This is a travelogue of my Russia-Mongolia-China trip in June / July 2016th.
First of all, I thank all the friendly people who have helped me at particular stages of this journey:
- In the Altai mountains:
- Anthony, who was my wise and reasonable acting partner within an unexperienced hiking group.
- In Bratsk and Porozhskiy:
- Catherine, her father and mother, who warmly welcomed me despite of a surprising arrival and hosted me one night,
- Catherine’sfriend Lyudmila, where I spent the next nice evening and night.
- In Irkutsk and Arshan:
- Zhanna, who hosted me two days in her home and cared for me comprehensively,
- Zhanna’s friend Anjelica,
- Tatjana and Dondok in Arshan – where we spent another two days in the beautiful Buryat mountains,
- Jana, who showed me the city of Irkutsk.
- In Listvyanka:
- Dima and Anna who made an Olchon trip possible, although it was booked out.
- In Ulan-Ude and Gremyashinsk:
- Larisa, Irina, Masha, Dima – and some dozens of nice kids, who made my trip to its best success by volunteering in English summer camp at Lake Baikal.
- Mike with his hints for Mongolia and China.
- In Mongolia (Ulan-Bator and Terelj National Park):
- EnDa, who arranged the trips.
- Joy and Smitha, who joined me as travel partner in the Terelj National Park
- Florian and his three travel mates from the train to Hohhot – we exchanged many information and Vodka..
- In China (Hohhot and Baotou):
- An unknown police officer in Hohhot, who really helped me when I was lost.
- Segie from Mongolia, living in Hohhot, who showed me the city.
- Wang and his father from Baotou, who drove us through Inner Mongolia mountains.
- Piyush from India, living in Shanghai, who was a very helpful and pleasant travel partner for 3 days and supported me to “survive” my China stay.
With most of these people I’m still in contact and like to tell: Thank you!
10.06. – 18.06.: Novosibirsk, Altai, Tomsk
Departure from Berlin at June 9th, landing next day in Novosibirsk, and at the same evening departure into the Altai – for an interesting, but in several aspects strenuous trek. The group of 10 people was mixed: 8 Russians who mostly did not know each other (it was arranged through social network), among them a couchsurfer from Novosibirsk – who arranged the contact to Antony from Australia, and myself via couchsurfing.
Pictures of this tour by myself and other fellow travelers (unsorted) can be found here.
The trekking was arranged in a chaotic way, we lost the trail and had serious discussions where to go. Without going into details, how some of the group members acted – and others not acted and just apathetic watched – but out of the group dynamic a potentially disastrous development started.
Lateron Anthony and myself wrote each other references at Couchsurfing – Anthony wrote: “A great measure of anyone is how they respond under pressure. Frank and I were probably the most experienced within the group and hence had a better understanding of the potential risks we faced. Being the foreigners our voice didn’t carry much weight yet. Frank calmly discussed the options with the rest of the group yet knew when to accept the decision of the majority. He handled the entire situation with grace and sensitivity.
Frank is extremely considerate and a man with broad knowledge and an interesting background. I thoroughly recommend Frank to other couchsurfers.“
After this Altai tour, the travel partnership with the Novosibirsk couchsurfer broke completely. I needed to replan my further trip, what in the beginning was not easy..
After visiting the town Tomsk, the intended next destination should be Irkutsk – it came a little different, but even better..
19.06. – 21.06. 2016: Bratsk and Porozhskiy
.. because I didn’t reach Irkutsk directly. I did a detour over Bratsk and its little suburbun village Porozhskiy, where I had the funniest misunderstandings of my trip, together with Catherine:
The misunderstandings happened in several matters: About the location we want to meet – it was 600 km away from the originally discussed point. While I was in the train it turned out, she lives in the village Porozhskiy, close to Bratsk – but 600km away from my train destination Irkutsk.
This fact I realized close before a train stop in Tulun, a village “only” 200km away, instead of 600km. Within minutes I decided to hop out of the train in Tulun, not knowing how to go further. What followed was a 200km taxi driving – without knowing the specific destination address. This address I got in the last seconds, before the driver wanted to kick me out…
But finally all went well, Catherine and me had a surprising meet-up in the house of her parents, who didn’t know about all this.. But by good will and help of Samagon (a self-produced kind of Vodka) these surprises changed into a very warm welcome by Catherine and her parents, and a great stay.
The next day Catherine and me spent in Bratsk and at her friend Lyudmilla close to the Bratsk Sea:
It was a great time: We spoke about god and the world, ate, drank – and after the second night I became “transferred” to her cousin Zhanna in Irkutsk.
More pictures and detail description (in German) here
22.06. – 25.06.: Irkutsk und Arshan
The bus ride Bratsk – Irkutsk on Wednesday took a whole day, more than 11 hours (so I was still happy about my former invest into only 2.5 hour taxi ride to Porozhskiy). In the evening I met a with Zhanna and her friend Anjelika and had a nice evening, thinking about appointments for the coming weekend. But before the weekend I met with Jana, a university student speaking German pretty well and being happy to meet a German native speaker. Jana showed me Irkutsk.
