A surreal ride through the Mongolian steppe

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  • Jun 28,2016
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13466327_10206759201473751_193043080742279834_n13445647_10206759196753633_8228234712398546270_n 13435411_10206759196313622_1131950361501080311_nI was getting really impatient to see the Mongolian countryside, after having spent three weeks in Ulaanbaatar without leaving the city. As summer is only starting, the number of volunteers and tourists coming to Mongolia was still rather low, but we eventually managed to constitute a very multicultural group of five volun- teers from Asia and Europe to go on a two-day trip to two of the most famous attractions close to Ulaanbaatar, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and the Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex in Tsonjin Boldog.

We booked this trip through the Hostel UB Guesthouse, and the price was of 70 USD per person as it was a sliding price scale and there were five people. We therefore embarked on a rather dubious minivan,struggling to move forward even on a reasonably good road. After a little more than an hour, we arrived at the national park, spotted the famous Turtle Rock and were introduced to the family that would host us during the weekend. We slept in two gers – one for us three girls, and the other for the boys – and spent the day exploring the park. I found the turtle-shaped rock quite nice, but it was not what impressed me the most. Instead, at the end of the valley, nestled between the two protective mountain slopes was a majestic rock formation with a massive boulder that seemed to be staying in an unstable position, as if it could fall at any minute. We strode along the path leading to the rock, trying not to lose our balance on the big stones underneath our feet, as we were getting higher and higher above the ground. As we could not go any further, we turned around and had a look at the panorama, admiring the sumptuous view over the mountains, the forest covering the land, and the little gers testifying of the human activity going on in the park. We also spotted the Gunj Monastery, hung to the slope of the mountain at the end of its impressive staircase. A short horse riding test was planned in the afternoon. Being the only experienced rider and having read “Do not expect to gallop through the vast, open steppe!” on the advice brochure at the hostel, I preferred to stick to that statement in order not to be disappointed.It sounded fair enough to take it easy and walk peacefully during our ride – but as it turned out, I was far from imagining what was waiting for me the next day. At the end of the first day, after having had a typical Mongolian food for dinner, we left again and went back to our now beloved rock to watch the sun setting on the valley. Although it got a little cloudy, the view was still gorgeous; so we sat down and enjoyed an evening of talks and games, celebrating the weekend with Mongolian vodka for a proper immersion into the country. We had actually met each other a few days ago or even just the previous day forsome of us, and yet we could talk as if we had known each other for ages: here is the beauty of travel. We shared some stories, including why and how we all ended up here in Mongolia, at this particular time. And as it turned out, some of us had something quite precise in mind, seeing this adventure as a healing process, be it after a physical or emotional incident. Can Mongolia heal the mind and heart then? As far as I am concerned, I actually think so. After this enjoyable evening, we tried to find our gers back in the pitch black night, and left Terelj the next morning, making our way through the wide steppes. Being a true horse lover,I set myself a new goal of trying to do horse riding in as much foreign countries as I can. I have now been able to do it in South Africa, the Netherlands and Iceland, but Mongolia was probably the best experience. After a while, as my Korean friend struggled a little with her horse, the guide told me he would give me his own horse and take hers. He literally knew around 10 English words, but it is amazing how many things we could actually understand from him. He told me in a very funny way “Your horse: guide horse! Not tourist horse!” with a large smile, so I felt quite honored to be able to ride this beautiful animal. All the elements seemed to come together in a perfect picture, too beautiful to be real: the scenery in between our points of departure and arrival were by far the most amazing, and all the more enjoyable since it was nature in its purest form, with no interac- tion from men whatsoever. Some Mongolian cows and yaks were peacefully grazing, semi-wild horses were galloping in total freedom along us, and every once in a while a majestic eagle flew over the territory, forour greatest pleasure. Then the guide allowed me to go and gallop ahead of the group, and even joined me for a race with his horse two or three times along the way. I found the Mongolian saddle very uncomfortable compared to the Western ones, but it didn’t matter: this feeling of freedom while being on an amazing horse at full gallop, competing with an eagle above our heads and marvelling at the gorgeous scenery around us was just indescribable, and I was the happiest girl on earth at that moment. The improvised barbecue along the Tuul River at lunch left us a little disconcerted as we only had pieces of raw meat to be put on a pit to cook on the bonfire, and some slices of dry bread – which my vegetarian friend was not very happy about – but it made the experience quite funny. And after countless hours on our horses, witnessing some sublime views along the way, and for my part having afew amazing crazy times testing the speed of the cute Mongolian horses, we reached our vanwhich brought us to the Chinggis Khaan statue, before coming back to Ulaanbaatar. In short, I have absolutely loved this trip, which although only lasting two days, felt like a week as it was so intense and we got to do so much. I loved spending this time with wonderful people, seeing such amazing landscapes that are so unique to the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky, and that for themost part, will egoistically stay in my mind - unable to be shared as we took very few photos while on the horses. I would definitely recommend this trip which was well-organised and of a very reasonable price for everything that was included. Last but not least, I feel really lucky and more than happy to have had this opportunity to ride horses here before my departure in a week – and what a ride it was!