Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mongolia Day 2 - Out of UlaanBaatar

Mongolia, the absolute beauty of the stark open steppe, the nomads who still make up 25% of the overall population, and the idea of pure fresh air... those are what intrigued us and ended up with us booking this amazing trip. I don't believe that we will ever be able to explain how great this trip was, oh we will try, but we won't be able to really convey what we saw and did...

But, that being said, we will try and since pictures supposedly tell stories better then I write, today you get a lot of photos - enjoy.
This is maybe 10 minutes outside of UlaanBaatar, as the building begin to fade away to small fenced in plots with gers (yurts in Turkish) and open plains you will see the markets. Piles and piles of animal hides for sale, we asked our driver to stop so that we could take a photo. Our guide told us that stopping was no problem and to just ask whenever we wanted to take a photo - I'm sure she regretted saying that at about 2 hours into the trip.
We left Ulaanbaatar first thing in the morning, for a nice trek of about 280 kilometers (174 miles) to the ger camp where we were spending our first night. We were told that the drive would take 4-1/2 to 5 hours, not including photo and bathroom stops. The road in the photo above is the new road that they are building, it is fairly smooth and makes for quick travel...
...but that road is nowhere near completed. About one hour outside of the city you have to get off the nice paved road as the construction crews continue to pave across the landscape.From there it is bumpy, slow, trekking across the land. There are some semblance of roads, but it pretty much seems to be a free-for-all with everyone just driving anywhere they please. There would be places where you would crest a hill and could look down upon 10 or more well rutted trails all heading in somewhat the same direction...
Even in the middle of what appears to be nowhere, there are signs kindly pointing you to the nearest somewhere.
As you continue out you start to see more and more gers from the nomadic people set up across the countryside. They will pack up their ger, it takes about an hour to dismantle, and follow their herds when they move with the water and the grass.

The animals pretty much have full run of the land out in the country, the owners will kind of keep an eye on then during the day and then will herd then all back near the ger in the evening. You see a lot of sheep, goats, and horses, along with the occasional cows and camels.
Around 13:00 we were somewhere near halfway to our final destination and we stopped for a lunch where you get to grill up your own meat. Here they provide nice bibs so that you don't get covered in the hot oil that is spitting off of the hot grill.
After lunch we stopped at the location of some old Buddhist temples. The ger above is one that they will live in year round without moving, two ladies were working on stitching together an additional layer of wool to put over the ger to help hold in the heat in the winter.
There is a temple up on the hill, you can just see part of it sticking out. There were also ruins of some bigger temples that had been built in the same area. Almost all of the temples in Mongolia were destroyed in the 30's after they became a communist country - Russia was really nice in helping them purge all of the monks and temples from their land.
But then finally, around 17:00 we pulled into the campsite where we spent our first night. We had our own little ger that had two small beds, a table and a wood stove. Perfect.

Of course there was also a lot of livestock right outside of this camp - mostly sheep and goats.
The owner of those animals was a nomad who also had camels - which he kindly brought over so that Tina and I could take a quick ride on them.
We followed him from the campsite over to his ger, about a 20 minute camel ride, and then stepped inside their ger to see how nomadic life is and ask any questions that we may have had.
One of their relatives also stopped in, he was nearby and wanted to discuss where they though the best grazing would be for their herds. They will pack up their ger and move every 2-3 weeks, usually moving at 10-15 kilometers at a time.
We sat with them a while, the wife offered us some fermented mares milk (in the bowls that we are holding) and dried squares of mare yogurt. The milk had a strange citrus-like flavor, and was actually pretty good. From there is was a quick camel ride back to our campsite.
I know, it was a long day we're almost finished - once safely finished with camel riding we walked over to some of the sand dunes that were also located in that area. We didn't have enough time to get all the way across Mongolia to the Gobi desert, but at least we got to climb some sand dunes and watch an incredible sunset...
After all that we had a nice filling dinner of mutton, and then we headed back to our ger to head to bed. The camp owners light the fire in the wood stove for you when you retire, and then come in again in the morning around 07:00 so that you'll be warm when you climb out of bed.

Another great thing about being out in the middle of nowhere, and on a perfectly clear night, is that you can actually see the stars in the sky. It was beautiful, and the photo that I tried doesn't even being to capture all of the stars that you could see....
Ok, that was day one out in the country - we've got a full week of stories like this one.

No comments: