Itineraries for 2016-1917 Season \+any custom trip is possible too\:
No.1-Day Trip out of Ulaanbaatar; No.2-Overnight Stay with a Herder's Family. No.3-Shooting ranges, Firing RPG, Tank driving or Armoured Personnel Carrier/APC/; No.4-Special Interest Tour; No.5-Horse Riding; No.6-Trip to Sand Dunes and Camel Riding; No.7-Meeting with Buryat Shamans in far-eastern Dornod Province; No.8-Fishing Tour; No.9-Bird Watching; No.10-Trip to Naiman Nuur;No.11-Huvsgul Lake -Central West; No.12-Upper Orkhon Valley;No.13-Southern Gobi's Semi-Deserts; No.14-Northern Far West-Gobi of Altai Mountains; No.15-Northern Hentii; No.16-Central West;No.17-Southern Gobi-Huvsgul Lake; No.18-Eastern Steppes and Forests; No.19-Winter Camel Riding; No.20-Southern Gobi-Central West; No.21-Great Steppes; No.22- Middle Gobi and Hangai Mountains; No.23-Western Gobi-Great Lakes; No.24-Southern Gobi-Earthquake Destructions-8 Lakes; No.25- Southern Gobi -Harkhorin;No.26-Hustai National Park-Erdenezuu Monastery-Hugnu Khaan Mountains; No.27-South Eastern Steppes-Watching Sunset; No.28-Huvsgul Lake-Western Gobi and Mountains; No.29-Exploring the caves. ....
The itineraries in the shortest description:
Itinerary No.6-"Trip to Sand Dunes and Camel Riding" in the shortest description: \4 or 3 day 4wd Vehicle trip\:UB-Tuul River-remnant walls of ancient city in Harbukh in central-western Bulgan Province-Hugnu Khaan Mountains-30km-long Northern Sand dunes of Mongol Els with oases/+Batkhaan Mountain where sand dunes, forest and rocks meet, can be added as an option/-Hustai National Park Mountains with takhi, wild horses in Tuv/"central"/Province-Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary No.10-"Trip to Naiman Nuur"/"8 lakes"/ in the shortest description/:
Day 1 -Overnight near the remnant walls on the banks of Harbukh River in Bulgan Province.
Day 2 –Overnight near Ugii Lake.
Day 3 – Overnight near Tovkhon Monastery on mountians near Upper Orkhon Valley in Uvurkhangai Province.
Day 4-Overnight near Naiman Nuur/"8 Lakes"/.
Day 5 –Overnight near Shankh Monastery's valley.
Day 6 –Overnight near sand dunes of Mongol Els with oases and bactrian camels.
Day 7 –Return to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 11-"Huvsgul Lake-Central West" in the shortest description/day by day details and options to the itinerary available/. 12Day/11Night/including 3 days of rest/4wd Vehicle Trip/: Ulaanbaatar-Amarbayasgalant Monastery in northern Selenge province-forested valleys in Bulgan province- daily encounter with occasional campements of nomadic families- twin volcanic craters in northern Bulgan province-ancient walls-Selenge River valley in Bulgan- partly forested areas in Huvsgul province- ancient "dear stones" and graveyards of Uushig -Huvsgul Lake- mountain forested passes-Lake Tsagaan in central/western Arkhangay province-Zayin Monastery\Museum in Tsetserleg town-Tsenkher hotsprings in the northern slopes of Hangai Mountain Range- yak breeders- Harkhorin town with its famous Erdenezuu Monastery in Uvurkhangai province/"southern Hangai"\-northern sand dunes of Mongol Els-wild horses in Hustai National Park-back to Ulaanbaatar. 1. Accommodation: tents-9 nights/camping and cooking equipments are provided/, tourist camps-2 nights. 2. Transportation: you will be travelling by a reliable 4wd jeep or minibus depending on your group's size. 3. Meals: we organise meal at your request/If needed, we provide with cooks or cook/translators. Gas stove and all neccessary cooking equipments are provided. 4. About drivers, guides / translators:They are proffesionals who are very familiar with places to visit as well as nomadic lifestyle of their fellow Mongols. If needed, we have services of guides/translators. Every tour is a custom tour for us. At your request, we also can make changes into the itinerary concerning overnights, number of rest days and etc....
