20 November 2015

Winter Postcards From Mongolia - Part One - The Gobi Sauna

Ulaanbaatar. It's currently around -26 degrees. Yes. I did write -28. But it is approaching 8 in the morning there so give it a few hours and it will rise to around a positively balmy -15. 

Now. You might be reading this and thinking why? Why would anyone want to put themselves through those sort of temperatures? Mongolia wouldn't obviously be a place to head to in winter. If you live in the northern hemisphere where your November through to February will be typically cold and dark why would you head somewhere even colder and darker? Or, if you live in the summer hemisphere where your November through to February are your summer months, why on earth would you give that up to visit somewhere cold and dark?

You may think that -28 does not make for a very enjoyable holiday but trust me (!), winter is a wonderful time to experience Mongolia. Personally, I like the sense of things slowing down and people becoming closer. Winter in Mongolia is when one's relationships are renewed and strengthened. The horizon-hugging arc of the winter sun means short days and although the weather can be harsh it is a beautiful season to travel through the landscapes. It's also a time of year when you truly appreciate a sauna experience. 

So. Just in case you're planning on visiting Mongolia anytime between now and the beginning of Spring, these 'winter postcards from Mongolia' posts that I will be putting together are for you. They'll include my ideas and tips on what to experience and where to head to. First up, (as it's most likely the first place you'll touch base with) Ulaanbaatar

It has a reputation as being the world's coldest capital city. It's not considered all that glamorous either. But, for me, it won't be like anywhere you’ve ever been to and that’s much of the city’s raw appeal. 

Image by our guest, photographer Nick Rains
Image by our guest, photographer Massimo Rumi
However you're arriving into UB, look no further than the Gobi Sauna. Open 24 hours, you should have plenty of time to allow your achy travel muscles to unwind. You'll  emerge relaxed, revived and ready for whatever the day may bring. Even if it is -28 degrees.

Gobi Sauna

Is located in Ulaanbaatar. Not the Gobi. It is a sauna though. 

Why Visit

On the entry level is a shower and sauna room and on another two levels there is a massage room, cafe, relaxation room, oxygen room and different sauna rooms:

  • The Salt Sauna Room offers saunas that increase blood circulation and cleanse your skin.
  • The Amethyst Sauna Room has treatments for blood pressure that help alleviate mental stress.
  • The Agate Sauna Room is an ideal stress buster and has treatments that increase blood circulation. It is also good for relieving headaches, losing weight and removing wrinkles.
  • And my (potential) favourite the oxygen room with its gentle fountain noise and its (very) relaxing green decor - just to make sure you are truly revived.

Where Is It?

It is in the city district of Bayangol on Ard Ayush Avenue - known as the shopping district. Don't let the hideousness of the building design put you off. I doubt any photographer could capture this building in a positive light! Bayangol is known locally as the 'shopping street' so having relaxed and unwound, head to the row of small independent shops and larger national department stores. There are great local cafes serving everything from good coffee down to the ubiquitous mutton pancakes. 

It's much better on the inside. Probably one of the worst photos I have ever uploaded to the blog!
Image from www. seatholidays.com

Any reviews?

In the words of our guest Megan Greentree:

'I have to admit I felt like I had been let in on a secret. A little gem in an otherwise concrete heavy city. A place that let me meditate on what I had experienced in Mongolia in the past few weeks. After the sauna, a nap, ice cream and an hour long aromatherapy massage I breezed out of there refreshed and a lot cleaner than I had arrived.'

Those that know me, know that a major part of my philosophy is to promote tourism in Mongolia outside of the peak-season of July. I  feel it is important to try and focus on tourism throughout the whole year rather than just thinking about how much money can be made in July. That's where the idea of the 'winter postcards from Mongolia' came from. If you read this and are interested in visiting Mongolia in the winter then please please look at my website or get in touch. Just bring the thermals and enjoy  being part of a minority who do visit Mongolia in the winter - enjoy  slowing-down and seeing and experiencing Mongolia like few other people get to do.

As always, thanks for reading and do get in touch with your thoughts! It's enough that you've connected with the blog but if you like what you read and have the time to share this then thank you so much for helping to spread the EL word!

9 November 2015

Quotes About Mongolia That Will (Probably) Make You Want To Make You Pack Your Bags and Book That Ticket

It seems, for a majority of people, when they mention to their friends or family that they are planning on visiting  Mongolia the reaction tends to be 'Mongolia? Where is that exactly? ...' or 'Mongolia? Why? Are you mad?' ... or 'Mongolia?' I hope you like mutton.'

