such condition including the Palace and Museum that we visited earlier). This time, I was willingly paying the fee because I was longing to visit this temple very much. So I paid the amount and entered.

Gandantegchinlen Monastery - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

I was amazed to see the 26.5-meter-height statue of Megjid-Janraiseg (the Lord who watches in every directions) or Avalokitesvara (Goddess of Mercy and Compassion). I stood for a while, looking up and down throughout the whole statue and smiled for all the joy and happiness for finally meeting Her there.

Despite the statue was not the original that was built back in late 18th century (as it was dismantled by Russian troops in 1938 by the instruction of the Communist government), Mongolian people had built this replica back with all of their hearts and souls; from their donation and hard work, featuring precious stones, silks, gilded with gold leaf, filled with tons of medicinal plants, sutras, and mantra. I could feel their intense loves and devotions there.

Avalokitesvara 26.5-meter-height statue at Gandategchinlen Monastery - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

I put down my bag at the side and started to prostrate three times all the way down to the floor. Amazingly, my back pain was all gone. I continued my prayer after the prostration and I cried. I cried because I felt so much happy and grateful for all the good karma, for the fate to finally visiting this country, this temple, Her, feeling homely (it looked just like I was inside the temple in Tibet itself), and for finally able to prostrate because the pain had disappeared. I was feeling joy for Her love and compassion and very thankful for everything that happened in my life.

Thank you SB, thank you, thank you, and thank you... So, imagine the back pain that usually took weeks to recover, it was suddenly gone after visiting this temple. It was a miracle, at least for me. And yes, it was really the Great Place of Complete Joy... :)

6. Cashmere Factory Store

EVSEG Factory Store in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Cashmere Factory Store was a must visit place when you went to Mongolia. They had many different shops around the Ulaanbaatar city, such as: Gobi Cashmere Factory Store, Altai Cashmere Factory Store, EVSEG Factory Store, GOYO Cashmere Factory Store, and so on.

You could find a very good quality cashmere with a reasonable price. Most factory store was set with international standards separating man and woman section for the convenient of the customers. As mentioned in previous blog post, Mongolia produced second largest cashmere in the world. So if you really needed one, why not? It could be a great gift to give too!!! And if you were just want to see the whole range of it without traveling to too many shops, just go down to the next place here.

7. State Department Store

State Department Store - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This place was a must-go place if you liked shopping and wanted to purchase the local products. Established in 1921, this landmark building was the largest and most luxurious store in Mongolia. Here you could find a good quality cashmere located at second floor featuring many different well-known brands of cashmere shops.

Souvenirs were sold at sixth floor. The prices were reasonable too. If you bought more quantity, they offered with cheaper price. This was where I bought most of my souvenir!!!

It had supermarket as well on the ground floor offering many food and beverage (including Mongolia liquor). A really one stop shop for everything that you need. Highly recommended!!! :)

And if you did not have enough Mongolian Tugrik on hand, worry not, as you could pay using US dollar with the rate converted directly on the spot at the cashier (No need to trouble yourself to find money changer).

8. Tumen-Ekh Folk Song and Dance Ensemble

Tumen-Ekh Folk Song and Dance Ensemble - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This was another must-do thing when you visited Ulaanbaatar, which was watching the Mongolian traditional folklore show. With our tour, we were brought to this place called Tumen-Ekh Folk Song and Dance Ensemble. and according to the reviews of many others, this place was simply the best. Not based on the stage and theater condition, but the quality of the performers. In fact the place was quite small and really packed of tourists like us. The later you reached, you had to sit down using pillows underneath on the staircases and some had to sit on the floor very close to the stage (due to the seat space constraint). So better to come in much earlier before the show started. The performances, other than singing, dancing, playing the various traditional musical instruments, and acrobats, they also showed us about how the Shamanism was usually being done. There was religious mask-dance that was pretty similar with Tibetan mask-dance with the old man with white hair and happy smiling face as one of the main characters.

A fantastic Mongolian throat singer :) - Tumen-Ekh - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

But my favorite was the performance done by the man on the picture above. He was performing the Mongolian throat-singing. I found it very unique and required a great amount of efforts and talent to perform. The overall show lasted for about an hour and it was really worth visiting!!

Well, there were many other places that you could visit in Ulaanbaatar that I did not mention here (since I did not go), such as: Choijin Lama Temple, National Amusement Park, various museum, theater, and so on. If you had many days to spare, then you could check for more recommended places to go. But if your time was quite limited, then the above places should have been good enough to visit. Next post would cover other places outside Ulaanbaatar. Stay tune! :)
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