Day 6: Orkhon Valley
Most of this day was spent driving to Orkhon Valley, leaving at 9 am and arrive around 6:30 with a couple stops in between. Upon entering the valley, where we began to see a lot of trees for the first time, we made a quick stop at a waterfall. Darkly, this was apparently a spot where they would throw a lot of monks off the cliff to their demise back in the day although it was a bit unclear why.
We spent two nights in this ger camp hosted by a lovely family, the husband whom was a monk who was highly respected in the community. We were lucky to have a nice fire/furnace in our ger this night and the next which helped fight off the quickly dropping temperatures. These were also the comfiest of all the beds we slept in this week.
Day 7: Horseback Riding
We had a leisurely breakfast this morning with our only major item on the itinerary being horseback riding. First, we had a one-hour ride to get accustomed to horse riding and. This was followed by a lunch break, and one member of our group choosing not to go on part two (or rather having it chosen for him). The second round was a longer two-hour ride, though both of those rides included solid stops at a beautiful waterfall and river along the way.
Our horse-riding guide was our host of our ger camp as well, an older Buddhist monk who was highly respected in his community. We spent the majority of the time walking slowly, the horses having minimal experience going faster with tourists as they typically don’t want to go any faster than the slow walk. Our guide chuckled merrily as he watched us try and fail to give our horses the commands to speed up. Or turn. Or walk at all sometimes – mine was particularly intent on eating grass though they’d spent lots of time eating before, during, and after our walks.
As soon as our guide would ride up behind us the horses would start moving along, as if they knew we had no idea how to ride a horse and had no intention of making it easier for us. I almost admire the stubbornness though, and loved seeing how each horse had its own personality.
I say almost because right before we finished the first ride, one of the horses was randomly spooked and bucked, throwing poor David (a fellow traveler in my group) from his horse. David got his foot stuck in the stirrup and proceeded to be dragged around over the rocks for a bit until finally breaking free, suffering some serious cuts and bruises as well as shock. And now you see why I say he had sitting out of the second round chosen for him.
Rosa, another in our group, fell off her horse too when it got spooked by David’s horse getting spooked. Luckily, she didn’t sustain any serious injuries and got back on the horse in the afternoon. Well, a different horse, as horses can’t be ridden for a while after a rider falls off as they’re frightened to have another rider fall off as well.
Despite the drama, it was an incredible day (for me and Lisette at least, who didn’t fall off our horses!) During one of our stops as we were climbing over rocks to walk toward a waterfall, I started crying because I was just overwhelmed with the beauty of the scene and the day. Our guide would ride behind us at some points singing beautiful Mongolian songs. Other times when we stopped he would walk around on his own, finding a nice rock on which to meditate and pray.
Where I may have felt a bit uncertain with the camels, I felt very comfortable with the horses. It was clear they trusted and respected our guide, whose jolly but gentle voice was enough to encourage them onward. And believe me when I say they got to eat so much grass during our walks.
Day 8: Kharkhorin
The last day of sight-seeing took us back in the direction of Ulan Bator, stopping at Kharkhorin, which was the ancient city of Mongolia. Built by an ancestor of Chingis Khan in 1235, it was once one of the largest cities in the world. Now it is home to the Erdene-Zuu Monastery where monks of all ages live and practice. We saw several who seemed just barely in their teens or younger who were starting to learn the ways of the master Buddhist monks.
It was a beautiful city with so much history, culture, and art that I would have loved to been able to appreciate more. I did my best but my stomach had not yet recovered from the plague of diarrhea that everyone was experiencing and I spent most of the tour keeping an eye on the closest bathroom and pep-talking myself that I could make it without shitting my pants in a holy site. Ahhh travel, sometimes its rainbows and sunshine and sometimes it is anything but that.
On the bright side, we had very little music today and enjoyed some silence while we were traveling. Don’t do what I did and forget your headphones, especially if you’re traveling for more than one week in Mongolia on a tour. You might go crazy with the music, and I’ve got no idea how the drivers and guides aren’t insane already doing it week after week with the same playlist.
Day 9: Drive Home
Our last day didn’t include any particular adventures but we enjoyed another lunch at a restaurant, got a last listen of our favorite Mongolian songs, and said our goodbyes to our new travel friends. I’ve never done a long, organized tour like this before but I’m so glad I finally tried it. Traveling with strangers who turn into friends is such a great experience that made all the other experiences more enjoyable for having someone to share them with.
In a country like Mongolia where it can be pretty difficult to organize such a trip on your own (if not impossible) an organized tour is great. I can recommend Sunpath Mongolia without reservation too if you ever want to take a wild trip of your own through the land of the blue skies. (Plus their hostel is super convenient to use as a launching pad for your tour). You won’t regret it and you’ll absolutely remember it for a lifetime.
THANKS FOR READING One Week in Mongolia!
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