Things You Should Know About Mongolia

Before I traveled to Mongolia, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I've booked my ticket only 2 weeks before the trip, I didn't have enough time to prepare myself. I guessed that's where all the anxiety came from.

It's lucky for me, I have a new Malaysian friend in Mongolia. He's settling down for good, and he knows my cultural background. So, I got to ask questions without too much fear of offending him. I sure have learned a lot by observing their life. (Thanks to CS for introducing a new friend to me!)

Now that I'm back, I wish to tell you what I've observed and learned. I think these are the things you should know before you go.

You Do Not Get to Shower
You know you're not going to get a luxury trip to Mongolia. But what you MUST know, especially city kids like us, growing up at places with plenty of resources that we've forgotten how lucky we are all these times, you don't get to shower. Well, life in Ulaanbaatar was okay, but out of the capital, resources are really scarce. People get water from well, and they have to pay for it. Therefore, water is really precious.

The photo below is showing the place where I washed up and brushed teeth when we were at Terelj National Park. The "mailbox" is where the water was stored for usage. Used water is collected in the pail. This version here is considered as "luxury" type.

Life is tough for them. It's an irony we travelers went there to experience life, while the people are struggling with their daily life. So when you're there, try not to waste the water. That's all they have.

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Open air water tab for washing

I've broke my own record for not getting shower in 3 days. During the entire trip, I've only got a handful of shower, only when we're back to Ulaanbaatar.

There is No Proper Toilet
It's good for me that I've had experience in rural places in China few years back with my sister. Don't expect to have any proper toilet. Toilets in the country houses are basically a very very very deep hole. It's so deep I was in constant fear that I would slip and fell into the pile of shit. No kidding, you might probably die because you sink into the shit!

If you're on the road, there's definitely no toilet. We've been pampered by plenty of Rumah Rehat along Malaysia Highways. No such thing in Mongolia. If you need a leak, just stop your car, find a spot you like, there you go!

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Toilets everywhere

To be very honest to you, sometimes I prefer this "toilet" than the deep hole. Even in the first case, that would mean no cover. But here in Mongolia, nobody gives a shit if you pee or poo in public, because everybody's doing it.

Nomadic Life
I've got to stay in a ger, as I've always wanted to. The ger is specially built to be robust to all kinds of harsh and extreme weather in Mongolia, at the same time, so easy to take apart and rebuild anywhere and everywhere they want to. It's really a brilliant design!

Even when they are already living in the city, Nomadic Life is still in the blood. There's nothing in the world could change them. I've learned it, quite a hard way. We've all went to Terelj National Park with the Mongolian host family. As a typical city kids we've always asked about plans for tomorrow and few days later. But we've always got no answer. I thought it's because communication problem, at first.

But after all, I realized it's not. They don't make plans because everything they do depend strongly on the weather of the day. And also, the mood. Everything is unpredictable. One morning, the host asked us to pack and leave Terelj because we're going to Jargalt Khan to watch Naadam Festival. We have to pack and eat breakfast in half an hour!

Second time, I was slightly smarter, I packed in 15 minutes. Third time, I realized, I don't have to pack anything because I don't have to change anyway! I was ready in 5 minutes!

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Normadic Life

You Have To Be a Man
Yes, you have to be a man, sissy IS VERY un-welcomed by the Mongolians. Manhood is everything, that's why they have Naadam Festival. All boys are trained from young to race a horse, shoot an arrow and wrestle.

Guys in Mongolia don't wear colorful clothings like pink, yellow, light blue etc. Those are for girls, so beware of the colors you chose to wear when you're in Mongolia.

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Riding a horse is as easy as walking to Mongolians

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Wrestle! Even he's much bigger than you!

Respect The Nature
Mongolians respect their nature, a lot. Don't take rocks/stones/sands from places you go. They believe things belong to where they are. They have life. Don't kill animals/insects for no reason. Yes, we kill animals for food, but that's for living.

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At a farm

I've visited the farm of the herders. Even if the animals will eventually be slaughtered, generally they still treat them pretty well. I often see them petting the cows or the goats, which is kinda loving.

