I got up after my last night in a ger and went out at dawn to walk around and see if I could find any birds before we went back to the city. There was a huge flock of goats and sheep moving through, and kept hearing this WHACK noise. I finally saw the source of it; young goats were testing their prowess by butting heads. They weren't terribly serious about it, but I could see some hormones were starting to kick in. Several Tolai Hares hopped around and one cooperated so I got a nice photo. The morning light was lovely! I could hear a hoopoe calling and caught sight of him on a telephone pole.
We finished breakfast and started out for Ulaanbaator. We made a quick stop at a nomad family's ger. The matriarch of the family, who was in her 90s was outside. Sergie had our driver stop and she spoke with a couple of members of the family. To my great surprise they invited us inside, where we had tea and some really nice goat-milk yogurt. Can you imagine in the United States having perfect strangers stop at your house and with no knowledge of who they were inviting them in for snacks? They were getting ready to pack up to go up in the hills for the summer. They had solar panels for electricity and somehow they had a land line telephone hooked up. We bid them goodbye and got on our way.
We got into Ulaanbaator and went to the Zaisan Memorial. Built as a monument to the friendship between the Mongolians and Soviets and remembering their dead from World War II, it sits on a very high hill, overlooking the city. The 612 stairs going up to the top of the hill looked daunting, but this time I did not stay back. It was a very long walk up, but well worth it. A large circular mural extends around the top with scenes showing Soviet support for the independence of Mongolia in 1921, victory over the Nazis, and peacetime achievements, such as the flight of Soyuz 39, which carried the first Mongolian astronaut, Jugderdemidiin Gurragchaa. The view of the city was stunning!
We then headed to the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, the spiritual ruler of Mongolia from 1869 to 1924. The palace was built between 1893 and 1903. It houses a huge collection of artifacts which the Khan collected, including his ceremonial ger which was covered in Snow Leopard skin! There was gorgeous furniture, clothing and other household items. He had a massive collection of taxidermied animals and birds from all over the world. I had a great time IDing all the birds and telling everyone where they were from. My all time favorite things were the accoutrements of the royal elephant, particularly his huge hat. I can't remember where they got the elephant. They are not native to Mongolia. Ulaanbaator is the coldest capital city in the world, with temperatures well below zero all winter long, so the elephant lived inside the palace with the family. I would not have wanted the job of cleaning up after him!
We then had a really great lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant, and then checked into our hotel. We rested up a bit and then went to a cultural show of traditional dance, singing and instrumental music. I was really impressed. One of the performers was an incredibly skilled throat singer. https://youtu.be/xBFJlB9EYj8 The costumes were incredible! The audience was packed and after the show finished there was a long line for the next one. We finished the night with an excellent dinner at the Seoul Club restaurant.
My trip to Mongolia was incredible. I am still going over my photos over and over and reliving the experience. It was one of the best trips I have ever taken! Even though I did not see nearly as many birds as if I had been on an actual birding tour, I have a deep appreciation for the ones I saw and was able to identify. It was very challenging not having a good field guide and being unfamiliar with the habitats of some of the birds. But the experiences I had on this trip were mind-blowing. Meeting the nomad families, having tea with the shepherd on the motorcycle, seeing the amazing landscapes, experiencing the Gobi desert, and riding a freaking two humped camel were things I will never forget! Mongolia is not for everyone. If your idea of an ideal vacation is going to Las Vegas, it isn't for you. But if you love wild places and you get a chance, go! The tour company that put this together is Travel All Mongolia. They did a a great job! I would highly recommend them.