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Falling in love with the quiet tracks of Mongolia

Gayle Dickson's picture
Bicycle touring in Mongolia by Sloths on Wheels. Cycle Traveller Postcards

Cycling through Mongolia isn’t as hard as you may think: it's empty and very beautiful with enormous skies and wonderful camping opportunities. As long as you’re prepared for a serious lack of tarmac, lack of people and lack of villages, then cycling through the lands of Genghis Khan can be an incredible experience – especially if you don’t mind pushing a bit!

At the end of last summer we were resting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan having just cycled along the Pamir Highway. We hadn’t really planned the next part of our journey other than managing to get visas for Russia while in Tajikistan.

Sloths on Wheels cycling past a yurt in Mongolia. Cycle Traveller PostcardsWe were pondering possible routes to Russia when we heard that European Union citizens could now enter Mongolia visa-free.* A quick look at the map showed us there was a border into Western Mongolia from the Altai Republic in Siberia, and so we suddenly had a plan.

As expected, on leaving Siberia and crossing into Mongolia, the tarmac ended and we were on a gravelly road and going slow. It was mid September and that first night, it snowed. By morning, the snow had disappeared and, in the middle of nowhere, we saw the first of hundreds of yurts that we were to pass.

After a few days, we got used to the lack of tarmac and we even got used to the occasional deep sand that we had to push through.

There are very few people in Mongolia and the vast majority of them live in the capital Ulan Bator. This means there is virtually no traffic on the roads – well, calling them roads is not entirely accurate, tracks is a much better description, but you do usually get a choice of track!

This doesn’t mean that you don’t meet people. People would pass by on motorbikes – the most common form of transport to have usurped the horse.

Bicycle touring through Mongolia by Sloths on Wheels. Cycle Traveller Postcards

The Mongolians were always friendly and helpful when we needed directions, even though there was no shared language apart from sign-language.

Every night we found great places to pitch the tent and star-gaze.

When we finally reached tarmac again a few days from Ulan Bator, we suddenly realised that the real adventure was over and some part of us wanted to turn round and do it all again. We didn’t, of course – the pull of the big city was too great – but I think we’ll return to Mongolia one day. I don’t think there’s anywhere like it in the world, and by bike it’s even better.

Cycle touring in Mongolia by Sloths on Wheels. Cycle Traveller Postcards* European Union citizens can enter Mongolia visa-free for 30 days until December 31, 2015. Beyond that date, check for a policy update. Australians and New Zealanders must apply for a tourist visa to enter Mongolia. Under a separate agreement, citizens of the United States can enter the country for up to 90 days visa-free, while Canadians have a 30 day visa-free period.

About Sloths on Wheels

The Sloths on Wheels are Gayle Dickson and John Burnham, an English couple in their forties who've pedaled more than 30,000kms and describe themselves as "travellers on wheels" rather than cyclists, trying to go as slow as possible.

View from the bike. Sloths on Wheels cycling in Mongolia. Cycle Traveller PostcardsFor more tales please see: www.slothsonwheels.blogspot.com.

 

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