It was one of those “are we having fun yet?” moments. Five of us tourists plus guide and driver set off on Thursday on a six-day excursion. It was cold, rainy and the road was excreable, throwing us helter skelter around the Russian jouncy vehicle.
We jounced all day—our destination was a ger in the back of beyond.
Our group had a ‘guest ger’ with six beds on which we slept with sleeping bags (I was provided one by the guesthouse that arranged the excursion). Dinner was rice with a few bits of mutton and cabbage, cooked by the nomad family. The nomads move at least 4 times a year—each season, but in the summer if the grass is not good enough they have to move more times.
The next day we again drove over gravel paths, over hill, dale, and river to reach our second destination, near Baatsengal, which was where a BIG Naadam was to be held over the next two days. We stayed in a ger that belonged to the family of our driver, Baatar. We ate and slept with the family—some on the floor.
The day before the Naadam the family butchered two goats. They dispatched them quickly by two hard blows on the head with a steel mallet, then proceeded to cut a small slit near the heart. The man reached his hand in and severed the major blood vessels which made the blood pool into the carcass. After removing all the entrails (and there are LOTS in a goat!) the blood was scooped out to be made into blood sausage. All the entrails were cleaned, the intestines were stuffed like sausages, and then all was simmered in a huge open pan on the stove. The rest of the goat meat was taken to Naadam to cook for the festival.
The Naadam was spectacular with hundreds of people on horseback, gathering from long distances. They had set up their gers and many sold food. It was like a Mongolian County Fair with horse races and wrestling.
Baatar wrestled and won his first match but lost his second. The costume for the wrestlers had sleeves and something around the back, but the whole chest was bare. This was because many years ago, a woman entered and won—and the boys didn’t like that. So they changed the costume so THAT wouldn’t happen again!
In the meantime, car repair was needed as some of the rivers that we had driven across were about 3 1/2 feet high with the water coming up within a foot of the van windows. This Russian van is amazing. The engine would often kill about 2/3 of the way across the river. Baatar ground the starter with the clutch out (in gear) and we would actually get across the river on the starter—smoke appearing, of course.
In fact on the trip out of the Naadam at the end of the day, one river did us in—there we sat in four feet of water with it spilling into the van, eventually about 10 inches high—nearly to our seats. A tractor pulled us out and the water spilled out of the van in torrents.
Of course the car wouldn’t run, so two jeeps took us into town to stay at their houses. Later, much to our surprise, Baatar had gotten the car running—in the dark, and he now appeared to take us back to our ger to sleep, by midnight.
Next day we traveled for six hours over roads that often were two tire
tracks with grass growing between, and very, very bumpy. A new fitness
idea—getting fit by hanging on inside the vehicle. We were going to the White Lake—a beautiful place and we had to cross a small mountain range to get there. This is yak country with ‘yakboys’ (?) tending them on horseback, of course.
We stayed in a guest ger put up by a family of nomads and had an excellent dinner of rice, mutton, and vegetable soup. Since these are nomads and since the steppe is not suitable for growing crops, they raise no vegetables here, which are very scarce. We have milk tea, yoghurt, cream on bread for breakfast, then noodles or rice with bits of mutton, cabbage, potatoes and carrots for the main meal.
At our next destination, Tsetserleg, our young woman tourist from Israel got bad news via the Internet. Her cousin had been killed in the war—he was a soldier. Horrible!
After lunch we pushed on to Karakorum, the then capital of Mongolia
established in 1220 by Genghis Khan. We stayed in a guest ger with a hot shower. Did that ever feel wonderful after five days without one!
We visited the Erdene Zuu Khiid, a 16th Century Buddhist monastery. The Russians had been pretty hard on it, destroying most of the temples but it was quite worthwhile to see.
Back to Ulaan Baatar this afternoon—a long bone crushing, teeth rattling journey leaving me shaken to a jelly. It was a great trip, but I am quite tired of Eastern (squat) toilets. I’m staying in UB with the friends of friends, and they are just lovely people. And what comforts of home!
The best to you all—