Monday 17 September 2012

Mongolian Misguidance

I woke up to the crisp, cool morning with stomping and coughing outside our ger. I popped my head out only to see that the animals had sidled right up close to our door overnight. A goat sneeze sounds remarkably human.

Sunrise over the Mongolian Steppe - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Once everyone was awake and the guard dogs chained up (Mongolians keep aggressive dogs to protect their herds at night) we were directed to help round up the herd. A man with a loop of rope on a stick chased down one unlucky goat - tonight's dinner was sorted.

Picking Dinner - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
One of the drivers also decided to get some sheep to take home, but he had to catch it and kill it himself. "This is the best way; most humane way," Enkee explained, as he helped the driver hold the sheep down to make a short slit in its chest where a quick hand inside pinched the carotid artery until the creature died from lack of blood to the head. It was relatively quick and clean, although it didn't stop the sheep from shitting itself, literally. The reality of ribs, chops and steak.

For dinner we have fresh Meat - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
I was keen to get into the morning horse milking and herding activities that occupied our nomadic host families, however our guides had other plans for us. We were all loaded into our respective vans and taken on a tour to Karakorum in the Orkhon Valley of the Övörkhangai Province. This area was known as the birthplace of Mongolian civilisation, where the legendary 13th century gathering of clans declared the status of Temujin, aka Chinggis Khaan, as the “Great Khan”, and his military campaigns of conquest began. An informative museum showed us artefacts and models of the ancient settlement, of which nothing was left but a single stone turtle from Chinggis Khaan's royal court. On its site was the Erdene Zuu monastery, one of the oldest and most important Tibetan Buddhist centres in Mongolia.

Erdene Zuu Monastery - Kharkhorin  Click here to find out where
The day trip would have been fine if it weren't for the behaviour of some of our guides. Firstly, the drivers felt it was a good idea to spontaneously race each other to every destination. Fortunately, traffic was sparse. Unfortunately, pot-holed roads, worn-out dirt trails and rocky river beds did not make a good race track for drivers who were not rally car drivers, in tin-can vans that were a far cry from all-terrain vehicles. A broken suspension mount ended the frivolity, and sobered the other drivers to the fact that the boss back at the office may not approve of trashing the company car.

Then there was the camel ride. "You can ride over the sand dunes!" Oyuun insisted, as we drove past the camels next to the sand dunes to another group of camels in a flat grass field. "An exciting half-hour ride" she pushed, as a grinning man happily took $15 US dollars (₮25,000 tögrög, a huge sum in Mongolian terms) from each of us, barked at his 5-year-old daughter to take hold of the lead rope and went back inside his ger to sip fermented mare's milk with Oyuun. We were treated to a ten minute wander about the lawn, all at a distracted child's pace. Hmm, somehow we felt we were being taken for a ride.

An uninspiring camel ride - Somwehere in Mongolia
The evening's 'Mongolian barbecue' brought back a bit of fun - a large pot filled with vegetables, water, salt, sections of the butchered goat from the morning and hot river rocks, stewed within a large stick fire.

Getting the fire going for a Mongolian BBQ - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Not quiet what I expected but this is a real Mongolian BBQ - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Final Product, a real Mongolian BBQ - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
So more of a greasy Mongolian stew, not too bad, except we were asked to pay Oyuun extra cash for the meat. Shifty character, we mused as we avoided the vodka this evening and tried to focus on the more authentic experiences.

Another beautiful Sunset - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where
Like the family from the ger next door, with the father and his young eldest son working with his prize horse in preparation for future horse racing. And the Mongolian herder in traditional dress who came from a collection of gers over the hill to visit us in the middle of the night, without our guides, and share some fermented mare's milk.

Off to Work - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where

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