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// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.


ULAANBAATAR CAPITAL I arrived in Mongolia via the Trans-Mongolian Railway from China. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, was founded in 1639 as a Buddhist yurt monastic center, but as the people were nomads, the location changed ceremoniously each year. By 1778 it finally settled into a permanent location. Today it is the largest city in the country, with around 1.3 million people, which is half the country's entire population. A few things to note below, first the statue of Genghis Khan at the capital building. Khan was ruthless and conquered nations all over Asia and Europe, commiting genocide against entire ethnic groups. Using brutal methods of psychological warfare, it's estimated 5% of the entire world's population was killed under his rule. Today he's on the money and there's an energy drink named after him. Second, if you look closely at the skyline photo you'll see the 'ger' districts on the hills behind the city. Ger is Mongolian for yurt. Around 60% of the city live in yurts surrounding the city center. Below that you'll see some Soviet architecture. The USSR helped Mongolia gain independence from China in the 1920s and Mongolia became the Mongolian People's Republic. You'll also see some temples below and several giant Buddhas. Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion of Mongolia, though it was heavily suppressed under communism. Lastly, you'll see my apartment and a bit of my daily life in this fascinating land. I stayed here three months.
TRANSMONGOLIAN RAILWAY The Trans-Mongolian connects Beijing to Mongolia and eventually ends in Russia where it connects to the Trans-Siberian. I started in Beijing (you can see the train terminal below) and traveled several days in a sleeper compartment to Ulaanbaatar. Below you can see the views, the sleeper compartment (shared with 3 others), and the dining car.
THE MONGOLIAN STEPPE DUNDGOVI PROVINCE Steppe just means grasslands without trees, and that pretty much describes a lot of Mongolia. While here I took a 10 day tour across central and southern Mongolia, first through the open steppe and then through the expansive Gobi Desert. There were four of us on the tour, traveling hours every day in our trusty Russian UAZ van, which you can see below. There were few roads to speak of, so most of the driving was off road. We'd stop in the middle of no where and have lunch from a tiny gas stove. In the evening we'd flag down nomadic families living in yurts, many of whom were happy to host us for a few dollars and even let us milk their goats. Speaking of goats, you'll see the men killing a goat for us. That goat is still alive. They make an incision in the chest, reach their hand inside, and hold the heart until it stops beating. They cook the meat in a large cauldron using hot stones. Later we were given a boiled head, an honor for guests. You can see it below. Milk and dried yogurt is also an important part of the diet. The bowl I'm drinking is airag, which is fermented horse milk. The poles with the blue flags are called 'ovoo' and are part of the Mongolian folk religion that predates Buddhism. The two stones next to the deer are 'deer stones', mysterious, ancient monoliths thousands of years old, found all over Mongolia. Oh and your pet gerbil comes from Mongolia.
BAGA GAZRIIN CHULUU Dundgovi Province Near the steppe in Dundgovi (Middle Gobi) Province are some beautiful rock formations with an old Buddhist monastery destroyed by the communists (see below with the blue flags). At the time the communists took control in the 1920s, there were more than 2000 monasteries across the country, often the only permanent buildings in a nation of nomadic herders. Nearly 40% of the male population (generally always the first born son) were celibate monks and the Buddhist church controlled much of the wealth and education of the nation. In the 1930s, inspired by Lenin and Stalin's persecution of the Orthodox Christian Church in Russia, the Mongolian Communists banned Buddhism (and also the folk religion, so ovoos were banned) and burned down more than 700 of the monasteries, stripping them of their gold and silver and using anything metal to be recast into bullets. Monks were forced to join the army and within a few years the country went from having tens of thousands of monks to only 200 (who were used mostly as show for when Westerns visited the country). When communism fell in the 90s, there was a resurgence of Buddhism in the country.
KHONGORYN ELS Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park In the northern heart of the Gobi Desert is Khongoryn Els, known as the Singing Sands. As the sands of the dunes settle, they vibrate and echo, creating an eerie music. But another reason to come here are the sunsets, some of the most beautiful I've ever seen.
YOLYN AM Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park Yolyn Am is a gorge in a mountain range in the Gobi Desert. Though there is almost no precipitation here, it's notable for the ice field cutting through the valley, which is several meters thick and runs several kilometers. The ice sheet used to be there year round, but recently, with rising global temperatures, now melts away in the summer. In the last two photos you can see a typical lunch on the road on our ten day trans-Mongolian adventure.
FLAMING CLIFFS Ömnögovi Province The Flaming Cliffs, also known as Bayanzag, is one of the world's most important sites for dinosaur fossils. In fact, the first dinosaur eggs were found here in the 1920s (which you can see below). It was with a local host family here that we played 'shagai' which is a game using the ankle bones of goats. The ankle bones are rolled and can come up on one of four sides, labeled either horse, camel, sheep, or goat, which determines how many steps forward your 'horse rider' goes in a race against the other players.
DALANZADGAD Ömnögovi Province After several days of sleeping in yurts, we visited the town of Dalanzadgad--- which is primarily also a town of yurts, but has a temple and a bathhouse where one can pay to shower. It's also the capital of Omnogovi (South Gobi) Province. The yurts here are more permanent, each with a plot of land near the town center like a house, and with electrical hookup. In fact, the yurt below even has a refrigerator which I was standing next to while taking the interior photo.
TSAGAAN SUVARGA Dornogovi Province In Dornogovi (East Gobi) Province is Tsagaan Suvarga which is the site of some major copper deposits.
ERDENEDALAI Dundgovi Province As we finished our Gobi tour, we stopped in Erdenedalai on the way back to Ulaanbaatar. Located so far from anywhere, with dirt roads and only a handful of shops, it felt like a Wild West frontier town. But the real gem here is the monastery, built in the 1800s and one of the few to survive the Communist purges (it was used as a warehouse by the communists). Sadly, after three months of living in Mongolia, it was time to get back on my train and head north, to Russia.