For those that have visited, the reasons are obvious - the vast weathered landscapes, the sense of timelessness and feeling of immensity, the traditions that still run deep in the 21st century, the wildlife (snow leopards - not that you'll see one but it's exciting enough to be in the same region)...I could go on.

'From the air Mongolia looks like God's preliminary sketch for earth, not so much a country as the ingredients out of which countries are made: grass, rock, water and wind.' 
(Stanley Stewart, In the Empire of Genghis Khan)
But, for those who have not visited, here are a few quotes about Mongolia that have always managed to get under my skin or ones that express the way I feel about the country.  Most are lines from books and provide insights that make me reflect on my time in Mongolia over the years...or inspire me to learn more and to get out there and keep on discovering. 

Anyway. Make that mug of tea or coffee and take yourself off to Mongolia for a short while. We'll start off with Roy Chapman Andrews (as a little aside, this 20th century explorer-scientist is said to be the inspiration for Steven Speilberg's inspiration for Indiana Jones). 

'Always there has been an adventure just around the corner–and the world is still full of corners.'
And because a blog post from me without a mention of Jack Weatherford would be unusual here we go (from the Mongol Queens):

 'In the Mongol perspective, challenges choose us, but we choose how to respond. Destiny brings the opportunity and the misfortunes, and the merit of our lives derives in those unplanned moments.'

Mongolian Humour

Turuu and I. My first ever trip through the Gobi (back in the days of yore):

Jess:  When was the Gobi a sea? 
Turuu: Back when I was a fish.

Taken so long ago I can't remember who took it! I remember it was a great night though. At Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park

Mongolian Weather 

'On arrival and learning that the temperature was minus 18 degrees I overheard a fellow traveller say 'thank God. Looks like Mongolia's experiencing a warm spell.'

Benedict Allen, Edge of Blue Heaven

Image by our guest, photographer Massimo Runi

Mongolian Hospitality

'Their resources were limited and their hospitality boundless.'

Stanley Stewart, In the Empire of Genghis Khan 

Image by our guest Violaine Coard

Landscapes of Mongolia

‘The Gobi Desert seems like earth reduced to its most basic elements: rock, sky, glaring sunlight and little else. The apparent emptiness is both compelling and intimidating. But the Gobi is not empty, it is filled with space, sky, history and landscapes.'

Conservation Ink

'The steppe has one other unchanging characteristic: day and night, summer and winter, in foul weather or fine weather, it speaks of freedom. If someone has lost his freedom, the steppe will remind him of it.'

Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman  

Image by our guest Mick Egan

Mongolian Culture / Way Of Life

The Australian adventurer Tim Cope was crossing Mongolia on horseback. Having had his horses stolen one night close to the start of his trip, the following day Cope spotted a herd of horses moving swiftly with a single horseman in charge. On approach, Cope recognised his two horses among the pack. 
'These two horses came to me this morning,' the horseman said grinning. 'You must have tied them badly.'
 The horseman returned the horses without compensation, but insisted that Cope understand an important unwritten rule of the steppe:
'A man on the steppe with no friends is as narrow as a finger,' the horseman said. 'A man with friends is as wide as the steppe.'
Image by our guest Jo Reason

'There are more animals than men, so they still have the world as god made it, and the men are noble synthesis of Genghis Khan, the warrior, and the Dalai Lama, the gentle religious leader.'

Zahava Hanan, Canadian writer and poet - Alberta, Mongolia and Siberia, the Arctic: The Big Silence

'Their ancestors lived in the same way for a thousand years, feeling the change of the seasons like moods and moving with them. Their knowledge of this land is ancient, the wind is their breath, the earth is their bed and the dust of the steppe runs in their blood.'
Ian.D.Robinson, Gantsara. 

Why Visit Mongolia?

'Each time I return I see constant changes alongside the things that never change. I love its paradoxes. its space and hospitality, its freedom and ancient customs. It's a place of great roadless areas, all known and inhabited since prehistory. It is wild enough for great horned sheep, wolves, snow leopards and the last undomesticated camels; with the lowest human population density on the earth. It is the home of Buddhist hunters and Muslims who toast their guests with vodka. I can't get enough of it, and probably never will.'

Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia, Stephen J Bodio

‘We rolled ourselves in our blankets and slept for the first time on Asiatic ground and under the clear sky of Asia...We stood on the threshold of the wide plateau at the entrance of the land of the nomads. We could not have  dreamed of a more captivating entrance to a new country, and when the sun sank upon that day, we felt as though born into a new life – a life which had the strength of the hills, the depth of the heavens and the beauty of the sunrise.’
Henning Haslund-Christensen 

Sunrise at Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian Lunar New Year) at Tsagaan Suvraga - Feb 2015