Mongolia is a huge country. There is little infrastructure and so most travellers are dependant on taking organised tours or hiring their own jeeps and guides. After looking at the various options of the major sites we both agreed that it was the large freshwater lake in the north west of the country that was our priority to visit. The next step was working out how to get there.
The woman at the guesthouse in Ulan Bataar urged us to take a guided tour. It would take nine days to get there, staying with nomadic families along the way. It sounded great – except it was very expensive and we don’t really like having to follow someone else’s schedule. Starting the day at 8:00am doesn’t really work for us – we need time for our coffee, yoga practice and breakfast routine! The second option was to travel to a nearby town by public bus and then take a three-hour jeep ride. She strongly advised us against this option. The journey would be around 20 continuous hours (they have two drivers taking it in shifts) on a very crowded bus. Our desire to see this lake, and our tendency to always take the cheapest option overrode our concerns for comfort and we purchased tickets for the public bus.
The bus was indeed very crowded, with around 30 adults and 20 children and a lot of baggage and boxes of food and supplies. Rather than put the bags on the roof, like in India, the bags were piled up and down the aisle, which then served as additional seats for some passengers. It was probably an easier journey for me than Roberto, as at least I could fit my legs in, although admittedly my knees hit the seat in front, so sitting in half lotus was the most comfortable position. Roberto had no choice but put his legs out over the baggage or sit in the aisle. So it was a difficult journey, particularly on our backsides but we managed to get a little bit of sleep and the passing landscape – the open grasslands dotted with gers and full of horses, cows, yaks and sheep – was extremely beautiful.
Apart from a girl throwing up next to us, the other passengers were completely at ease with the journey, talking, laughing, dozing and even playing cards. The kids were amazingly well behaved, and seemed to have the bladders of camels. Thankfully the bus did make some stops, for dinner and toilet breaks and thankfully I had packed enough snacks to last us.
In the early morning, we spotted in the distance colourful roofs glistening in the sun. The ride had taken two hours less then expected! Now all that was left was the three-hour jeep ride, which was so bumpy that I am yet to decide which ride was the most unpleasant! The intense relief and jubilation we felt at finally arriving at the lake was only marred by the thought that we had to take the same journey on the return.
But of course it was worth it. The landscape by the lake was stunning and the complete experience of staying in a ger, seeing the many animals, meeting some lovely Mongolian people was unforgettable. I think the pictures speak for themselves!