Few places on earth scream of the great outdoors like Mongolia. The very word Mongolia conjures up visions of the untamed – Chinggis Khaan, nomads wandering the Gobi Desert with their livestock and wild horses galloping across the endless steppes. Yes, the land without fences, the 17th biggest country in the world, is an outdoorsy sort of place. A boy scouts dream come true. My latest visit to the country was my second and, having failed the first time, I was determined to get out amongst all that nothingness.
Terelj National Park, home to a few well-known rock formations including Turtle Rock, is a couple of hours drive on bumpy roads from the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. It’s more touristy than authentic, more hilly than flat, but still offers the most convenient escape from the city & has enough open space to satisfy most.
Tourist Ger Camp
A small portion at the southern end of the park is developed for tourists, meaning it offers accommodation in tourist ger camps. While a far cry from an authentic Mongolian ger experience, spending a night or two in a one of these is still the highlight of a visit to Mongolia for many (it was for me).
A ger is a traditional circular tent with an outer & inner layer of (usually) canvas & an insulated layer of felt sandwiched in between (more layers in winter, fewer in summer). It’s all supported by a collapsible wooden frame, meaning the ger can, if needed and depending on size, be assembled in 1 to 3 hours, perfect for Mongolia’s 390,000 thousand nomadic herdsman who, while tending to some 30 million livestock, need to be flexible and mobile so they can move their settlement in search of better grazing. No lack it here in the Guru Tourist Park but in the absence of electricity candles or lamps provide lighting and there is normally a stove in the centre used for cooking and heating. Toilets are always outdoors and if showers exist at all they’d be found in a bathhouse serving a ger settlement or community. Unchanged in centuries, gers are still the preferred housing for most Mongolians, even in the suburbs of the cities. Needless to say out here in the countryside it’s all you’ll see.
I spent two nights in one of these gers and thankfully it was as warm and the glow emanating from the top of this one (although we didn’t have satellite!). The above picture is the result of two nights attempting this shot. It was captured in sub-zero temperatures & almost black darkness – the only available light was that escaping from the apex of the ger, which I used as a manual focus point for the shot. Numerous shots were taken to first get the exposure right & then the orientation (which still isn’t quite there) – this was on a hill and with no tripod I found myself using an oil can to support the camera & a few lens caps, sticks & stones to straighten up the shot. This picture proved to be my pictorial highlight of this visit to Mongolia, one of the few countries I’ve revisited as part of this trip that didn’t disappoint.