The hell a lot of rain in Beijing. So slightly limited sightseeing. On to the Province of Inner Mongolia, across the border to real Mongolia. Then we just follow the small tracks leading us to the Gobi desert.
Beijing, 23th June
After 1 night in Datong we leave this strange place with its newly constructed old town. Some 250km to Badaling on the highway.
Still not much traffic, nevertheless we feel a high population and car density in this area. According to our understanding they even convert the highway’s emergency line into parking space. Remains the question whether or not there’s a shuttle bus to the passenger’s final destination. And we could not clarify if we’re allowed to camp on this highway parking – definitely our roof top tent would be an attraction.
Badaling: probably the most famous place to visit the great wall. The place visited 1972 by Richard Nixon during his historic trip to China. Consequently we have the idea it cannot be wrong to do a recognition job for Nixon’s counterpart uncle Donny.
Here the results: The reception area is definitely prepared for all kind of tourists. Lot of offers for every kind of taste – also suitable for persons without experience outside their hometown.
There’s a ropeway all the way up next to the highest watchtower. Nevertheless, should somebody not be keen on using this suspicious mode of transport there’s a safe possibility to walk all the way up.
It may even be that they have a bus somehow driving up and the highest watchtower disposes of a beer garden (at least there are signs of evidence for that). Might be appropriate for a presidential refreshment after climbing 500m uphill.
On the top there’s a beautiful’n’impressive view. You can easily imagine how effective this wall has been against these Mongolian herdboys or maybe Chingis Khan.
And the wall really seems to be very solid and appropriate. Just imagine the guys built it some 500 years ago. Of course, in the meantime it slightly crumbled – probably because so many Mongolian herdboys tried to overcome it. But no problem, modern China restored it to perfection. Definitely this wall will last more than a president’s term. So a huge potential to gain importance in history.
As a preliminary conclusion we think this masterpiece of Chinese engineering is an excellent example for any politician planning to build a wall in his country. Considering the existing knowledge and experience we recommend engaging a Chinese company to do the job. This would ensure its quality and its completion in time. For the special case of the great Mexican friendship wall China may even be able to grant a credit for it as it already owns most of the US bonds.
And even better – to prepare for a visit to a potential client from the US, they even developed a special car for their highly appreciated guests. The main visitor may definitely make a test drive once in China – provided he’ll successfully pass the Chinese driving licence test.
For the Swiss fuddy-duddies (Schweizer Füdli-Bürger) it might be slightly more difficult. They may have to send their ideological chairman, HE Chris Doof B. for negotiations to China. But the result of a fully walled Swizzyland would be amazing: you would no longer need to look at the other side of the border – thus easily find the proof that the world still is a disk.
Whatever. Back to reality. After a night in Badaling, another picture of eternal Chinese Swiss friendship with the owner of the gusthouse and we’re on our way to Beijing the proud capital of China. Unfortunately there’s a storm warning for the next 3 days in the Beijing area. Very heavy rains are expected.
Less than 1h. No car without a Beijing registration may enter the city. So we stay near the 5th ringroad, some 20km from the center. But near to the subway. To get used to the American way of life we stay in a famous US hotel chain.
Then despite the rain we go to the town. To Tiananmen square. The biggest square in the world, unfortunately gaining notoriety in the recent past.
So we fly the tube. 1½ h, 3 changes and we arrive.
In Tiananmen, outside the station: simply pouring. So sightseeing will be somehow limited. A look to Tiananmen, too wet to really visit it, …
… then the absolute must-have-seen-sight of Beijing: the Forbidden City.
And then we’re out of the splendour. Somehow rather disappointed – the whole thing is simply dead. And it’s not only because of the pouring rain. There’s the strong feeling that the whole Forbidden City just degraded to a museum and a tourist attraction. Very little done to allow visitors to understand a little more of imperial life at that time. Of course every visitor to Beijing visits this place – maybe time to adapt it a little more to today’s possibilities.
Back to our Super 8 Motel. Another 1½ h on the subway. Arriving there we discover that Prado found a companion: another car from Swizzyland. Unfortunately the owner is somewhere in town. So the unique chance for another proof of eternal Chinese-Swiss friendship with the whole hotel management.
The next day: weather still the same – pouring rain. Considering yesterday’s experience with Beijing we decide to ignore all temptations of China’s capital and to renounce to any further drives to the center. A long exchange with Martin the guy owning Prado’s companion. Then the urgent need to do some laundry in the motel room.
Erenhot, 25th June
Our last bit of driving in China. 2 days, 700km to Erenhot in Inner Mongolia. Weather is still not too sunny, but improving.
On the way a visit to the village Jimingyi – a place said to remain pretty unrestored and authentic. Whatever, the town wall already received it’s complete facelift; the ticket office also is brand new. Nevertheless, not many tourists, inside the walls a few really old houses and temples. Unfortunately there seems to be the policy to never repair an old house. Instead they’re replaced by new 1s.
