Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Mongolia was controlled by Russia from 1921 until 1990, when a mostly peaceful, popular uprising overthrew the crony government and true democracy was established. It took them a few years to get there bearings, but Mongolia has been urbanizing and westernizing quickly. Ulan Baatar celebrated it’s one millionth citizen only in 2007, and it now has 1.6 million folks. The vast majority of the growth is coming from people moving out of the nomadic/herding life and into the big city of UB. They have not had much time to figure out how to live and work in a city, and UB is as much or more of a mess than anywhere I’ve been.
For a change of pace here, I start with a graph from my Garmin 705 which shows the elevation changes of the 104 miles that I rode today heading south into Ulan Baatar.
But leaving the start point, about 37 miles south of Darkhan, it was still beautiful countryside. Heading toward my first, smaller pass, a guy on a horse began galloping alongside me for a mile or more at 12mph, then up the pass at 7mph. I asked Uka to take our picture at the top.
Then it was through a village called Bayangol, which had a few shops and restaurants along the A3 (only paved road north of UB) and up the second steep big climb south of Darkhan, starting at 2,600ft and going up to 3,800 over about 10 miles. Here’s me reaching the summit. Then I tossed my rock on the shrine and rode around it three times, clockwise, for good luck.
Yep, it was raining out, but not a lot. There are two more steep, 400 foot climbs after the big one, and on the way up one I took a shot of this concrete bunker. I’ve passed a bunch of them, maybe every 12m/20k, and finally asked Uka who asked Dimbee what they were – guard/repair stations for the UB/Moscow telephone line. They just stationed a solder every bit along the way to keep communications up.
Food wise, for lunch today there was a group of about six cafes located inexplicably (to me) about 60m/97k north of UB. We stopped at one of them and I had dumpling and meat soup. It was really, really good.
From this point on I noticed steadily more gers, many with solar power, and more street vendors, many selling (get this) fermented horse milk – a mild alcoholic beverage favored by many Mongolians – packaged in all shapes and brands of plastic bottles (so you can see it).
The climb into UB today over the 104 distance miles was over one height mile. (See chart at beginning of the posting). At the top of the last hill was an appropriately large set of shrines.
Heading into UB the roads were very bad – rutted, potholed and dusty – and there was continuous low level chaos of all kinds on both sides of the road. Here’s the first of the ‘get your goats and sheep here’ stands.
I hadn’t thought to think about what they do with the sheep, until taking these pictures. The guy in the sash, with the smile, just sold a goat to the folks in the grey car. Him and another guy knocked the goat over, grabbed its feet, upended it, tossed it into the trunk, and with meticulous timing as the goat wiggled about, slammed the trunk closed. A harrowing beginning to what will surely be a horrific end.
At some point in the midst of all this is the official Welcome to Ulan Baataar (spell it any way you like, they do) sign and toll booth.
And shortly after that I heard the thomp, thomp, thomp sound of about about 50 Mongolian soldiers running down the road in boots, as if they were traffic. Here they are as they went by, and then making a left turn right after.
Then as we got closer, say within 5 miles, of downtown, traffic turned into a mess. Winding through it I could proceed on the bike, but my support team was stuck.
We worked our way through it, using Dembee’s excellent knowledge of side streets. And I showed up at the Bayangol Hotel at 5:30pm. A long day, hard climbs, but ultimately the kind of day and riding that makes this all interesting and fun.
Tomorrow Lisa shows, and since I’m in UB a day ahead of schedule I will take that day and the next off, and get everything harmonized for a more complex trip south out of UB to the Border with China. Only 7 days of riding left – but they are across the Gobi Desert.