Marvelous Sense of Direction
Mongolians have incredibly good sense of direction! GPS is definitely not useful in Mongolia. Forget about it, just hire a Mongolia guide!

There's no proper road, no signboard, no... NOTHING on the road. Of all the days I was in Mongolia, I was really amazed by the drivers. How did they know where to go? And how did they know they're at the right direction?

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In the middle of desert

The concept of privacy of Mongolians are very different from us. If they changed their clothes in front of you (even opposite sex), don't be alarmed and misunderstood, nothing's going to happen. They're just having different concept in privacy than us. All these are perfectly fine to them, but not us.

I guess that's all for now, I will continue with it if I could think of any others :)


Bayanzurkh Uul (The Black Mountain)

The Black Mountain is supposed to be the highlight of the trip to Sainshand. Before we departed from Ulaanbaatar, our friend kept telling us we have to make wishes in this place. She believes in that truly, because she had her wishes came true.

And her family, as much as they can, they visit this place every year. To make prayers and wishes. To thank the god for what have given, and to renew the wishes too.

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From the carpark, it's truly a Black Mountain

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Looking down from mid way

When we were traveling on the train the night before, we had already pen down our wishes on the paper. The god must be very generous, there is no limit on the number of your wishes.

All you have to do when you reached there, was to whisper the wish to the god, and burnt it after that. (I forgot to take picture of that process though)

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Whispering wishes

After burning, we still have to queue another time, to whisper the same wishes to this god again.

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When I was in the queue

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For one wish

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It's really tiring

When we were in the queue, we saw a young man carrying an old lady to the mountain. We were all amazed by the determination of this pair. I guess at the time of desperation, everybody needs a hope, or even, a chance to hope. I will never know what wishes the old lady wished for, but I do hope she had hers granted.

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I can only stop here

As we continued uphill, I can only stop here. Because, females were not allowed to go to the summit. The rest of the guys continued the journey uphill, while I did my last praying here. Only females pray here. I circled the place three times (clockwise), tied the blue cloth around like everybody did, and again, whisper my wishes.

At this point of time, with nobody around me (at least nobody I knew), half way making the wish, I was weeping. I did not quite understand what moved me to tears. Maybe the determination of the people in this place? Or even maybe, hoping my wishes to be granted? I did not have an answer. I am naturally a "cryer", but this place seems to make me tear even more easily for no reason.

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Satisfying old lady

After I prayed I met the old lady, look at the satisfaction on her face :)

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Black Mountain

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Tone of the rocks changed from black to yellow

As the guys were doing their prayers at the summit, I could only wait. The sun was scorching hot, but the wind was strong. I didn't feel hot, but that's when it got bad, I got part of my sunburn from this place. Simply because I sat under the sun for too long, just to admire the black beauty.

Still feeling surreal, that finally, I managed to come to this place, Mongolia.

Monastery in Kharym Khiid

As mentioned earlier, Buddhism in Mongolia is very closed to what I've seen in Yunnan and Sichuan's Tibetans before. The monastery and stupas are exactly what I've seen in the past few years. I bet the Man will say the same for Nepal as well.

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Even though the architecture of the monastery is very similar, but the way the people pay respect is slightly different. After praying, we're supposed to touch the cloth with our forehead. As seen in the picture above.

Besides, we're not supposed to exit the temple by showing our back to the god.

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The hall displaying stories of different gods

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Made of goat bones
Lucky for me, I have a local friend whom brought us around. I was clueless of what the people were doing with the goat bones initially. They kept tossing the 7 bones and seem to be counting something too. According to my friend, each face of the bones represent goat, horse, sheep and cow. We're supposed to toss them 13 times and count how many times the horse appeared. If it appears more than 7 times, you're lucky this year. If it appears more than 13 times, you're very very lucky this year.  I got 10, not bad :)

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Wonderful weather when we exit the hall

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From far

Weather in desert is as unpredictable as usual. Within a short moment, the weather changed from cloudy to sunny.

After the visit to monastery, we're back to our ger for a few hours to rest and to have some light meals. We ordered some noodles and bao zi from the owner of the gers. After meal, the weather outside the ger was simply too hot to be out. I imagined myself evaporated once I stepped out of the ger!