In the evening we had dinner with Zhanna and Anjelika: Next day we all go to Arschan, in the Buryat mountains, shortly before the Mongolian border. There live Tatjana and Dondok, relatives of Anjelica, where we can spend the weekend. I bought some presents (liquor for the adults and chocolate for the children..), and next afternoon we took the bus to Arshan. It was a long driving through great landscape:
The Buryat Republic is about the size of Germany, but has a population of 3 millions instead of 80 .. It’s a sovereign republic within the Russian Federation, an old culture related to the Mongolian.
We had a nice evening with Tatjana and Dondok and talked and drank a lot about the German-Russian-Buryatian friendship ..
Next day we visited a Buddhist temple:
and walked a trail in the mountains, together with Zhanna and Anjelica:
More pictures and description (in German) here
26.06. – 01.07.: Listvyanka, Olchon, Ulan-Ude
Next day I said goodbye to Zhanna and Anjelika and took the bus in the morning to drive to Lake Baikal. I wanted to go from Irkutsk by hydrofoil speedboat to Listvyanka at lake Baikal. Although that didn’t work (I had to go by bus instead), I arrived Listvyanka on time had goods days there: A beautiful hiking at the Baikal:
and a trip to the Island Olchon:
02.07.-07.07.: Highlight of the journey:
English Summer Camp in Gremyachinsk
I became invited (again via the Internet portal Couchsurfing) to participate as a volunteer at an English language summer camp. They looked for a “native speaker” – my English counted as “native” :-).
Spontaneously I agreed, pretty nervous, because to be surrounded by 40 children is a a new experience in life . But it was absolutely great!
It was a very good mood in the camp, in a perfect harmony with Larisa, Irina, Masha and Dima and all the children. We did lessons together and played in the camp and at the Baikal lake – some hundreds meters away and at this place even warm enough to swim..
Out of all the interesting experiences during my trip, it was the very best one – inspiring me to seek for such volunteer activities for further vacation trips.
This picture below is from the day, I had to leave because of visa expiration. It was hard for the kids to understand, they asked when I will come back. Maybe next year..?
In Mongolia I was 2 days in the Terelj National Park close to Ulan-Bator, slept in a Jurta, hiked through the mountains, watched a butcher at slaughter a goat – which is very normal there, the youngest kids were watching too.. The Mongolians are strong connected to the nature – not like we soft urban people.
Back in Ulan-Bator, I got a ticket for the grand opening ceremony of the Naadam – the biggest festival in Mongolia with competitions in archery, horse riding and wrestling. In the grand opening ceremony they reminded to great history of Mongolia: Starting with the huns (which is historically under debate – but the Mongolian just claim the huns tradition for them), The Dshingis Khan era, and the modern times. Although I’m normally not a fan of such ceremonies – but this was very impressive!
In the evening I got the train to China. With Florian and his 3 travel mates we had nice talks, exchanged information and Vodka.. Next morning we reached the border, and the Mongolian border patrol said Goodbye when the train left..
12.07.-16.07.: Inner Mongolia / China
China was the country, I was the least motivated to visit. Some clichés really fulfilled – e.g. when I photographed this rabbit, eating up the last green out of the crowded country
The different culture, the language with the complicated characters, the stringent governmental regime isolating the people from Internet by the “Great Firewall” – all that frightened me a bit. But of course, nothing is only black or white. Also China I had very good experiences. Just an hour after arrival I was totally lost because of a wrong internet information about my hostel. I asked several people, nobody understood – but in the background they searched for an English-speaking neighbor. It was a police officer, saluted me in pretty good English “Welcome to Inner Mongolia” – and clarified all by calling the hostel and instructing a taxi driver.
I reached the hostel, joined the party there, and found Piyush – mv travel mate for the next 3 days:
We learned a lot from each other: Piyush is from India, but lives for 3 years in China, so his part of our “temporary symbiosis” was the daily communication at the street. My contribution to our partnership was the Couchsurfing experience and the especially a contact to Wang from Baotou. At our second day, he picked us up together with his father, who drove us through the Inner Mongolia mountains to a famous monastery and to the oldest parts of the Great Wall, erected 2300 years ago.
Piyush amd me had split up when he continued westward and I needed to go back to Hohhot and Beijing. At the departure day I had a last Couchsurfing meet-up with Segie from “Outer” Mongolia, studying in the Chinese “Inner” Mongolia and explained me the cultural differences between them..
Finally I started my return flight, which allowed me a visit of Beijing during a 12hours stopover. I arrived the Tiannanmen place at 3 a.m.
walked around in the dark, attended the flag raise at 5 a.m. together with thousands of Chinese patriots, who continued then into a queue before the Mao mausoleum. So did I, visited Mao and the devotional shops..
and run through the forbidden city – knowing, that all there are barely interiors – the were brought by the Koumintang to Taiwan (As my Terelj travel mate Joy explained me before and encouraged me to visit Taipeh sometimes..)
I returned to the airport on time and a very good flight with a solo seat at the window and a free seat beside concluded my journey.
This was the trip with the most interesting highlights and lowlights I ever did.
Highlights were the great contacts I had in Russia around the lake Baikal, especially in the English summer camp. I’m happy about positive couchsurfing references (If you are not yet member, you are asked for login – the membership is free).
The lowlight was the beginning, where I fell in a typical trap of Internet contacts. Even after months of preparation and hundreds of exchanged messages it could happen, that someone is very different from the impression you got via Internet…. This experience was not a highlight – it took me a while to overcome the bad mood.
But based on the highlights of this trip, especially the positive feedback on social volunteering activities, I move on 🙂