Itinerary 12-"Upper Orkhon Valley" in the shortest description/details split on day by day and other options to the itinerary available/: 5day/4night/including a day of rest/4wd Vehicle Trip: Ulaanbaatar- Harbukh, the remnant walls of an ancient city in central/western Bulgan province-encounter occasional campements of nomadic families and acquantance with their routine life/available everyday/-/+rock paintings can be added as an option/-Ogii Lake-Harkhorin town with Erdene Zuu Monastery in central/western Uvurkhangai province-horseriding available on daily basis- bird watching-volcanic formations and hotsprings of Mogoit in the upper Orkhon Valley streching in Hangai Mountains-yak homeland -Shankhiin Khiid, one of the oldest monasteries- 30km long northern sand dunes of Mongol Els and spectacular Mountains of Hugnu Khaan-takhi, wild horses in Hustai National Park Mountains- back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 13-"Southern Gobi's Semi- Deserts" in the shortest description/day by day details and options to the itinerary available/: 8Day/7Night/including a day of rest/4wd Vehicle Trip:Ulaanbaatar-rocky formations of Baga Gazariin Chuluu in the grassland of Dundgobi/"middle Gobi"/ province -encounter occasional campements of nomadic families/everyday/-Mandalgovi town-Tsagaan Suvarga\"White cliffs"\ -a cave of Hevtee and Bosoo-sandy plains in Umnugobi province\"southern Gobi"\-canyons in Gurvan Saikhan Mountain National Park in southern semi-deserts-homeland of bactrian camels-camel riding/at request/-Hongoriin Els, the towering sand dunes and oases-Bayanzag or "Flaming cliffs"- "cemetery of dinosaurs"-ruins of Ongiin Monastery village in the middle Gobi's semi-deserted plains-Sum hukh Burd, oases on the plains-Zorgol Mountain-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 14-"Northern Far West - Gobi of Altai Mountains " in the shortest description/day by day details and options to the itinerary available/. 27day/26night/including 3days of rest/4wd Vehicle Trip: Ulaanbaatar-Amarbayasgalant Monastery in the northern Selenge province-encounter occasional campements of nomadic families/every day/-volcanic craters of Uran-ancient walls on the banks Selenge River in Bulgan province-ancient "dear stones"-Bayan Lake surrounded by sand dunes in far/western Zavkhan province-Hyargas Lake in Uvs province-hiking on Harkhiraa Mountains-northern lakes of Uureg and Achit-kazak nomads and eagle hunters in the far/western Bayan Ulgii province -hiking is possible on snowcapped mountains of Tsambagarav- big lakes in Hovd area-birdwatching-horseriding possible anytime-drive back to east-Mongol Els, the country's biggest sand dunes in Gobi-Altai Province-Burkhan Buudai Mountain Ranges in Gobi-Biger Valley-hotsprings of Shargaljuut in Bayankhongor province-Erdenezuu Monastery- wild horses-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 15-"Northern Hentii" in the shortest description/details and options to the itinerary available/: 10Day/9Night/including 2 days of rest/4wd Vehicle Tour:Ulaanbaatar-lakes and rivers in northern part of eastern Hentii province -Chingis Khaan's birthplace in Onon River basin-Buryat tribesmen and shamans in far-eastern Dornod province- encounter with occasional campements of nomadic families and acquantance with their lifestyle/available everyday/-bird watching-Herlen River-grasslands and steppes-possible gazzelle watching- Aurug, site of the first Mongol capital in Hentii province- Bayan Ulaan mountain ranges-Herlen River-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 16-"Central West"/day by day details and other options to the itinerary available/: 8Day/7Night/including a day of rest/4wd Vehicle Trip:Ulaanbaatar-remnant walls of ancient city in central-western Bulgan province-Ogii Lake-occasional campements of nomadic families and acquantance with their routine