I spent a weekend with friends visiting Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. This beautiful expanse of largely-untouched wilderness is located about 65 kilometres—or a 90 minute drive—East of central Ulaanbaatar. A lush green paradise in Summer, Terlelj is still a beautiful place to visit in the dead of Winter. With an overnight stay in a traditional ger, we had the opportunity to enjoy horse-riding, dog-sledding, hiking, plus we visited some local landmarks. Well worth the trip!
The weekend began with a lazy 930am start to meet Bold, our guide and driver. The trip out to Terelj was interesting. For the first hour we drove past mixed residential and industrial neighbourhoods, the density falling the further we drove. The smoke haze of UB continued all the way to these outer areas, albeit not as thick as the city centre. The mountains surrounding UB seem to hold in the pollution, preventing it from dissipating. It wasn’t until we crested a mountain that we finally escaped the smoke bowl. From then on, the trip was beautiful, with clear skies and pristine countryside all around.
Our first adventure of the day was a horse-ride through the valley. I had no idea what to expect; I had never ridden a horse, except those ultra-docile tour horses that just walk the same trail every day. My friends were all experienced to some degree or another, so I dreaded being the clueless newbie. In my head, I saw myself getting thrown to the ground and breaking an arm. But it turned out horse-riding wasn’t so hard. My noble steed liked to run, so we did a fair bit of galloping. It reminded me of skiing—using my knees to absorb the shock when hurtling across uneven ground.
In the middle of winter, the landscape is stark and dry, but still very beautiful. We galloped for about an hour through a mix of forests and fields, over rocks and frozen creeks.
I was growing quite fond of my horse, until about an hour into the journey he decided he had run enough and insisted on turning around and heading home. He refused to walk in any direction that didn’t take him back towards the camp. Frustrating, but I can hardly blame him. He would be carrying more idiot tourists later that day, so he probably wanted to conserve his energy.
After our horse ride we were taken to our accommodation for the evening. We were staying in a ger, a traditional felt-covered nomadic tent. I was coughing furiously by this point. In fact, I would spend most of the weekend loudly hacking my way through our various activities; a side effect of spending my first few weeks in Ulaanbaatar without an anti-pollution mask. It seemed my lungs were using the presence of Terrelj’s fresh air as a chance to clear out weeks of inhaled smog.
The ger was warm and comfortable. We soon settled in to rest and stretch out our saddle-sore limbs. One of our group had a rather hilarious bruise in a rather embarrassing place due to an ill-fitting saddle. The rest of us were a little achey and tired to some extent. But we still had much more of the weekend—including hiking and huskies—ahead of us.
(Click here for Part 2)