Een winterse reis door Mongolië en Rusland

Reisperiode: november/december 2019
Jouw Transsiberië reiziger: Marloes en Jan Paul
Vakantiebestemming: Mongolië en Rusland (Transmongolië Express)
Bouwstenen: Ulan Bator & Terelj, Baikalmeer, Krasnoyarsk en Moskou 
Reisduur: 20 dagen

Na een Kung Fu cursus in China gevolgd te hebben, maakte Marloes met haar vriend Jan Paul een winterse reis met de Transmongolië Express. Je leest hier hoe zij het ervaarden om door de sneeuw te reizen (in het Engels).

We hebben een ongelooflijk mooie reis gehad. Alles was zo goed geregeld. We hebben vaak tegen elkaar gezegd dat we zo blij zijn dat we bij jou hebben geboekt. Het persoonlijke contact met jou hebben we als heel prettig ervaren, de documenten waren allemaal volledig en een goede afwisseling van de activiteiten. Specialisten zijn jullie zeker!

Beginning of the Trans Mongolian journey

After three days in Beijing it was time to say goodbye to the adventures in China. Time to start with the new adventure: going home by train with the Trans Mongolian Express. We will get out four times during this train ride in Mongolia and Russia and will end in Moscow.

If you don’t get out it will take you six days to do the whole journey from Beijing to Moscow.

Trein van Beijing naar Ulan Bator

3th of December 6:00am we got to Beijing’s railway station and after the security check (for every train your bags get checked like how they do at airports as well) it was breakfast time. Chinese fast food breakfast with a egg roll, buns with meat inside, some salty rice porridge and pumpkin rice porridge. Interesting combination 😋

Ontbijt in Beijing Station

Train ride to Ulan Bator

At 7:15am the Chinese conductors dressed in military jackets and black fur hats brought us to our carriage. The journey will be 36 hours straight to the capital of Mongolia; Ulan Bator. The train was divided in 9 different carriages, including a restaurant carriage. We had our last Chinese food at the restaurant that evening.

After 12h riding we arrive at the border of Mongolia. The Chinese border police gets in the train and takes our passports. In the meantime our carriage gets driven to a massive workshop where I don’t know how many workers are ready to change the “wheel construction” of the wagons. Apparently there is also a difference in type of track on this world. Why did we make us it so difficult with all these different systems, measurements, currencies and languages? 🧐

After three hours (!) the border police came back and checked our body temperature with a special electronic device to check if we are not ill. They double checked the whole cabin under the seats for illegals and we slide to the Mongolian border. The Mongolian border police (a well dressed and good looking woman with beautiful jewellery) came in the train, took the passports and left.

Friendly Mongolian police

Ten minutes later another police man came in and asked us to come with: “WE NEED MORE PHOTO’S” was the message. Okay…? So we get out of the train (the guy was super friendly though and was like: “dress yourself warm because it’s FREEZING cold outside”, and it was 🥶).

Next to the train track there was this small building used by the border police. At least 15 people were looking at us when we came in and we had to go to an office. In broken English one of the men tried to explain that our visa was not valid. They wanted us to get a new one. We started to ask questions and were quite upset as we just got the visa and I actually did not get what was wrong with it.

Then the same guy that gave me instructions to get dressed warmly almost whispered to me: “ just do what he is saying, no worries “ so I was thinking: maybe I should just follow the procedure and don’t make it a big deal. We filled in some forms, they took pictures and 20 minutes later when we walked out with our new visa’s in our hand the police man almost yelled: WELCOME TO MONGOLIA!

Visiting Terelj National Park

After a 36h train ride we got to the capital of Mongolia.

Our first hand shake with a Mongolian was with Ganzo. Our 32 year old guide for the next two days. He introduced us to our driver: Enkhbold. Feels quite weird to have a driver but I just try to forget about that.

While we took off to the country side to our accommodation of the night, a ger tent, Ganzo told us he grew up as a nomad. He came to the city to study and is beside a tour guide a teacher at the university in Ulaanbaatar (UB) as well. His English was nearly native speaking and we right away had a connection. Good. Because this man is going to share the next two days with us his country.

Mongolian shamanism

During the drive to a beautiful rocky landscape Ganzo tells us about the history and religions of Mongolia. He mentioned the spiritual “Shamans.” That name rang a bell. I have an experience in South Africa two years ago with a woman who claimed to be a Shaman and told me some mysteriously true things about my myself so I had 100 questions for Ganzo about the Shaman.

A Shaman is a spiritual being that has special powers. They can get into trance to get in contact with your spirit and other spirits. They tell you things about your future or character and can do other spiritual things. Here in Mongolia there are about 2000 shamans and they live usually far of grid (like a ten hour drive and they live deep in the forest with their community.)

Later that night I get a magazine out that I got when I left Amsterdam five weeks ago. I open it on the page of an article. An article about Shamans in Mongolia… quite scary.