life/possible everyday/-alpine rivers-the central/western Arkhangai province- yak homeland-Chuluut, a canyon river-volcanic formations-Tsagaan Lake Arkhangai province-horseriding available-Tsenkher hotsprings on foot Hangai Mountain Range-Erdenezuu Monastery near Harkhorin town in Uvurkhangai province-northern sand dunes and Hugnu Khaan Mountains-takhi, the wild horses in Hustai National Park- back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 17-"Southern Gobi - Huvgsul Lake" in the shortest description/details and other options to the itinerary available/: 17Day/16Night/including 2days of rest/4wd Vehicle Trip:Ulaanbaatar-Baga gazar, the rocky formations in the steppes of Dundgobi\"Middle Gobi"\province-occasional campements of nomadic families and acquantance with their routine life/everyday/- massive ruines of Ongi monastery-archeological site and saksaul bush-forests or "flaming cliffs" in Southern Gobi-vegetable farm-Yol and Dungenee canyons in rocky mountains of Gurvan Saikhan rising over semi-deserted plains-Hongoriin Els, the towering sand dunes with green oases-mountain range of Arts-ancient scripts on volcanic rocks-Erdenezuu Monastery in central western Ovorkhangay province -hotsprings of Tsenkher in Arkhangai province-yak homeland-Tsagaan Lake- forested mountain passes-Huvsgul Lake-Selenge River valley-Uran and Uran Togoo, the extinct volcano craters in Bulgan province- Amarbayasgalant Monastery in northern Selenge province-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 18-"Eastern Steppes and Forests"in the shortest description/day by day details and other options to the itinerary available/:4Day/3Night 4wd Vehicle Trip:Ulaanbaatar- immense steppes of eastern Mongolia-occasional campements of nomadic families and acquantance with their routine life/possible everyday/-Herlen River-the site of Aurug, the first capital of Chinggis Khaan in the south-eastern grasslands of Hentii province-Bayan Mountain Ranges-Tsenkher River valley and nomadic families-Hukh Nuur, a cold water lake hidden in forested mountains-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 19- "Winter Camel Riding"/details and other options to the itinerary available/: 4Day/3Night 4wd Trip: Ulaanbaatar-occasional campements of nomadic families and acquantance with their winter lifestyle/everyday/-camel riding in eastern Hentii province- back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 20-"Southern Gobi-Central West"/details and other options to the itinerary available/:13Day/12Night/including 2 days of rest/4wd Tour:Ulaanbaatar-occasional campements of nomadic families and acquantance with their routine lifestyle/possible everyday/-grasslands- semideserted steppes- land of bactrian camels-Gurvan Saikhan, the rocky mountains rising suddenly over southern Gobi's semi-deserts- Hongoriin els, towering sand dunes with green oases-Bayanzag, \"Flaming Cliffs"\- Arvai steppes-Erdenezuu Monastery near Harkhorin town-hotsprings of Tsenkher on the northern slope of Hangai Mountains-Zayin Monastery in central western Arkhangay province-yak homeland-Tsagaan Lake and black crater of Horgo volcano-Harbukhiin balgas, remnant walls of a 8th century city-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 21-"Great Steppes"/day by day details and options to the itinerary available/:10Day/9night 4wd Tour: Ulaanbaatar-enter to edge of great steppes of Esatern Mongolia-Herlen River-Aurug, the site of ancient capital-Chingis Khaan's Monuments-watching unique sunrises and sunsets on steppes-land of craters in the south-eastern Sukhbaatar province-land of horses-daily encounter with nomadic families-possible gazzelle watching-Herlen River-Hukh Nuur, "Blue" Lake hidden in forested mountains-Herlen River-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary 22-"Middle Gobi and Hangai Mountains".
Itinerary 23-"Western Gobi- Great Lakes ".
