A bus journey in Mongolia
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 20/May/2010 13:00, 34 days ago
Please note this is a cached copy of the post and will not include pictures etc. Please click here to view in original context.

A bus journey in Mongolia is an intriguing experience! To many it is purely a method to get from one point to another as efficiently as possible. However in my last few days of travelling around the countryside I have found the bus journeys to be fascinating from the views of the countryside to the people I have met. So here are some thoughts on bus journeys in Mongolia.Getting onto the bus, getting a seat and having any leg room are all difficult to accomplish, especially if your Mongolian is as bad as mine is! Bus tickets go on sale 24 hours before the bus leaves, but there are sometimes a few seats at the front of the bus that aren't ticketed - these are first come first served before the bus leaves. I ended up in one of these seats, through no skill of my own, but due to a very nice man who grabbed my backpack, pulled me through the crowd and deposited me in the seat next to him. I of course had no clue what was going on, which bus I had been put on or how to pay! It was all absolutely fine and I was safely on my way.However sometimes the bus driver will allow a few extra people on the bus to stand (for a 6-8 hour bus journey). They go in the aisle, where alot of luggage is stored and try to squeeze a space on a somewhat comfortable spot - I was certainly glad it wasnt me.The luggage holds seem to be quite small - I certainly have no idea what goes under the bus as most of the luggage I saw was put on the bus - in the overhead bins, under the seat in front or in the aisle. It is all perfectly safe - all my stuff made it to and from Arvaikheer in one piece! It just means that leg room doesn't always exist!The leaving time is another fluid concept depending on the driver, his friends, the weather, whether the bus is working and how many spare seats there are. I was only 15 minutes late leaving UB, but leaving Kharkhorum the bus left 1 hour late!Once the bus is on the move the entertainment begins. Of course my companions were very keen to try out their English skills, and ascertain where I was from, what I was doing etc. The fact I was carrying a 10 pack of toilet rolls (for a friend in Arvaikheer) apparently meant I wasn't a tourist so this caused even more interest! Aside from my companions the bus driver likes to play his favourite Mongolian music at full volume as you drive. If you are very lucky you might even get treated to the music videos on a TV screen at the front of the bus. This certainly kept me entertained making up stories for the videos which are full of traditional costumes, green rolling hills and horses. One particular video that stood out was of a military man coming home from his military service and he gallops across the fields on his noble steed, but it was comical because his legs were nearly dragging along the ground, because of the size of the horse (or pony!). When the popular songs come on the whole bus will serenade you with their (off key and out of tune) rendition!Of course the roads are interesting. Luckily the majority of the roads I was on were paved, but due to the frost there were many potholes ranging in size from a football to the width of the road. Where they were really big the road would be closed and we would have to venture off across country. Some of those paths had nearly as bad potholes and due to the size of the bus we had to go pretty slowly at timesFor me the best part of the bus trip was the scenery. Going south to Arvaikheer (and back again) the scenery changed drastically. About an hour outside UB there was suddenly green grass popping up. The hills around UB give way to rolling steppe which is dotted with little white gers, herds of animals and the occasional Stupa! I even passed Mongol Els, the longest sand dunes in Mongolia which was pretty impressive!Unfortunately due to the dreadful winter the animals in the Uvurkhangai aimag (which was particularly badly hit) were pretty scraggly looking, and a lot of the horses had bones showing. I also passed a lot of dead animals on the side of the roads, some piled up for collection, others lying where they died. It was a very depressing sight, and something which brought home to me the reality of the Dzud, something I have been very removed from.While I was in Arvaikheer we had our first 2 days of rain in almost 6 months (it cheered me up considerably!) and on the trip back I saw a lot of herders driving their 10's or 100's of animals to the nearest puddle to water them. The herd can include everything from horses, cows, yaks, sheep, goats and even camels! And the babies are all absolutely adorable, especially the baby goats! Due to the rain I even saw some little yellow flowers on the way home - a really exciting event as I have been missing the spring flowers.Anyway on with the bus trip. Half way through you stop for food at the equivalent of a motorway service station. Now this is Mongolia so it comprises a row of small cafe's or in some cases gers, and each day the bus stops at a different one and herds all the passengers inside. Again this is Mongolia so the conveniences are few and far between. The outhouses usually have only 3 walls, the open one facing the road (of course!) and they are of the long drop variety. But this is a luxury compared to the toilet stops which usually occur in the middle of the flatest field the (male) bus driver can find. There is no consideration of women and we just have to shield ourselves with a draped coat! Lovely!For all its foibles I really enjoyed my journey to Arvaikheer and back again!Just as a post script the other form of travel I tried out while on my adventure was the shared car. A lot of the soums are not connected together, but rather the public busses just run to and from UB. I decided to go from Arvaikheer 3 hours across country to Kharkhorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia. This involved turning up at Arvaikheer market and finding a car with a Kharkhorum sign in the window. Drivers who need to travel between the two towns often want passengers to help pay the fuel so they wait in the market until they have enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile. I was lucky, the car I chose was leaving immediately (immediately can mean any time from now to 4 hours time, but this one left there and then) and we only had 4 passengers in the car rather than crushing ourselves in like sardines.It was a mostly off road adventure, and due to the rains we passed a number of larger trucks stuck deep in the mud which was a little off putting (as were the state of some of the bridges we crossed!). We had the obligatory mid point stop, where my fellow passengers produced the requisite vodka, snuff bottles and chocolate, and polite refusals were not allowed. I did make sure the driver did not have too much vodka!The "roads" you follow when you go off roads, aren't roads as such, they are dirt tire tracks which I have no idea how the drivers navigate. At one point we were definitely driving in circles with everyone except me giving their opinion on where we should be going. The only tip I have been given is to follow the electricity pylons which connect the towns together. But even this can be hit and miss!At one point in the journey we did stop to pick up a goat. Not as I would have assumed to put it in the car (I have become acclimatised to this!) but to set it back on its feet. It was merely lying on its side, so I have no idea why we did it, but that is another one of the mysteries of Mongolia!