Goodbye, Mongolia (and winter)!

Monday, March 28, 2011

After our 4-day/3-night adventure in the Mongolian countryside, we were in desperate need of doing laundry. We also had a few errands to take care of before moving on to China (sending postcards, picking up a few souvenirs, and stocking up on supplies for our last train journey of 31 hours). As a result, we only really had time for one major sight so we decided to check out the Mongolia National History Museum. We were happy with our choice since the museum had lots of interesting displays ranging from hundreds of thousands of years BC all the way through the 20th century - and, to make things even better, nearly everything had English descriptions!

The first room contained reaaallly ancient stuff, like these "tools" from the Lower Paleolithic Age (8,000,000 to 100,000 BC). The labels indicated the supposed functions of the tools, which I have no idea how they determined. They all look like rocks to me - and what the heck is a "pre-nucleus" anyway??

I really liked the displays of ancient stone carvings, like these two from the Bronze Age (approx. 3000 BC)

Upstairs was a room dedicated to the age of the Mongolian Empire in the 13th century. I knew it was bit, but man, it was HUGE! It pretty much covered most of Asia and Eastern Europe.

Of course you can't have a room about the Mongolian Empire without the requisite tribute to Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan.

Other fun items in the museum's collections included money from 1921 (more colorful than Monopoly money!)...

... and a traditional Mongolian wrestling costume. Sadly we didn't get to see any wrestling since it's more of a summer activity, but apparently it's a big part of Mongolian culture and from the pictures we've seen, seems much like Japanese sumo wrestling.

Our final train journey from Ulan Bator to Beijing has been one of the more interesting (in a good way!). We left yesterday morning at 7, and we're scheduled to arrive at 2pm today. The train is from the same era as the last two, but the first class compartments are a bit more upscale on this one. The layout is different, with two bunks on one side...

... and a chair and shower on the other - basically a closet with a sink and handheld shower fixture. We didn't actually use the shower since there didn't seem to be any hot water, but it was convenient having such easy access to a sink.

Like several of our other trains, this one quickly became uncomfortably warm, but our carriage attendant unlocked the windows in the corridor so we could get some fresh air. This also allowed me to get some good pictures since the windows were quite dirty.

Much of yesterday was spent traveling through the Gobi desert.

One of the things we hadn't done yet on any of our previous train trips was to walk to the back end of the train and see the train tracks curving off into the distance behind us.

We crossed the border into China last night, which was pretty painless, and we were treated to a bogie-changing show. The tracks in China are a different width than the ones in Russia and Mongolia, so at the border station, they use hydraulic lifts to raise the train cars off of the wheels before rolling in the new ones.

This morning we've been spending a lot of time at the open window, admiring the gorgeous mountainous landscape in northern China, including loads of tunnels.

After a few days of squat toilets, questionable eating establishments, frigid temperatures, and dung smoke, we are more than ready for our 4-star hotel in Beijing. And we are so excited about the perfect weather forecast!


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