Itinerary 24-"Southern Gobi-Earthquake Destructions and 8 Lakes"/day by day details and options to the itinerary available//: Ulaanbaatar-grasslands-Sum Hukh Burd, the steppe oases in Dundgobi\"Middle Gobi"\province- -rocky mountains of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan in Umnugovi \"Southern Gobi"\province-ices in canyons -Hongoriin Els, the towering sand dunes with oases-Arts Bogd Mountain ranges-rock paintings-Nuga sand dunes-Ikh Bogd Mountains/3957m/ with 8.1M earthquake destructions of 1957-Naiman Nuur\"Eight lakes"\-Erdenezuu Monastery near Harkhorin town-Hustai National Park-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Itinerary No.25-"Southern Gobi -Harkhorin"/details and other options to the itinerary available/: 10Day/9Night/including a day of rest/4wd Vehicle Trip: Ulaanbaatar-rock formations in the grassland-Tsagaan Suvarga,\"White cliffs"\ and Hevtee Bosoo cave-deserted plains-rocky mountains in Southern Gobi-canyons in Gurvan Saikhan Mountain Range-towering sand dunes with oases-flaming cliffs-Ongiin Monastery town's ruins-Arvai steppes-Mogoit, hotsprings in Upper Orkhon Valley of Southern Hangai Mountains-land of yaks-Erdenezuu Monastery-Elsen Tasarkhai, the northern sand dunes-back to Ulaanbatar.
Itinerary No.26-"Hustai National Park-Erdenezuu Monastery-Hugnu Khaan Mountains".
Itinerary No.27-"South Eastern Steppes-Watching Sunset".
Itinerary No.28-"Huvsgul Lake-Western Gobi and Altai Mountains"/details and other options to the itinerary available/:21Day/20Night/including 2 days of rest/4wd Tour: Ulaanbaatar-Amarbayasgalant Monastery-daily encounter with occasional campements of nomadic families-Huvsgul Lake-ancient "deer stones"-lakes surrounded by sand dunes in Zavkhan province-Hyargas lake in Uvs province-bird watching in Dorgon Lake-horseriding possible anytime-drive back to east-the biggest sand dunes of Mongolia-Burkhan Mountain Ranges in Gobi Altay province-Biger Valley-hotsprings in Bayanhongor-Erdenezuu Monastery- wild horses-back to Ulaanbaatar.
Finding the Sacred in Outer Mongolia
By Sharon Steffensen
About 15 years ago, my friend Joyce shared with me an article she saw in the Chicago Tribune about a train trip across Mongolia. It sounded intriguing to both of us. Last July, after seeing an exhibit of Mongolian culture in Chicago’s Daley Plaza, I started to think seriously about going. By early August, Joyce, her 24-year-old daughter, Lotus, and I booked flights to Beijing and Ulaanbaatar (the capital of Mongolia), leaving September 10 for 19 days.
The travel agent in Chicago timed our departure from Chicago (a 13-hour flight over Canada, the North Pole and Siberia) to arrive in Beijing on Monday afternoon, so that we could take a plane Tuesday morning to Ulaanbaatar. There are only three flights a week to Ulaanbaatar from Beijing, one of the few cities in the world from which you can fly to Ulaanbaatar. It was a four-hour trip to the International Chingiss Khaan Airport (Mongolians’ spelling of Genghis Khan). Mongolians consider him to be a hero. After all, he united the Mongol clans, promoted religious tolerance and extended the empire from Beijing to Poland, creating the largest empire in terms of land the world has ever seen.
Upon arrival at the tiny airport, we took a taxi to Bolod’s Guesthouse, a backpackers’ dorm in Ulaanbaatar, which also arranges tours. We found it through Lonely Planet’s guide to Mongolia and had E-mailed Bolod before we left Chicago. It was located in a sunny, two-bedroom apartment that accommodated up to about 15 people. Within an hour, the driver and an interpreter showed up with a map and a tentative plan for our 10-day loop tour of the Gobi desert to begin early the next morning.
The interpreter, Erdenbat (Eric), offered to come along as a guide on our trip to the Gobi, and we decided to accept his offer since the driver, Jia, did not speak English. It would cost an extra $18 a day, in addition to $85 a day for the driver, van and petrol (split between us), and it proved to be well worth it, especially when it came to having Mongolian customs and observances (there are so many!) explained to us. Looking back, I can’t imgine the trip without Eric.
At Bolod’s we met Flurina, a Swiss woman in her 20s, who was trying to connect with people going to the Gobi desert. The Gobi is the destination of almost all tourists traveling to Ulaanbaatar. She decided to go with us, and we all went together to the State Department Store, where we purchased bread, cheese, apples, carrots, potatoes, toilet paper, flour, sugar, drinking water, coffee, tea, rice, onions and other staples.
