Sainbainuu! We are currently in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia and since we have so many foreign readers who were interested in the train journey we are henceforth writing in English.
We started our long train journey in Hanoi-Vietnam to Beijing, a most pleasent journey except for the border formalities in the middle of the night that kept us awake til about 2 o'clock, after that we had to change trains until we could finally sleep.. for a short while, the staff woke us up 3 hours later and took us to a waiting hall where we had to stay for 2 hours, why we don't know..
We slept in a 4-berth coupe with a Mongolian neighbor who could speak a little english', we tried to make her teach us a few words but we soon gave up after realizing we could not bend our tongue the Mongolian way. She had 2 big sticks attached to her bag about 1m x 5 cm that she had bought in Laos and was bringing home in order to hit her horses with... (!)
We arrived in Beijing after 40 hours and 4 packages of noodles and went to look for a cheap hostel.
We finally found one, 4 floors underground but very cheap :) The only bad thing was that after 4 months of traveling in Asia we had finally learned to wake up at 7 am but theese 5 days underground ruined it all. We had no idea what time it was since the room was pitch black and dead silent at all times!
We liked Beijing and were very impressed by the calmness of the city, its also very modern. You kind of expect a giant city of 13,8 million people to be half chaotic and with very loud traffic everywhere, it wasn't. The government have invested in clever cartraffic solutions, a nice subway and buses that runs on electricity, all with great success. Since Beijing is the host for the 2008 Olympics, China is currently rebuilding the whole city and forming it into something very different from the rest of the country. Everywhere you go you see buildings and streets being restored, the famous old chineese homes in small alleyways called "hutongs" are getting fewer and fewer in favor of big office buildings. All the stray dogs have already been killed and we saw police cars "cleaning up the streets" from the homeless beggars. On the way to the Great wall we even saw a few big sport arenas and a huge Disneyland under construction, all for 2008.
parks for breakfast and to watch the old people practice their Feng shui and a few of them even used big swords and speer. The traditional Chinese culture is still very strong and fascinating, though some important rules we learned about eating or the way to greet people proved untrue. This is something they seem to totally have forgot about in Beijing. Especially the men were very rude, they spit EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME and not in a quiet way, they were throwing their chopsticks and food around at nice restaurants and didn't bother to lock the toilet door while taking a shit and smoking at the same time. The girls wore high heels 99% of the time and probably spent all We forced ourselves to wake up early one morning and went out in the money on make up and clothes.
After visiting the most impressive places here and getting our Mongolian visa we finally packed up and got on the trans-mongolian train!
We shared a 4-berth coupe with one Swedish girl (who grew up in a small tribe village on Papua New Guinea!) and a retired train-expert-German man, very nice company!
After 12 hours we passed the Chinese border where we stayed for 4 hours because we had to change all the wheels on the entire train! The reason for this goes back to the 2nd world war when the Russians were so afraid of a German attack by train so they made their tracks about 20 cm wider than the rest of the world.
We went out for some fresh air but all we got was sand in our lunges since we had already entered the Gobi desert!
The next day was filled with fantastic Mongolian countryside views, at this season a very dry and desolate place but very beautiful and unlike everything we've seen so far.
We arrived in the capital, Ulaanbaatar in daytime and went directly to the Gorkij Terelj National Park to spend a night in a ger, a special nomadic tent constructed to be able to pack up and down in 40 minutes (since the nomads move about 4 times a year).
On the way there we saw lots of cattle but also eagles, ALOT of wild horses and even a yak saddled on!
We had lunch and directly after that we went out riding for 3 hours in company with one nomad guiding us in his own language. The surroundings were just amazing and can't be explained but if we put it this way: not even places like Halong bay stands a glimpse of a chance. The horses were far from easy to ride but there is a reason for this, except for the few times when they are used for riding they are let free in the wilderness and in the nighttime they even fight against the wolves. Once again this is one of the best things we've done so far.
Almost every Mongolian owns one or more horses, and even though it does not bring in much money they value this animal above all others. They consider it to be a very spiritual and joyful animal and we agree!
The next morning we went to visit a nomad family who just had settled nearby for the summer. We were invited into their ger and were offered to taste their home made horse-yoghurt that tasted almost like our Swedish filmjölk!
Suddenly we saw a giant eagle sitting behind the gers looking straight into our eyes and we were told that many families keep a special hunting-eagle in the camp, and luckily this was one of them. A young boy is given an eagle child and as they grow up together they build a special kind of relationship needed for the hunting. If someone else but the owner tries to pick up the eagle it immediately attacks. The eagle is dressed up in a hunting helmet to keep the "hunting eye" calm and the boy carries the eagle on a special glove. When the boy spots a prey the helmet is removed and in seconds the eagle has spotted it and hunted it down.
This was far from the only animal in sight, big dogs were walking around in the camp and we were surrounded by groups of horses running wild.
Its a shame we only have 2 days here, we could easily stay for a month or two, but now we are looking forward to one week of vodka drinking with the Russians on the train!
Forbidden Palace, Beijing.
Silk Street, Beijing.
Ready to go!
The dots are the sand from the Gobi desert. Friends: Stina from Sweden, Dieter aus Germany. Yaks.
Our new Mongolian friends who handled our fire at nighttime.
Inside the ger.
The eagle and the boy
Gobi desert cleaning.