Central Mongolia delivered, but not in the way expected.
I prepare for this long desired trip and almost all review and guide books stress that Mongolia is hard to travel independently. This is definitely true to a large extend, and as result we book a tour in advance. Was I wrong! This touristy circle covering so called highlights have left me disappointed more than once. Hindsight I could have known what I know now. All stays are in tourist gers, read compounds that make me feel locked up and restricted. With frequent “free time” which means being bored in the bordered area I call home for a few nights. There is no local experience what so ever.
Soon I also understand the guides opening remark: “you are young people”. Apparently most visitors are retired, and during the tour he shows a selfie of him and 85 year old after climbing a gobi desert dune. I can only hope I am as little adventurous as these people at that age … but it puts everything in perspective. We only drive from ger compound to ger compound. No real Mongolian life is shown or experienced other than the guide and driver, in the slipstream of the elderly bus following the same itinerary.
Leaving behind expectations and enjoying reality gave wonderful experiences in the end. Our guide Altai takes us on family visits, which are so unique and show such a great hospitality that this is an experience I am happy to enjoy. Finally real Mongolia unfolds.
We visit families in the city, rather than gers. The houses are small and simple, to enable easy heating in the cold winters. Gardens are large and fenced. All houses have a different color and most have a small Buddhist altar and a Chinggis Khan picture.
The hosts treat us with milk tea and yoghurt candies, sometimes even snuff. Most discussions are about whether it is a good grass season, which it is. Enough grass means well fed live stock and enough hay to feed them throughout the winter. This insight in Mongolian live is truly unique.
Bazars are also something special and it is clear not many tourists visit. Even the hospitality seems to be gone from time to time.
To summarize a week that tests my own flexibility, brings unique cultural experience and enough photo opportunities.