That night we met an Italian woman who had just returned from a Gobi tour. She was exhausted, happy to be back at Bolod’s and told us stories about sandstorms, hard beds, biting flies and freezing nights.
We set out the next morning, traveling south, and within a half hour we were on unmarked, deeply rutted dirt/sand “roads”--basically tire tracks in the sand. This was the kind of surface on which we would travel for the next ten days, with an average speed of 38 kilometers (22 miles) an hour. Our van was a high, sturdy, Russian-built, gray vehicle with four-wheel drive and two other floor gears “for special occasions.”
We soon stopped at an ovoo, a sacred, pyramid-shaped collection of stones, with a blue silk flag on top and other items laid on it, such as empty Chingiss Khaan vodka bottles or small amounts of paper money. Eric instructed us to walk clockwise three times around the ovoo and to put three stones or other items on the shrine. Usually ovoos were situated near dangerous inclines or sacred places or at the edge of a village. Often we stopped to perform the ritual; sometimes Jia just honked and kept driving.
For the next several hours, we bounced along in the van; I imagined my abdominal organs getting a good jostling, shaking up stuck areas and massaging the tissues. The terrain was flat, and you could see the horizon in all four directions. We saw no other people, only occasionally some flocks of goats and sheep.
We stopped for lunch near a sacred mountain--so sacred the guide would not tell us the name of it. Even the Mongolians do not say the name aloud to one another. Apparently there are many places like that. We ate bread, cheese, salami, apples and tea and coffee. Jia had brought a small stove so we had hot drinks at every meal.
That night we stayed in a ger (a one-room, round felt tent in which the nomad families live) in Baga Gazriin Chuluu, one of the many protected areas where no hunting is allowed. There were huge boulders surrounding the area, which Eric told us were part of an ocean floor in ancient times. The family, which had a six-year old girl and four-year-old boy, raised goats; the father also served as caretaker of the protected area.
This family, like many of the families we stayed with, owned two gers. When visitors arrive, they let them sleep in one of the gers, while the family sleeps in the second ger. The cost is between $3 and $5 per person. Inside, brightly colored carpets cover the walls and floor. In the center are two supporting poles and a stove with a chimney that rises out of the roof. Opposite the door (which always faces south) is the altar, or sacred area, where they keep statues of Buddha, candles, incense and family photos. On both sides are couches that fold down into beds, like narrow futons.
We were also surprised to see a vanity table with a three-way mirror and matching chest of drawers. The women nomads wear makeup (including blue eye shadow), Western clothing and even high heels when they go to the market. Most families also had a satellite dish outside and TV, on which they watch the BBC news and Western movies dubbed in Mongolian. The TVs are powered by an outside solar panel and in southern Mongolia, where it is windy, by windmills.
Eric instructed us on proper etiquette inside a ger: never point your feet toward the altar; visitors sit on the left side, the right side is for the family; don’t pass things between the supporting poles-- reach around; the stove is considered sacred since it holds fire, which is also sacred, and is always cleaned after cooking. You would never burn garbage or toilet paper in the stove. Instead of firewood (there are no trees), the nomads collect dried dung, which burns well and has a pleasant earthy, musty aroma.
That night Eric cooked Mongolian dumplings for us made of goat meat, potatoes, onions and garlic, which he boiled and then fried, a meal we enjoyed several times throughout the trip. Although I prefer vegetarian, I decided ahead of time I would eat whatever was offered.
Because of the sandy soil and lack of water in the desert, Mongolians eat mainly meat and dairy products. It was common to see a big bowl of goat’s milk sitting on the stove. The skin that forms on top is skimmed off and eaten (very delicious!) or stored in a skin to be used later for cooking oil. Pans of curd cut into rectangles are seen drying outside on the roof of the gers. Tea is made from goat’s milk; the alcoholic beverage is airag, or fermented mare’s milk. To me, airag tasted like thin yogurt--a bit sweet and sour. In fact, almost everything tasted like yogurt in one form or another. Later, back in China, I sorted my dirty laundry and it still had the sweet familiar smell of yogurt.
