20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

Village on way to UB.

UB Main Square.

Ger on a wagon.

5760km from Hong Kong.

What happened to the severe weather, it's warmed up and was only -10C when I arrived here, still as soon as the sun set it started plummeting and my joints started aching. I had a minor argument in my hostel last night as I think Ulaan Baatar has to be THE ugliest city I've ever been to, not everyone agrees, it does have one of the nicest names though.

The language which I expected to be close to Russian, as it is written in Cyrillic, is one of the nicest I've heard but very difficult to describe, it's full of sounds that I've never encountered before and could almost come from an episode of Star Trek. It's something like whispering out loud with some clicky noises and various silent sounds; I think they may have originated from dolphins.

The train ride here was fun passing lots of bleak landscapes and passing through a few blizzards. For some stupid reason I'd decided to get a Transit visa for Mongolia instead of a full visa and then realised too late that it probably isn't enough. When we reached the border at 9pm I was praying for delays that would mean that they stamped my passport after midnight giving me an extra day. Chinese customs and immigration took an hour and then we had to change the bogies on the train to the Russian gauge. This involved lots of shunting about and shuffling the carriages like a pack of cards then taking them off to the bogie changing shed where the carriages are lifted and the new bogies hauled in underneath pushing the old ones out.

Everyone in my compartment stayed on the train for the duration to watch it, unfortunately they had locked the compartment and the toilets and the beer I had just before we got there wanted out. They finished changing the bogies just after 11pm but then they had to reshuffle and reconnect the carriages then go back to the station to pick up the passengers who had got off and their extra few tonnes of final Chinese purchases.

We trundled over the border just after midnight, me with a smile on my face but my legs still crossed and started the Mongolian immigration procedure. The Mongolian passport stamper had the biggest hat I've ever seen, but she didn't look like the chatty type who would like to have her photograph taken. At 2am we finally headed off again and I ran straight to the toilets.

I'm struggling to find anything worth photographing here, but I went to the Mongolian National History Museum this morning and it was good, it's easy to forget how great an empire the Mongolians had when you look at the modern country but at the time of Genghis (now called Chingis) Khan or soon after it was the biggest empire the world has ever had.

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