So, we waited around in the ger, eat, sleep, writing diary, reading etc.... Until the guide came to us when the weather has already changed to slightly more bearable.




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这一趟沙漠之行,只不过是短短的一天。 我实在不想浪费一分一秒,想把每一寸可以进入眼帘的景色都吞进去。我向同行的朋友们说了一声,便远离大家,到不远处的小沙丘享受片刻的宁静。想像这整个沙漠,就是属于我自己的。

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A Chance to Reborn

After we've charged our battery at the energy center, we proceeded to meditation caves not too far away. These are the caves where long ago, a Lama meditated here without any food and drink for three months. To be exact, 108 days.

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The surroundings of meditation caves

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Staircase to the caves

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Red rocks

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Unexpected sight of kittens outside the caves

I supposed the more important things to be done when people are here are the reborn cave and healing rocks. At the curing rocks, people rub their body parts which were sick against the rock. The rocks are believed to have healing power.

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Rubbing against the healing rocks

When you crawled through the reborn cave, all the sins that you've done in the past will be erased. You're reborn as a new person.

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The small cave

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I'm reborn!

The only problem with the reborn cave, is the size. It got congested because you have to be small enough to get through. Some bigger sized people got stuck at the exit. So lesson learned, you'll have to be small enough to be able to reborn and erase the sins that you've done!

I didn't fancy this place a lot. It's more like a been there, done that to me.



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Khamryn Khiid, The Energy Centre

Sainshand (pronounced as "Sunshine"), is the capital of Dornogovi Province in Mongolia. It's eastern of Gobi Desert and can be reached by train from Ulaanbaatar. The journey on train will take you approximately 10-12hours one way. First class ticket costs 21,500 Tughrik; Third class ticket costs 7,500 Tughrik.

Our destination in Sainshand is Khamryn Khiid. This place is believed to have very high energy. People come all the way here, to absorb the energy, to cure sickness and make wishes in particular.

We took the evening train, departed from Ulaanbaatar at 4.30pm and reached Sainshand at 1.50am. Our guide picked us up at the train station, I was too tired to notice the station at that time. The journey from train station to Khamryn Khiid was about 1hour and we "checked in" to a ger around 3am. We had a 2 hour rest, before the guide woke us up again at 5am to witness the sunrise.

After the sunrise, we went to bell tower. According to my new Mongolian friend, Oyunbold, we strike the bell three times like we ring a door bell when we visit a friend. It's a form of "hello" to the being in this place.

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Stupa surrounding the bell tower

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Queueing up to strike the bell

After the greeting, we proceeded to Shambhalla. It's surrounded by 108 stupas, and believed to be having the highest energy in the world. People come here not just to pray, but also absorb energy from the ground.

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Stupa in the sun light

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More stupa

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Even more stupa

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Stupas in the sun light

Buddhism in Mongolia is very similar to what have been practiced by the Tibetans in Yunnan and Sichuan that I've seen. The stupa and the strong beliefs of the beings in nature.

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Even the way they tie the colorful cloth after praying

After we prayed and tied the cloth on the rope, we're supposed to sing, to praise the God. However, I didn't know the song at all, so I just tried to hum the rhythm as much as I can. The lyrics of the song was actually carved onto the stone.

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Lyrics on the stone

After all the ceremonies, we picked a nice spot to start energy absorption. Basically we have to lay all our personal belongings on the ground surrounding us, and lie down onto the ground. Just imagine yourself photo-synthesizing.

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Our spot

I do not know how much energy I've managed to absorb from the ground. But, it surely is a wonderful time to sun bathe in the middle of desert. The cool breeze and soft morning sun light on my face, woke me up softly. I didn't feel tired at all even though I had so little sleep. So perhaps, the energy is true after all. Believe it or not.

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An old lady in her traditional clothing

By this time you should have noticed that my pictures are all having a red tint. To clarify this, I did not correct the saturation of the pictures. The rocks and sands in this part of the desert are naturally red in color. That's what made the desert exceptionally beautiful.

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Reddish desert

Sitting here, admiring the beauty of this place. It's not hard to understand why the locals have such a strong beliefs in their God.

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Peaceful morning

It's simply too beautiful to be true.