The next day we drove through a narrow rocky pass near a gold mining operation. We stopped in a town called Mandalgov just as the afternoon session of school was getting ready to start. The older children attend from 8 a.m. until noon, the younger children attend from 3 to 7 p.m. The nomad children live in a dorm ten months out of the year; they have a three-week break midway through the term. Mongolia has a 99% literacy rate.
Since Ulaanbaatar, we had been driving through the steppe--low, stubby grass that goats and sheep eat. The terrain gradually gave way to rocky, gravely sand, which Eric announced was the Gobi desert. Since there was less for the herds to eat, and even less water, we saw even fewer animals and gers.
In the winter, many families move their gers near the villages, where they keep their animals in pens. By mid-September, most had already moved. Looking through binoculars, Jia finally spotted one ger. We drove across the desert to it and were greeted by a little girl wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and riding on a make-shift rocking horse made out of metal pipes. This family owned only one ger, but they let us pitch our tent nearby. It was a small tent for four people, so we had to turn over in unison, but we kept warm with two sleeping bags on the bottom and the other two on top. Jia and Eric slept in the van.
Shortly after we went to bed, I heard strange sounds just outside the tent. Florina, who had lived on a farm, reassured me it was only the goats and dog outside that had moved closer to the ger. All night I heard them snorting and breathing, sounds I became accustomed to and even enjoyed over the next several nights. The next morning we saw camels along the road and stopped to take photos.
In Dalanzadgad (population 15,300), a major town along the Gobi route, we went to the large open market surrounded by stores to buy supplies. It was bustling with children in school uniforms, women shopping, old men wearing traditional long Mongolian coats and dogs. We saw motorcycles, bicycles, Jeeps, a Land Rover and several ice cream carts hooked up to generators. The large residential area consisted of wide dirt streets with gers and sheds hidden behind tall wooden fences. No trees or foliage grew around them.
Dalanzadgad is just north of the snowcapped Zuun Saikhan Uul mountains. Although this area is usually dry, this year it had rained a lot in July, so the hills were green and lush. This area was one of the most beautiful of the whole trip. That night we were given permission to stay in a resort for Mongolians only. We had wondered what Mongolian women do for fun, and we found out that night when we heard a big group of them laughing, drinking and dancing to music played on a car radio.
The next morning we drove a half-hour to a place called Yolyn Am in the mountains, where we hiked through a deep canyon along a river to a place where the ice never melts. High up on the cliffs we spotted seven ibex. I would have liked to stay there a couple of days. Leaving the area, Jia took an adventurous route through a spectacular narrow gorge with only a few inches to spare on the sides of the van. This mountainous area ended abruptly as he drove up a steep hill and out onto a flat green plain. Here the road was smooth, and Jia could drive at 60 km (36 miles) an hour. Later that afternoon we drove west to Khongoryn Els to hike up and slide down the huge sand dunes (the highest is 990 feet).
On our way to the dunes we had seen a lone figure walking across the desert. She was still walking later when Jia looked for a ger for us to stay in. She had been collecting “firewood” a long way off and was on her way back home. We ended up giving her a ride back to her ger, where we stayed for the night. Her name was Togoo, which means “cooking pan”; her husband’s name was Od, or “all the stars,” and he entertained us in the evening with his accordion playing. Their ger was one of the most elegant-- larger than most, with beautiful carpets and furnishings-- like a living room where they entertained guests. It was situated high on a hill with a view of the dunes and the mountains beyond them on one side and rolling hills on the other.
Bathing and showering were not possible, due to the limited water supply, and after four days I could no longer get a brush through my hair. It didn’t really bother me, but when a fly got trapped in it, I indulged in a few cups of water for a shampoo.
Before we left, Togoo gave each of us a piece of hard curd (it looked like fancy cookie that had been made in a mold) with the anklebone of a goat sitting on top. Eric explained the many uses of the bones: dice, telling fortunes, playing games and other purposes. Togoo sprinkled a few drops of fresh goat milk on each of the doorways of the van before we got in, and as we drove away, she threw the rest of the milk at the van for good luck.
We drove north to a place called the “flaming rocks,” an area with reddish sand and huge red rocks, where the world’s first dinosaur bones were found. In fact, fragments of bones are scattered around the area (people pick them up as souvenirs). We rode camels (they are soft to sit on) out to the rocks, where we spent the afternoon climbing around. After we returned, the owner chased the camels off to the hills on his motorcycle.
