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Mongolian Preface

Compared to this type of renovated old Silk Road glory Mongolia comes as a huge contrast. The flight between these two excesses may prepare the traveller to a certain extend with the gradual diminuendo of the snow-peaked Tien Shan Mountains, the lesser severity of the Altai mountains and the gentler pasture-covered hills in the proximity of Ulan-Bator, the Mongolian capital.
Ulan Bator (or the mongolianized Latin transcription of Ulaanbaatar) is a bit of a shock in the sense that it is one big dusty city which is trying to separate itself from its roots – nature. Mongolian city folk have embraced the modern consumerism with American style sneakers and Japanese opposite-wheeled cars. Only the losers (sellers of trinkets in improvised stalls on the street sidewalks) would wear any resemblance of traditional garb on a regular day. The cluster of high-rises attracts Mongolia’s nouveau-riches with their attributes that naturally have nothing to do with Mongolia; typical condition of these so-called countries in transition or fledgling democracies or developing nations - whatever the euphemism. It always means the same thing - departure from tradition that has crystallized in centuries of relative isolation combined with lack of local version of modernity.
This kind of background juxtaposes perfectly well with the existence of the other, non-urban Mongolia, where nature is still revered. A guided trip into the interior of the country and specifically the Gobi, which is still very isolated from the rest of the world, is a necessary tool into the machinery of understanding what the peculiar substance Mongolia has to offer is. Renting a car and doing it independently is not recommended at all considering that even the locals with experience in trekking this rather established circuit can get lost and stuck into the non-sandy Gobi.
Typical “tour” would take six days; more than the regular foreigner can stomach anyway. All the nitty-gritty is taken care of, including produce shopping, cooking, driving and even if lucky some unexpected entertainment. Except for the cash payment, the guest has to contribute some cookies for the women and children and vodka for the men of cherry-picked families along the route. In exchange for these small tokens of good will the visitor obtains prime access to local products such as fermented milk and petrified cheese. Moreover, if guest and host click, some of the vodka would be shared as a background to stories of local life intricacies. At the moment rumour has it that one million tourists visit Mongolia and probably at least half of this number ventures into the depths of the “Provence”. This means that a substantial chunk of income is there for grabs by tourist guides and local hosts who are obliged to generate some cash in order to meet the demands of modern Ulan-Bator life.
The size of groups varies considerably and the facilities to match this diverse public also fluctuate from the chamber set-up of several gers (the Mongolian yurt) to the some monstrosities that can hardly be distinguished from a hotel chain if it were not for the location. The smaller the group the more personal the experience but this ratio ends up being limited by the route and points of interest that happen to be visited at the same time by both big and small parties. Unlike Central Asia of the ex-Soviet Union, Mongolia is overwhelmingly “Asian” destination where the bulk of the visitors are from Korea, Japan or Taiwan/China. This is a phenomenon in its own right which does not seem to be underpinned by geography alone. In any case, the Gobi becomes a show-case of Korean youngsters’ joy de vivre with unpleasant aftertaste of unruliness and dirtiness.

Posted by assenczo 15:15

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