Putting Kazakh Hospitality to the Test

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Where I stayed
Eagle Hunter's Ger
What I did
Kurgan Stelae

Flag of Mongolia  , Bayan-Ölgiy,
Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28th, 2011
Northern and Western Mongolia Tour Day 22 of 32

Khurgan Lake, Stop at Khurgan Stelae (Babals) then on to Eagle Hunter's Ger near Tsengel -  76 KM

All good things come to an end. We felt we had been part of the family for a little bit. We gathered our things while the family attended to the morning chores that needed to be done. It was time to go. The family waved us goodbye as we drove off under clear blue skies.

We doubled back to the bridge so Sereg could meet up with the friend he was with the night before. The friend is also a van driver. We found him with his clients, a German couple, camping by the lake’s edge. We got out and visited with them. Michelle was able to practice her German, they were impressed. She was happy to hear it since it had been many years since she spoke it. The German couple arranged their trip in Germany and froze last night in their worn camping tent.

From there, we took a different loop south toward Dayan Lake then west toward Tsenjel village where the Eagle Hunter lives. Sereg let his friend take the lead and we followed them in our identical grey little van for a while. The road on this route was markedly better. The blue sky and snow tipped mountains made it a super scenic ride.

Mid morning we reached another archeological site near a lake. Kurgan Stelae or Balbals (supposedly from  a Turkic word balbal meaning "ancestor" or "grandfather" or the Mongolic word "barimal" which means "handmade statue") are anthropomorphic images cut from stone around kurgan cemeteries or in a double line extending from a kurgan. Spanning more than three millennia, they are clearly the product of various cultures.

The obvious difference between these and the deer-stones we saw in near Moron is the absence of etchings of deer figures. These granite balbals are clearly meant to represent the specific people they honor. The main three stones are among flat slate-like stone that are also stood on end. And there are the rock mounds that are said to be ancient burial markers or ceremonial grounds. The first one we stopped at was a simply carved stone. A little further, we found three more modern statues lined up with rows of other stones and burial site markers. We explored the area and snapped the obligatory pictures before saying goodbye to the other tour group.

We parked at Dayan Lake for lunch. Uemaa went all out. She made a delicious soup and separate rice for Kimche (Pancho) and 3 pickled carrot and rice hand-rolls. Pretty creative. She is really trying. Pancho didn’t look at it that way and couldn’t put on a pleasant face. The only time we see a smile from him anymore, is when he poses for pictures. When the camera disappears, the happy face disappears. He is really getting on our nerves. As usual, Kimchee took a walk only spending enough time with us to stuff his face before walking off again.

At 5:30, we approached Tsengel village. Sereg left the tracks and crossed the broad expansive steppe. The family had moved to their autumn position since we had seen them two days prior. In fact, they set up the ger in the new location just today! The new spot was 7 km from Tsenjel at the foot of a mountain and near a river.

As we entered the ger. The daughter was busy preparing fried bread with her mother. She was kneading and rolling the dough for 2nd, 3rd and 4th batches. Michelle pitched in and helped get the sliced pieces of dough into the pan of hot oil on the stove.

The table was set with the usual cheeses and butter. Another daughter had made all the exquisite embroidered wall hanging in the ger. Such fine work Michelle had only seen in antique wall hangings in the museum. It is amazing that she has time for that in between all the other chores.

The father and the other family members sat around the ger watching the bread being fried. We took in the colorful interior. This family’s ger had three beds and stacks of pillows and quilts. Pictures of the eagle hunter hung on the wall with all his winning ribbons going back for 10 years. He is the much respected #1 hunter from his village.

Michelle had not been up to snuff all day having muscle aches, headache, and joint pain. She made an area on the floor ready to make a bed and was given two nice embroidered felt rugs to put down on the grass and dirt floor. With that, and a camping pad, it was comfortable. Pancho and Uemaa followed suit and also put out their sleeping mats and made a place to sleep in our corner of the ger. The rest of the family trickled in slowly, All the while; one daughter replenished the milk-tea. She got a brick of tea out of a fur bag and hammered on edge of it to break off small pieces. Then she added the tea to large white bowl of milk and water on the stove.

Grandma finally went to bed and took one of the little boys in bed with her. Her daughter also had one or two kids in her bed. The single light was turned off at around 10:30 (Most gers have one solar panel for recharging a car battery used to power electric lights and radios.) Nature called Dave into the night. When he went outside, he found the father and young son driving posts into the ground for a fence. They were building the animal pen in the dark.

During the night, people went in and out of the ger, Shuffling was going on around us and we had no idea how many people were in the ger at this point, At 1:30AM, a motorcycle pulled up and another family member came in from the bitter cold night. He used a flashlight to find a rug, and then took quilts from the stack, then a pillow. And it was quiet again. Michelle hoped she didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and navigate her way through a sea of legs while the ger was pitch dark. The morning light revealed that 16 people had slept in the ger that night

Catching the family on moving day must have been a bad time. They had the usual day-to-day chores, plus they were still in the process of setting up the ger, moving the animals, and re-making animal pens. And then 5 visitors show up!

We must have been putting Kazakh hospitality to the test!
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yc on

That's some hospitality! I wonder how much they get paid for you staying there.
I guess nobody changes into their PJs for the nite. That's some hard work, being nomads like that. I thought moving every other year was bad, although they have a routine, and set places where they are every season, they don't have to rediscover their surroundings, right?

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