The next morning we awoke early to the sun rising through the door of the ger. I was surprised that nomads sleep late (until at least 8 a.m.), which is about when the sun rose (no daylight savings time). Flurina explained that there is no reason to get up early. They can milk the goats whenever they want to, as long as they’re consistent. We continued driving north past an organized tourist ger camp (with a homemade sign pointing to the “bar and showers”) toward some mountains that were green part way up, topped with irregular, jagged black rock. The terrain was mixed: reddish sand, steppe and large mounds of green bush. Then black and yellow sand. There were no gers here since there was no water. We saw construction workers and heavy machinery digging a long, narrow trench for high-speed Internet access.
At Ongiin Khiid, we visited ruins of a Buddhist monastery, where 1,000 monks had lived until 1937, when the monastery and the monks were destroyed by Russian and Mongolian communists during the Stalinist purges. One of the temples is restored as a museum.
That night we stayed with a young family with an adorable seven-month-old son. They had lived in their ger for only ten days, and they were the most hospitable of all families we met. But we experienced more drama there than during the whole rest of the trip.
When we came into the ger, the wife passed around a plate of hard candies and bread, with fresh skin off the milk piled on top. Then she served milk tea with a cookie (or maybe a curd) that tasted like yogurt. Next came the vodka.
Mongolian protocol for accepting something is to always take it with your right hand, and support your elbow with your left hand. Before drinking vodka, you dip your right ring finger into the glass and flick the vodka into the air four times to honor the four directions before drinking. (If you choose not to drink it, you perform the ritual anyway and then slide your ring finger across your forehead.) The vodka was followed by airag (fermented mare’s milk). We played with the baby for awhile, and then the mother asked Lotus and me to help milk the goats.
As we went outside to milk them (their teats are very short and hard to grip), we found the husband killing a goat in our honor. It was quick and easy, and within a few minutes, the wife was cooking the organs in a large pan. (That’s why Lotus and I were milking the goats, so the wife could tend to the cooking.) Traditionally, the pan is passed around and everyone eats some of the meat-- and you must cut the meat off the bone toward you, never away from you. I ate a small piece of liver.
After dinner, we arranged our sleeping bags on the floor as usual, but this time the family, although they had a second ger, also slept in the same ger with us. I fell asleep almost immediately but was wakened later by what sounded like angry voices of people bursting through the door. It was dark in the ger, but soon a light came on and I saw the husband pass the candy/bread/milk skin plate to the late-night visitors. My first thought was that these were friends, but friends don’t barge in on people when they’re sleeping. Possibly this nice couple was in trouble with the law. Maybe they didn’t pay their taxes (if they pay taxes) and were being busted. Or maybe these were bandits who had seen the tourist van outside and were coming to rob and kill us. We’d be buried out in the desert and no one would ever know what happened to us. I started chanting to myself, “Hey Ram, jai Ram, jai jai Ram.”
The men left shortly, and all was quiet again-- for a few minutes-- until someone else burst in, also yelling. This time I looked up. It was dark, and the man had lit a match and was shining it around the room and looking at all of us. He looked mean. I was sure it was over for us. But like the previous visitors, he soon left. The next morning Eric told us that these were neighbors whose camels had wandered off and wanted to know if this couple had seen them. Apparently this is normal, and it wasn’t that late after all, only 11:30, but being asleep, I thought it was 2 or 3 a.m. Eric said the last man was drunk.
We went horseback-riding the next morning with the husband. When we finally left in the afternoon, we were back in the steppe again, which was very green, and here we saw cows, horses, yaks and goats. There were rocky hills and mountains, and we saw circular graves (large circles of stones) from the Bronze Age. Eric said the “democrats” were buried there. He explained that by democrats, he meant leaders.
We drove most of the day to Shankh Khiid, one of two monasteries in the region that had survived the Stalinist purges. It was closed, but a monk opened it for us. We slept in a nearby ger in a pen surrounded by goats and cows that had come in for the night.
The next day we drove a short distance to the hot springs in the town of Tserterleg. Finally a shower! The hot springs were