Staying in a ger during winter

We arrived after a one and a half our drive at the ger camp. Six black massive furry dogs ran towards us and Ganzo tells us that the dogs are a Mongolian breed called Bankhar. They are no pets, they are guard dogs.. and they definitely look like guards.

We got our own cozy tent and when we got in it was nice and warm. Or rather HOT. Like 27 degrees if not more. Ganzo tells us that it will be -23 tonight. “But inside you will stay warm.” Winter in Mongolia is very cold!

We have dinner at 18:00 and we got Mongolian Dumpling served. Tasty!

Gerkamp Terelj in de winter

The big Turtle Rock

Next morning time for exploring. First TURLE ROCK. The picture says enough why it’s called the Turtle Rock I guess 😋 we hiked half way and our breath was so beautiful with the sun shining on it 😍.

Turtle Rock in Terelj Nationaal Park

Meditation temple Arayabal

We arrive on the foot of a Buddhist temple. A meditation temple called Arayabal. Along our hike way up hill there were 144 signs with quotes of the Sutra, the Buddhist Bible. Also we came across a few small wooden structures with some a big wheel in it. We had to spin the wheel and pointer stopped a number drawn on ceiling. The number was your message of today. My number was 34.

The last part of the hike up were 108 steps. Every step you take, you say a “Mantra” out loud to get in the meditation vibe. The mantra was “Um mani batme um.” So we repeated “Um mani batme um” for 108 times…

Uitzicht vanaf de Arayabal tempel

When we reached zen the temple I got my first experience in a Buddhist temple. The temple was so colourful and beautifully made out of wood. I did some meditation and I whispered a wish to the Boddhisitva (the God of this specific temple, her name was Janraisag and she had 24 arms and 11 heads to help people in need) and drummed the bell for Janraisag in the Temple. Let’s hope Janraisag will be help me to fore fill my dream as well.

Visiting a nomad family

In the afternoon we went to a Nomadic family for a visit and lunch. On our way there we saw some camels and we took a ride 🐫Unbelievable.

Kamelen in Nationaal Park Terelj

The nomadic family was a good visit as well. We were welcomed by two little Mongolian boys and got food in the tent of the family.

Mongools jongetje

Dumpling with some Mongolian snacks and tea with milk as well. One of the snacks was made out of the “stremsel” of milk. Ganzo tells us that Mongolian people try to use every part of the animals including the organs.

Lunchen bij een Mongoolse familie

After lunch we went for a ride on the Mongolian horses 🐴 a ride on strong small horses on the beautiful unique landscape of Mongolia….

Paardrijden in Nationaal Park Terelj

Ready for Russia? Not yet…

At 6am I hear my alarm ringing on the 22nd floor of our hostel in Ulan Bator. Time for a work out! The hostel has a great equipped gym on the 2nd floor so I couldn’t resist not making use of it. The day before we met a lady called Adaluda at a local lunch room and she wanted us to join her to the local market to get some Mongolian cashmere and wool. Say “local” in a foreign country and I am down! The earlier the better so after my work out we met in the lobby of our hotel.

Adaluda, Mongolian, 68 years of age, talkative, elegant. She reminded me of Cruella de Ville. But in a good way: Fashionable with a some of fur on here, cashmere hat and a matching scarf.

Looking for a warm scarf on the local market

While we are crossing downtown Ulan Bator, I’m realising how lucky I am, again. After five minutes I barely can’t feel my nose anymore and I see on an electronic thermometer it’s -17. No wonder I can’t feel my nose. In Mongolia the sun shines nearly every day so I guess that helps Adaluda keep on smiling during winter when it can get -30 in Ulan Bator.

When we arrive at the market I barely can’t feel my whole face anymore. As it was an outdoor market the first thing we are hunting for is a scarf. Adaluda criss crosses trough in the maze of stalls and stops every now and then and talks with a seller. I just guess she asks where to find the cashmere scarfs 😋

Adaluda shows me I don’t know how many different scarfs and before I know I am fully covered in cashmere, sheep wool and camel wool. I (try to) travel light and luckily wool doesn’t weigh that much 😌.

Kasjmier markt in Ulan Bator - kopie

After this unbelievably cheap deal we almost run inside to warm up. Adaluda reminds me that in Russia it is way way colder and gives her gloves to me. “a present for me to you. You will need them more than I do.” I was super surprised and gave her my gloves, with touch screen fingers. She was so happy like a kid with a lolly. So was I.

Off to Russia

We took a taxi back to down town and had 30 minutes left to pack and get ready for leaving to the train station. Full speed we packed and at 14:30 we met the driver who was with us on the countryside in the lobby. The driver walked with us to the train with our box with food. We bought like a lot since there was no restaurant in this train. When we said goodbye we gave him our last Mongolian money. 35000 Tugrik. €30, a lot of money for Mongolian standards. He was as lucky as I was that day.

After a few hours we arrive at the Mongolian border. We met an Austrian couple at the ger camp and funny they are in the hut next to ours. When we arrived at the Mongolian border police comes by, checks the passports and we go back in our hut.

After 1:30 hours we cross the border and the Russians come in with I don’t know how many men and dogs. “Get out of the hut. Open the luggage. Who are you and what is your purpose for Russia.” Another man searches our hut with flashes in every corner. I answer them correctly and after 1:30 h they come back with our passport.

The next 14 days we will spend in Russia. RUSSIA HERE WE ARE !

Arrival in Krasnoyarsk

It was a relative short train ride to Krasnoyarsk. After “only” 14 hours we get out of the train and get to our hostel. The owner of the hostel, Alexander, shows us with pride his brand new hostel. New kitchen, new common room and our room is spacious and luxurious. We put our backpacks in the room and go for a city walk.

It’s surprising how many good looking food trucks we see on the streets. We decide to drink coffee in a bakery. A good looking, brand new (it seems like a lot of cafes are brand new and are good decorated) bakery with even more good looking cakes and juices. We treat ourselves on a red velvet cake. I felt tired the rest of the afternoon so we decided to burn the sugar and continue our city walk.. we walked for hours in the city center of Krasnoyarsk and got at the hostel and fell early asleep that night.

Hikin in Stolby National Park

Next morning; hiking trip to Stolby National park. It happened to be that the owner of the hostel was also our guide for the hike. One hour later, weaponed with hiking sticks, we hit the snowy trail. Alexander explained with full passion about the nature in Siberia.

A forest full with pines and barks is typical for Siberia and while I’m following some mice tracks in the snow I hear a wood pecker. And another one.. Alexander explained about the several spices of wood peckers they know in Siberia. We watch them knocking the bark of the tree and I feel the happiness in my whole body. What a beautiful world up here.

One hour later we reach the peak, the stone formation of the Stolby park. We hide behind one of the big stones for some coffee with local chocolate. Nommmm…
Another hour of hiking and we reach the ski lift 🚠 to go back to the foot of the mountain. Quick lunch in the aprés ski bar down the mountain and we ready to hit back to the city.

Beautiful hike!

Last and longest train ride: to Moscow

At this moment of writing I’m exactly laying/sitting 58 hours in this train. Well I have to say every four to five hours the train stops for 20 minutes or so and then there is 20 minutes for us to take steps, and get extra road snacks.

We have this list with all the stops and the duration on it. Ideal. So when it’s finally time for a stop I’m by then already so exited that I have my clothes and shoes on 15 min prior in case we arrive earlier (remember it’s 26 degrees in the train so all the layers also takes a while to get dressed).

Getting some fresh air

The train stops and I run outside. After two stops I confessed JP that it’s good to get some movement so usually he runs behind me. I search for the nearest steps and run up. And down, and up. Then enjoy this beautiful view of all the tracks with different types of trains on it. “Take a deep breath…. and exhale. “ Two more times and i run down the platform.

De Transsiberië Express naar Moskou

By then I usually lost JP at one of the vendors at the platform. And per stop it depends on what they sell: we’ve got woman with dried fish at one stop and the next we’ve got man with fur heads. Next one; fresh made Russian dumplings 🥟. For some reason they all sell the same at one stop. If I would be a vender I would definitely sell something exclusive! Or is there a psychological theory behind it? 🧐

Another routine at the stops is the checks of the ground train staff. When the train arrives at the platform there is a team of men (and women) standing ready for the check up. Every break, every wheel gets checked with a flash light and a iron stick. The ice gets smashed away of the parts and the water for the toilets gets filled. And if the water pipes are frozen? They take a rubber bag with a tube on it. Fill it with hot water and take it out. They put the tube into the water pipe, hold the water bag high so the hot water runs down and voila. Melting ice. Russian cleverness.

While we are playing chess, watching movies, playing rock paper ✂️ over and over again we slide slowly closer and closer to Europe. It feels a bit like driving home for Christmas… 🎄

End of a beautiful journey

We arrive around 11 in the morning in the capital of the by far largest country in the world. First thing that I notice is that all the snow is gone. Bummer. One hour ago it was still snowing…

We get in the taxi and the driver had this funny dog on his dashboard so I took a picture.

Russische chauffeur heeft wiebelhoofd hondje in de auto

First thing, we get to our fancy pancy hotel and get welcomed with champagne and our luggage is being brought to the room. Welcome in rich Moscow where nothing is too expensive.

We get our metro pass and explore the city. I haven’t seen this beautiful metro stations before!
Again we meet the Australians that we met before in the train, and we have dinner together and smoke a water pipe in a cafe. What a difference with the “real” life in the rest of Russia…

We realise that this is the last day of our trip. I am so happy that I made this trip. It was such an experience and so different than I expected. Russians have a poker face but behind that face they are so kind and willing to help.

Time for family time..

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