This is the first post of a brand new guest series called “Unforgettable Travel Moments“. We all have our special travel moments: a memorable meal, meeting someone, an embarrassing faux pas or simply being awestruck by scenery. With this new series, I hope to uncover the moments, the anecdotes and the tales which make travel special.
Thirty minutes in Ulan Bator
By Andy Jarosz.
“Thirty minutes. Be back on the train or we leave without you”. Welcome to Ulan Bator. It was -19C outside and with a raging blizzard blowing large flakes of snow against the windows of our frozen carriage, we had to take the warning seriously. However alluring the prospect of stretching our legs in the Mongolian capital (or at least its railway station), we didn’t want to venture too far for fear of seeing the train, along with all our gear, disappearing south into the icy desert.
The foreign feel to our new surroundings was immediately obvious. Men wandered around the icy platform in their purple deels (long traditional over-garments), keen to trade with those who were emerging from the train. We were immediately hit by an overpowering smell of mutton. So prominent is the meat in the winter diet of Mongolian families that the scent of fatty meat exuded from the bodies of the many folks huddled in the station and filled the grand old building.
We had entered the station along with the only other pair of Brits on the whole train. A man soon approached the four of us and asked in faltering English where we were from. When we told him we were from England, he paused and asked “London?” in a hopeful voice. Richard shook his head and replied “Liverpool”. A blank stare. “The Beatles?” Still nothing. The man, now looking confused and defeated, walked back to his seat in the shadows of the vast station complex.
We thought nothing of it and continued to explore the little stalls set up within the hall. It was 1995 and Mongolia was having a tough time, slowly introducing market reforms after years of clinging to the Soviet line. Cash was in short supply and people were selling almost anything to get enough money to survive. We browsed at the shops, selling nothing of interest to passing tourists, and watched as the busy world into which we had momentarily stepped continued around us.
A moment later our friend re-emerged, his look of confusion replaced by a smile. He smiled at Richard and said with some confidence, “Four men!” Now it was our turn to look confused. “One dead.” At last the penny dropped. We savoured the enjoyment of this surreal discussion of 1960s British pop music and I gladly purchased a hand-made postcard from our friend. It now hangs proudly on our wall and whenever we are reminded of our very short stop in Ulan Bator, we invariably remember the words “four men, one dead”. I wonder if he has since learned about the demise of George Harrison?
About this week’s guest writer
Andy Jarosz is a freelance writer based in St Albans, UK. He started the travel blog 501 Places in 2009 to share his travel experiences and stories with others. He also manages the blog and Twitter activity for adventure travel specialists Tourdust.