Mongolia Completed!

Trip Start Jul 24, 2006
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10
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Trip End Jan 07, 2011


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Monday, August 28, 2006

Well, to finish the Mongolian chapter- we were visiting the family in their ger tent, weren't we? In fact, we weren't too sure we'd actually get to visit the family because of the storm. Almost as soon as we sat down to eat, we saw huge black clouds amassing in the distance. Not long after, the wind rose and we could see heavy rain coming our way only to be replaced with some very impressive thunder and lightning. What with the open plains in the background, it was something to see! Luckily, our ger tent only had a couple of wet patches and the beds were still completely dry.

However, the storm stopped almost as suddenly as it had begun, so we decided to go ahead with our visit to the local family. In fact, we only stayed half an hour or so as the family had had to hurry to make sure their herds were safe and that the chimney and roof opening weren't leaking etc.

The women's clothing was wonderfully colourful and very traditional. The men's clothing brings S. America to mind - they wear long boots and overcoats with long sleeves which come to a point well below their hands even in the middle of summer. Apparently most of the children have to board with relatives or friends during the week so that they can attend school and go home only for the weekend. I wonder how they will manage the mixture of modern external cultural influences with their really rural, nomadic home lives.

In the tent we were offered fermented mare's milk and home-made pastries and sweets made with curdled milk! Pete and I were rather reticent, but did our best. However, our driver was delighted to taste the fermented milk and had 2 full bowls and returned the next evening for more! The ger was very compact but certainly served to demonstrate how to make the most of a small storage space.

The following morning our guide and driver accompanied us to a Buddhist monastery at Karakorum, which is supposedly the most famous one in Mongolia. It was built on the ruins of an ancient city and is very popular with local people as well as tourists. It was very interesting to see the young lamas praying and chanting and the plates piled high with different kinds of food as offerings. Families go there to pray and then borrow yellow silk rectangular cushions-type blocks, which have been blessed, to take to their homes or carry around the perimeter of the monastery while praying. I believe these are meant to bring blessings and luck to the families. Although I didn't see any money-changing hands, Pierre said the families actually gave donations in exchange for 'borrowing' the blocks.

After lunch in a different ger camp we went for a walk in the sand dunes - don't forget that there is quite a lot of desert in Mongolia. These weren't really part of the Gobi desert, but quite adequate for a photo or two! It was pretty warm by the time we reached the top where we met another guide with another tourist from Rome! Then it was back for a relaxing evening - a meal and then playing a traditional Mongolian game of throwing down sheeps' ankle bones and seeing whether you can make matching pairs of the different 'sides': horse, camel, sheep and goat, by flicking two of a kind. If you do it correctly and don't touch any other pieces, you keep that piece. The only problem was that it took me absolutely ages to even see what the differences were! Pete, however, was much more observant as usual....

An early wake-up call followed by 7 am breakfast was on the schedule but it seemed the camp staff had been celebrating the night before, and when we arrived at the dining tent, no-one was there! So with a slight delay of 30 mins or so, we left for a drive across the land on small tracks(no roads, here!)into the mountains to visit a very small monastery & temple. This one was completely different from the huge one at Karakorum - it was tiny and perched up the side of the mountain, which meant we had to climb up there to visit it. Pete was interested in the ruins and walls we could see below - apparently there had been a flourishing school for lamas there previously but when the Communist came to power in Mongolia, monasteries were one of the first things they destroyed as they realised how much influence the lamas had with the local people. We were told that several of the lamas had been shot, while others were tortured. Only the youngest were spared - the boys in question would have been aged anything from 6 onwards.

Then it was back on the 'track' - because most of the journey was spent off the actual road, again due to the dreadful condition of the roads. Once again, we saw many many lorries overflowing with the sheeps' wool the local herdsman were sending to market. Often we would see some just left by the side of the road waiting to be picked up. We finally arrived back in Ulan Bataar about 15:00 and left our guide, Ongan, and driver promising to be at the hotel to take us to the train station the next morning at 0700 for
the final leg of our rail journey.
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