We enter the last Province in China – Inner Mongolia and early afternoon we arrive in Jining. A nondescript small town.
Time for a car wash – unfortunately the worst ever had. Then a stroll thru the town.
The most interesting seems to be the numerous shops selling all kind of Schnaps and the colourful road for an exhaustive night life: karaoke at its best and some more.
The next day on the highway to Erenhot. The landscape changes completely. At every km it’s getting drier, just grassland remaining – with some sheep, pretty few people living here. At the horizon sometimes a train passing by – on the rail linking Beijing with Moscow.
Then the last toll station in China …
… and a few km later we arrive at the impressive gate of the town of Erenhot – somehow China’s last outpost to Mongolia.
Erenhot – a town with definitely no sights. The famous black market consists finally of a few shops selling some Russian and German chocolates – and that’s it. A last dinner with our guide Jens, a beer at the roadside and the last night in China.
Baga Gazryn Uul, 28th June
The next morning we drive the few km to the border. A last good advice of some the Chinese authorities …
… and we approach the border post. Not a big deal. A fixer awaits us, he and Jens have all well prepared. Some 20′ later we’ve left China. A few 100m and we enter the Mongolian border post. Well known to be not that much organised. We think that’s definitely not true. Just learn Mongolian and follow the signs. Or follow the other guys crossing the border – they all do the same. 1h later we’re out without any troubles.
Zamyn-Uud, the 1st town in Mongolia directly after the border. What a difference. Some rather rundown houses, a few supermarkets – not much more. All looking shabby – definitely not exactly what we’re used to experience in China. We’re looking for an insurance for Prado: no chance, nowhere a sign, nowhere anybody speaking a single word of English.
So we move on. Some 200km to Sainshand on a pretty good asphalt road. A 2h drive thru an absolutely empty landscape. The only excitment: temperature is climbing next to 39°.
Then in Sainshand. Not much better than the border town. Looking at this town leads inevitably to deepest depressions. So we close our eyes and try to organise whatever is needed after arrival in another country: change money, get a SIM card, buy some stocks and buy Prado’s insurance. Of course, without any possibility to ask anybody. Any knowledge of English seems to be strictly forbidden in this town, the same applies to Russian. Whatever, after a while we discover that today is a holiday – the reason why everything has closed. So we have some time to admire the beauty of the town – especially the Soviet-style prefabricated residential buildings and the municipal park with its artistic works.
The next morning everything is much easier to organize. Next to our accommodation we discover the shop for our SIM card and in the office next door a pretty small sticker with the logo of AXA . Finally Prado gets insured – and we get the SIM card and all the other stuff.
On to the next destination: Ikh Gazryn Chulu. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, nor did we. Even don’t know how to spell. But seems to be a fantastic moonlike landscape in the desert with picturesque granite rocks. We continue the road towards Ulaanbaatar.
In the town of Choir we turn westwards. Now on tracks leading hopefully to the right place some 120km away. Our GPS with the latest OSM map clearly indicates the correct track. Unfortunately it’s not always existent. So we simply follow the traces of other cars, trying not to be more than 10km away from the OSM track. Driving this way remains us to some adventures around Lake Natron in Tanzania or between Kenya and Ethiopia along Lake Turkana.
On the way quite a few animals – some domestic, others more wild.
So we continue for some 2h on hard or sandy soil on pretty good tracks, never really losing the right direction – and finally we arrive in the late afternoon at the place we want to be. A few springbocks – could be more. Dear friends in South Africa send a few 100 000 to the Mongies. And they will immediately change from their boring Billy-goat diet to delicious Springbock braai.
We drive up into the hills. There we find it: the ultimate place for the night . A beautiful view on the plains below, surrounded by these rock formations.
Unfortunately in the evening a pretty hefty storm with some rain starts. Instead of enjoying our well-deserved sun downer we’re busy securing our tent against the gusty winds.
The next morning everything looks perfect again.
We drive on. To Mandalgov. Another district capitel, even if rather small and definitely unspectacular. But the place to top up the beer stock.
Then on to Baga Gazryn Uul. Another place you’ve never heard of? No problem, just another site with some rocky mountains in the desert. The roads: as usual in this part of the world rather traces of preceding cars than anything else. But considering yesterday’s experience: now we’re experts.
A visit to a monastery destroyed in the 30s of last century. Nowadays just a few walls remain and some signs of rememberance.
Here the supervisor of this protected area finds us. We have to pay the entrance fee: 1.50$ and half a bottle of water. Then the usual pic of eternal friendship and we move on to admire the view from the top on the hills.
Dalanzadgad, 29th June
We move on. Back to Mandalgov; to the paved road. Then 300km south to the capital of the South Gobi – Dalanzadgad. Quite interesting: the last part thru the desert in the rain.
And that’s it for this post. More Mongolian adventures as soon as our internet connection allows it.