This travel experience is a bit different. Previous trips to the countryside entailed hopping in a car and driving for hours…. This time, we eschewed our normal mode of transportation and tried another – dog sled.
Terelj is probably the most visited destination outside of UB, because it’s close to the city, but far enough that, as a national park, it seems like you are in the countryside. And because of its proximity to the capital, it plays host to a wide range of ger camps, resort facilities, and nomadic families, offering conveniences for every taste. Surprisingly, I’ve never been to Terelj before, and I do appreciate being able to leave Mongolia haven’t visited at least once.
This time around, we embarked on a trip with a French tour guide who runs the only dog sledding operation in Mongolia. Joel is originally from France, but has made Mongolia his own, along with his 44 Alaskan huskies. He’s been dog sledding for a long time, and it was quite a treat to share his love for the sport for even just a weekend.
So early Saturday morning we departed UB and headed to the countryside. It was nice to escape the pollution and breathe clean air, and I gladly traded my warm apartment for more rustic conditions. We arrived in Terelj and after suiting up (which included waterproof boots, massive sheepskin mittens, and every layer of clothing I brought with me), we met our team of dogs.
I think the usual team comprises 6-11 dogs, but as beginners, we only had 5. Enough for me, as my dogs were ready to run, run, run. We set off almost immediately along the frozen Terelj River, and after maybe 30 minutes of trying to get used to this strange new sensation, we learned to relax and go with the flow. I think riding the sled must be like skiing – you stand on two planks of wood and adjust with movement of the dogs and the sled. The key, I guess, is staying loose.
After 3 or so hours (30 kms), we arrived at a family’s hasha, where we would stay the night. The family was warm and welcoming, and we played Mongolian card games and drank vodka into the late hours, before stoking the fire and heading to bed. The ger was surprisingly well-insulated, keeping us warm for almost the entire night.
The next day, we hopped back on our sleds and headed out again; this time, though, I managed to wreck my sled almost immediately on a steep decline with rocks. But the dogs ran on like nothing happened, and I hopped back on and kept going, getting comfortable again after a few minutes or so. Again, we raced along the frozen river, driving through slush occasionally, which I will confess made me slightly apprehensive.
And at the end, we warmed up in the home ger again, glad to have had this wonderful experience. I had expected to be very cold, but was surprisingly ok, despite temperatures far below 0 F. The dogs were adorable and fun – each has a name and a distinct personality and it was fun to watch them interact with us and each other. Definitely a worthwhile experience!
More pictures found here.