Fascinating Tales from Mongolia
Mongolia wasn’t in my (immediate) plan. But as it turned out, me and my 3 other friends found ourselves here in late May, and happy we made the trip. It would have been more adventurous to take the Trans Siberian Train from Moscow to Ulaan Bataar on the way to Beijing, but such is one plan we have long dropped. If we were younger, perhaps. At our age and disposition, we’d rather fly.
So much is happening here especially in Ulaan Bataar with quite a number of high-rise buildings under construction. With 70%!o(MISSING)f the 2.7 million Mongolians still living in “gers” (circular tents for nomadic Mongolians) and nearly half of that in the city, I wonder who’s buying up these condominium units in UB. And if they so move to these modern housing units, who’d take care of the 15 million livestock who formed part of their nomadic families for many centuries? Would the horses be put in stables? Cattle and goat farms emerging in the suburbs? My take is anyone visiting 5 years from now (maybe sooner) would find a different Mongolia. With more, sturdier, permanent housing, do we now expect a fading nomadic race? Perhaps. Or maybe not. It’s a lifestyle change. A drastic one. And who knows how these Mongolian nomads feel?
Out of Ulaan Bataar’s Mad Traffic and Off To The Park
There’s a lot to be said about the chaotic traffic jams in Ulaan Bataar. We arrived nearly midnight and braved the traffic from the international airport to our hotel. Just a lone airport road. The same one we took on our way back to catch our homeward flight. But with a driver from hell. I remember riding the same van with this hilarious man from Fiji who punctuated every sentence with expletives and at one point begged the ladies to please pray. We did. That driver from hell must have been driving out in the plains for some days with no competition and had no tolerance for any unmoving motor vehicle. But that’s another story.
Traffic out; sandy winds in. Out of the city heading southwards. We stopped whenever we fancied taking photographs until every treeless hill looked like the last one. We took care not to open our mouths whenever the wind blows. Sands on your tongue? Plenty! And just as many were the grazing cattle, horses, sheep, goats, lambs, yaks, etc. We saw a lone herdsman busy talking to someone on his mobile and wondered about the communication facilities here in Mongolia. Same with the power lines. They are out there, crossing vast plains, with gers constructed beside a satellite dish. We even passed many tourist ger camps where the wooden structures (toilets) are “western”, so unlike the real deal where nomad families live.
The World’s Largest Equestrian Statue
The Chinggis Khaan Statue is some 50 kilometers south of the capital, a good stopover on your way to Terelj National Park which is another 30 kilometers away. Gleaming bright under the sun, this stainless steel giant monument is the world’s largest equestrian statue. Built in a spot where Chinggis Khaan’s “golden whip” was allegedly found. That’s the tale. Quite impressive if you ask me. We climbed the steps, checked out the 2 museums inside , and took the elevator up through the horse’s tail to the 3rd floor. Then walked towards the horse’s head to come up looking straight up to the fierce warrior leader’s stainless steel beard! The spot gives the visitor a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape — sacred mountains, steppes, treeless slopes, more tourist gers and grazing animals.
Terelj National Park
In Terelj National Park, we asked to be taken to Turtle Rock. So much has been said and written about it. Nature left on its own. Wind and water responsible for such natural rock formations. We learned there are MANY turtle rocks. As there are Monkey Rocks and Monks Caves. Found a 2 humped camel near the Rock and several horses. We chickened out on the horseback rides. Too many DON’TS! You can’t scream, you can’t stroke the horse? What do i do when this wild horse scampers away with me on the saddle?
Some Cooking Lessons and Then Lunch
When it was time to meet our nomadic family and share lunch inside a ger, we were famished. We brought some candies but we found no kids. Just Gerde or Kirde or whatever she’s called. I stopped asking as I kept forgetting her name. Gerde welcomed us with warm milk tea served in bowls. There were also biscuits and freshly-baked breads. The latter we liked so much that she packed it for us to bring back to the hotel. (And it was good till the next day!) There was also some vegetable dish, much like cole slaw, eaten with meat dumplings. They made their own pasta, used firelog stoves to steam the dumplings, baked the cookies on the roof of the tents under the sun, and used the same water for steaming dumplings for our after-lunch coffee and tea. The last one took us by surprise. Gerde so matter-of-factly took the water under the tray where the dumplings were being steamed and poured some on our mugs to make coffee. When lunch was over, they used the remaining hot water to clean the bowls and mugs sans any soap. Not a drop of water wasted. I watched the pet cat slurping on his milk tea on a dish and wondered if the same dish was used to serve our cole slaw.
What’s In A Ger?
The ger was a simple 1 round room affair. Living, sleeping and cooking quarters in one space. The firelog stove is used to cook meals as well as to warm cold nights. There’s a hole in the middle to let a plume of smoke out. Beds, hard beds, placed around the ger. When we entered, we were told to have the men on the left side and the ladies on the right. Straight up or on top was reserved for elders. Inside, we found a small shrine, hemmed in by framed photos presumably of Gerde’s family. There’s the fire log stove, a small, battered refrigerator (it must have had some falls with all that moving around) and a small cooler or freezer to store some meat? If you need to pee, there’s a wooden structure outside the ger housing the toilet. One of us went, described the dug-out “facility” and that shut our bladders locked till we got back to our hotel. And no washing provisions, I hear.
Of course one may choose to sleep in a “tourist ger” instead. Hot water, plumbing, better appointments inside the tent. But the toilet facilities are still outside the modern ger. I can’t imagine myself walking out of the ger just for my midnight or early morning pee. Not just the cold, but I’d be frozen scared just thinking there’s a wild animal out there. Sure, the tourist ger camp is “fenced in” but I hear animals can jump over the fence! Enough adventures for old hags like us. We trooped back to our hotel after a day with the nomadic family. There, we soaked ourselves clean of the dust and dirt in a hot tub. Different folks, different strokes!
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