what trekking in Mongolia is REALLY like

Mongolia was an unexplored faraway land that I dreamt about one day visiting.

Sometimes dreams turn reality, and I found myself in a small, rattling propeller plane on my way to Ulaanbaatar.

The thing about Mongolia is that it’s unlike any other place in the world. Once you get out of the capital, you feel like an explorer. Sure, travelers have left routes to be followed, but there’s a looming sense of adventure and discovery in every step you take.

Phil, my travel partner, and I found ourselves in the West, deciding to go on a week-long independent trek in the Altai Mountains, which are also shared by Russia and Kazakstan.

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Those seven days were an emotional rollercoaster. I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

There were days when I was seeing things that I only saw on National Geographic- camels carrying gers as nomads moved, daily life completely unaffected by tourism, complete cultural isolation… Every new sight filled me with a childlike wonder and I was curious about what else was yet to be discovered.

For every high, there was a low. Frigid nights, hailstorms, getting lost. Sore knees, winds that would sting your face, waist-deep river crossings that left very little dry. Every day we walked, a new challenge would be presented. I’d go to bed exhausted. I complained and I cried, but underneath all of that, I was elated.

It’s a strange feeling to be both happy and miserable. There’s a complexity within that emotion that I still don’t understand. To be honest, I’m not sure that I need to understand it.

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Mongolia is a place unlike any other. It’s a country so rooted in its culture. It’s a land with so much natural beauty that you’ll never be able to experience the entirety of it. It’s a place that challenges you, then rewards you.

We took a wrong turn after a mountain pass, which led to aching joints and shivering bodies. We only realized we took the wrong turn after we ended up on a cliff’s edge. As frustrating as that was, we were met with the best view of the mountains and lakes below us. I’ve never been happier to be miserable.

 

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The view at the end of the wrong turn. Can you spot us?

 

It’s almost like you have to go through the difficult and uncomfortable things in order to get the most out of the great things. The lowest lows bring the highest highs.

Yeah, I remember the mosquito swarms, the blisters, and constant feeling of having wet socks and trainers. I also remember the friendly Mongolians, the sun warming us up after rainstorms, and the sense of adventure I felt so strongly.

When we got to our pick-up location, I was ready to leave. I couldn’t wait to take a hot shower and to be warm. I couldn’t wait to eat something other than lentils and rice. Simultaneously, I didn’t want to leave the untouched beauty of the mountains; I didn’t want to go back to seeing other tourists exploring the same sights; I didn’t want to drive away from such an isolated place.

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Travel isn’t always the picture-perfect moments we see on Instagram. Our trek in Mongolia wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, but it was so real. It was honestly the best adventure I could have asked for.

Would I go again? Even with all of the bug bites, shivering, and spiders?

Definitely. Bring ’em on.


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What Trekking in Mongolia is REALLY Like | Trekking in the Altai Mountains |

26 thoughts on “what trekking in Mongolia is REALLY like

  1. Good read. I loved Mongolia but didn’t trek there. Did trek in many other places and feel the same gamut of emotions. I love reading totally honest blogs, way better than a polished not quite truth.

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  2. Wow I’ve never actually thought of Mangolia as a travel destination, i know what you mean by not being happier abouT being miserable 🙂 I felt the same in Norway while doing some of the toughest hikes, the prettiest places are reached by some of the most treacherous hikes! I love your pictures. Do you think Mangolia is a place you’d suggest for solo women travelers ?

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    1. Oh I would LOVE to go to Norway! Hmm, is Mongolia safe for solo female travellers? That’s a tough one! Safety wise, yes! I felt so secure and safe when I was alone. However, I wouldn’t have done this trek alone, and I LOVE trekking by myself. I think there’s too much that could go wrong to go by myself on this particular trek. I would definitely go on a guided tour if you’re travelling alone. I’d also recommend tours in general; I feel like there’s so much culture that we missed out on because we couldn’t communicate very well with the few people we met.

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  3. Wow your photos looks incredible! I always find trekking to drive me to the border of happiness and insanity… The feeling of isolation and freedom you get is always worth it though!!

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  4. Beautifull written article! I have always wanted to visit Mongolia 🙂 so let me ask you, did you hire a tour for the trek or were you guys on your own. I can totally relate to the unexplained feeling of being miserable and happy at the same time… lol

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    1. Thank you! We were completely on our own! We had a spot messenger (GPS tracking) which is required by the military because you’re so close to Kazakhstan and Russia, so you’ve got that little SOS button for comfort haha!

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  5. Ooooh this all looks amazing. Mongolia is one of my favourite travel experiences. We stayed with a host family in their ger camp and just did day hikes up some hills and over to some rivers. We did have to search for a few hours for our hosts as they were nomads and had moved from the area where our guide expected to find them, (!)

    I remember some of the most beautiful starlit skies I have ever seen. I also remember bugs and some less than inspiring food. I would loooove to go back and hike in the more mountainous areas. Even though I’d expect similar highs and lows.

    This post is brilliant.

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