This is the latest update from Giorgio Vanni, a 64-year-old Italian pensioner who’s travelling from his hometown of Varese to Perth on a plane-free trip.
“Just outside the chaotic capital of Ulaanbaatar, I was met with scenery I’m struggling to find adequate adjectives for.
“I was slightly anxious to cross the Russian border due to some issues caused by officials at the Belarusian Consulate and the border.”
Ulaanbaatar was just as Vanni had imagined and how people say it is: crazy traffic, pollution and absolute chaos.
Half of Mongolia’s population lives in the capital while the rest – around 1.5 million people – are spread across a country five times the size of Italy.
Once he’d bought a new SIM card and exchanged some money, Vanni boarded a bus to Karakorum, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire.
The bus was full of local peasants in traditional clothing.
The accommodation in Karakorum was a group of Mongolian yurts and a small building where guests gathered to eat and chat.
Yurts are traditional houses made of a wooden frame and a felt cover.
The mobile dwellings can be dismounted and moved easily and quickly.
They’re typically used by Asian nomadic populations, including Mongolians, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people.
“The next day, I got a lift seven kilometres away to visit a nomadic family,” Vanni said.
“Spending time with them, I began to better understand the nomadic culture of the steppe: a fundamental aspect of the culture is hospitality, because you can’t survive without the help of others in such a harsh environment.”
The following day, Vanni arrived at Orkhon Valley, where he embarked on a four-day horseback ride.
“I discovered a magical side of Mongolia with stunning scenery and sweeping landscapes which gave me a sense of seclusion I’d never experienced before,” he said.
“But behind the idyllic setting, was a difficult life for those who inhabit it: poor sanitary conditions, lack of education, hard work, extreme weather, a fragile economy and isolation.”
As a result, many young locals seek fortune in the capital city; however, they often face a whole new set of challenges there and are forced to the fringes of society.
Vanni visited the Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) monastery and participated in a moving ceremony in which Buddhist monks read sutras, accompanied by chanting faithfuls.
The monastery is enclosed in an immense walled compound.
“Stalinist purges of 1937 wiped out 3 per cent of the Mongolian population and all but three of the temples were destroyed,” Vanni explained.
Upon his return to Ulaanbaatar, Vanni met Bagart, the driver who would accompany him on four days of full immersion in the steppe.
With food supplies and gas cylinders in tow, the pair headed towards the Khustain Nuruu National Park, established in 1993 to protect Mongolia’s wild horse, the takhi.
“We spent the nights with hospitable nomadic families,” he said.
“The first family welcomed us with a bowl of raw milk which I accepted out of respect.
“I spent the following days in a trance among open spaces, herds of wild animals and the odd group of yurts here and there.
“There was a beautiful lake at the base of a mountain with lunar landscapes and herds of horses running wild.
“The southernmost point we reached was at the edge of the Gobi Desert, where the sand dunes began and mountains lined the horizon.”
Vanni then explored the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park on horseback and admired the whimsical autumn colours.
Upon his return to the capital, the temperatures dropped to -9˚C!
Next stop: China.
Vanni is unsure about the language barrier, train tickets, accommodation and internet access... but that’s all part of the adventure!
During his trip, the Italian explorer is raising funds for the non-profit organisation SOS Children’s Villages.
To find out more or donate, visit the Facebook page.