(Click here for Part 1)
After an hour or so R&R, we were ready to go hiking. Everyone in the group was well-prepared, except for me. Despite the perpetually-icy streets of Ulaanbaatar, I still hadn’t bought myself a pair of winter boots. At first, I was waiting to find the best place to buy them; but after a couple of weeks of surviving totally fine, I decided maybe I didn’t need boots. So for the entire weekend, I was wearing a flimsy pair of Diesel running shoes that were so old there was little-to-no grip left on the soles.
As it turned out, grip-less running shoes and slippery ice-covered Mongolian hiking trails do not mix. Who’d have thought?
Our guide drove us along a bumpy dirt road from our ger camp, winding carefully up and down the icy hills, before turning off and parking at the base of a ridge. The hike to the top of the ridge took about an hour and a half. Despite my inappropriate footwear, I managed not to slip off the mountain and break my neck, thanks to a couple of trusty hiking sticks foraged from the mountainside, plus a helping hand from my friends to get me over the steeper patches. The effort was absolutely worth it. The view down into the valley was spectacular.
From here, our guide pointed us in the direction of Aryapala, a Buddhist temple and meditation centre nestled on a neighbouring mountain. We were left to trek our way there whilst our guide returned to the base of the ridge to fetch the car and meet us on the other side. If my shoes made the trip up the first ridge difficult, they made the trip to the temple downright dangerous. The path required us to descend the mountain we were in before climbing up to Aryapala.
After trying in vain to walk down the mountain, I eventually gave up and tobogganed down the mountain on my feet and butt—far more fun and practical, despite the dark smear of mud I had to wear on my pants for the rest of the trip. Once at the bottom of the ridge, the walk up to Aryapala was relatively easy and the scenery was beautiful.
Your gaze was met with prayer wheels and shrines everywhere you looked on the path up to the temple. All were painted in bright colours that jump out against the stark wintery landscape.
The temple itself was also stunning, with intricately-painted details on every corner of the building.
The temple looks down upon a picturesque valley with many pointed mountains rising off into the distance.
After stopping here for a while to catch our breath, we met our guide and wandered down to the car. Our last stop for the afternoon was Turtle Rock, a famous landmark whose name needs no explanation.
Although we were thoroughly exhausted upon returning to our ger, we weren’t finished hiking. After dinner, card games, and a certain quantity of vodka, we decided to venture into the dark to go star-gazing. We wandered off away from the tourist areas, trying to escape the lights so we could see the stars. Unfortunately, the moon was three-quarters full, which washed out much off the starlight no matter how much distance we put between ourselves and the camp. Nevertheless, we pressed on, going so far as to clamber up a nearby mountain. Whilst we were never able to get a good look at the stars, we did get a beautiful view down into the darkened valley and back to the tourist area.
Finally, with our vodka-induced enthusiasm draining away, we slipped and skidded back down the mountain to our ger, collapsing into bed to get a good night’s rest before our dog-sledding adventure in the morning.
(Click here for Part 3)