Cycling in Mongolia : Pedal Power for the Win!
Pedalling through the vast expanse of the endless land that is Mongolia, there are two Ws that a cyclist worries about – wind and water. Too much of the former and too little of the latter!
This tale started many moons ago, as I sat by the side of the moon lake (Chandratal) in Spiti Valley, contemplating the offer of a fellow cyclist I had met in Nako. The offer was to go on a cycle ride to Mongolia. I showed great false enthusiasm of accompanying Prakash (my partner in crime here!), without having the faintest idea whether Mongolia was the name of a country, region or continent! Fast track three years to the summer of twenty-fifteen and the dream which I hadn’t dreamt was materializing. After months of sporadic physical preparation and trip planning I found myself sitting mystified in the flight from New Delhi to Ulaan Baatar (UB), with a small voice inside me screaming, that I am woefully unprepared! After an eventful journey, where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong we landed in UB. That included 48 hour thunderstorms, delayed flights and sleeping on hard airport benches for two consecutive nights.
The country of Mongolia has a population of 2.8 million with almost half living in the capital city – Ulaan Baatar. Compare that to Delhi which has a population of 10 million and you suddenly find joy in every breath you take, it does not feel like you are robbing your neighbour of oxygen! The city of UB was organised and orderly, with life centring on the Chinggis Khan Square, traffic wasn’t aggressive and people were by and large extremely polite. The only thing we were warned about was petty pickpockets, barring which there was no reason to feel unsafe for man or woman. But the biggest shock for me was the vehicles. I had expected to find decade old rattle traps plying on dirt roads, instead the 4 lane smooth tarmac was infested with gigantic SUVs which would probably be more appropriate for a Texan ranch than a city! I saw more Hummers in a day in UB, that what I have seen in my three year stay in Delhi. Mongols were clearly well off, or so it seemed.