I spent the last week touring the Gobi desert with three other backpackers, my wife Katie and a driver named Balgay. One of those three other backpackers was Ruby Tsai, from Taiwan. We climbed to the top of a sand dune, watching the sun go down over this marvelous land, and recorded a podcast. She's currently on her way to England, via the Trans-Siberian railroad. We talked about her trip, and she gave me some great tips for visiting Myanmar, as well as her native Taiwan.
My guest this week is Tsenddavaa Nasanjargal, AKA Davaa. She and her husband own an amazing guesthouse called the Mongol Ujin Tourist Camp in the village of Khatgal, Mongolia. Davaa is passionate about the nomadic lifestyle that is still so prevalent in Mongolia, and she was generous enough to talk about it with me on the show.
Here it is, my last podcast about Russia! I talk about our final week in the country, then Katie joins me to discuss the good, bad and simply interesting facets of our journey.
My guest for this episode of the podcast is Tamara Gil, a multimedia journalist based in Beijing, China. Tamara and I had a long and interesting conversation, during which we covered quite a large number of topics.
During my first few months in China, I traveled with Katie to northern Inner Mongolia, where we learned a lot about Genghis Khan and his legacy. I couldn't get enough, so a year later, when I heard about a giant memorial to Genghis Khan in the middle of nowhere, I decided that I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to see it.
One day while walking through Manzhouli, I stumbled upon an outdoor bazaar. Like most markets in China, this was a vibrant place, with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for sale. It was also crowded, with hordes of people and vehicles jockeying for position in the street. I love walking through bazaars; they give me a sense of day-to-day existence in faraway places. Cultural differences can put up barriers between me and the local people, but markets also help me connect me with others in this shared journey through life.
Here are a few photos I took in the Mazhouli market.
The hotel’s front desk was on the third floor. The manager, a middle-aged man with a comb-over and a leather jacket, held a cigarette between the index and middle fingers of his right hand while clicking his ancient computer’s mouse. He was playing solitaire. When he saw me walk up with my huge backpack, he took one last drag from his cigarette and stubbed it out in an ashtray, next to its brethren. To my relief, he told me that there were vacancies, and rooms were only 50 rmb. I had been prepared to spend many times that amount on this holiday weekend.
It was unlikely that I would visit this part of Inner Mongolia again, so I wanted to see a few more places before heading home. The problem was buying train tickets. I had discovered on this trip that you can't just show up and expect to get a ticket for a long distance train. If you don't want to stand for thirty hours straight, you need to book your tickets online, days or weeks in advance.
Now I would have to improvise my way to my next destination, without any idea of how to get there, or what I might do once I arrived. Ah yes, one of the greatest pleasures of travel...
According to legend, early in the thirteenth century a nomadic tribal leader went on a hunting expedition to a mountain at the eastern edge of the Eurasian Steppe. As he stood on the summit, the spectacular view of the surrounding grasslands and forests inspired him. The man suddenly realized his desire to unify all of the tribes in the region. He gazed at the golden sunrise and commanded to his tribesmen, “Moerdaoga!” – “Ride into the battle on your horses!” The man's name was Genghis Khan, and this land would soon fall under his rule.