Ger Camp in Terelj National Park

Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
Trip End Oct 11, 2006

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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Sunday, August 20, 2006


Yesterday morning, we left Ulaan Baatar at 9:30AM to start heading to a sanctuary park 60 miles northeast of the capital. The Mongolians I had met at Dave's Pub the night before had painted an ideal imagery of Terelj National Park, so I was naturally excited to escape from the bustling capital for a while.

We drove on the national highway to the park. The highway was essentially a one lane country road with potholes and bumps. On the outskirts of the capital city, we stopped at a Ger camp. Nemo, our native fearless tour guide, went inside the camp to purchase a drink unique to Mongolia and Central Asia: Airag, which was mare's milk. The was milk obtained by a farming nomadic family from a horse, then fermented with bacteria and yeast to produce lactic acid and 18% alcohol. Nemo passed the milk bottle around for everyone to taste. After having horse meat last night, what better way to wash down the taste than with mare's fermented milk, I thought. I hesitantly opened the bottle cap and took a sniff. Immediately, an acrid smell permeated through my nostrils. I slowly poured the airag into a cup and with one big gulp, I swallowed the slightly dense content. Airag tasted very much like sour yogurt or warm vomit but with a pungent, bitter alcoholic blast. In short, it was atrocious and would make a memorable souvenir present for some people I knew (kidding). Nemo told us that Mongolians would drink airag as much as Westerners would imbibe Coca Cola.

We drove on further and passed a cemetery on top of a hill. Nemo explained that Mongolians would hold funeral processions only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays since those days coincided with ancient lucky days according to their Buddhist calendar. There were other interesting facts shared to us about Mongolians in general. For instance, people in Mongolia would not eat any fish because they believed it to be unlucky. Eating too much vegetable also was regarded as unhealthy in Mongolian culture. When talking to Mongolians, one should never point directly to them with the index finger; that would be equivalent to offensively flipping the middle finger in the air.

Terelj National Park was an absolute treasure of nature outside of Ulaan Baatar. Although the landscape in northern Mongolia was composed of treeless steppes, Terelj had a very alpine ambience with thick evergreen forests sliding down green pastures and craggy cliffs protruding from the earth. The accommodation was very ideal - we slept in a traditional Ger tent, which was a round wooden-framed felt tent covered in durable white canvas. Its motif was similar to the teepees of the native Americans.

Around our Ger tents were forests, pastures, and a Buddhist monastery secluded on a hilltop. Today, we had an additional companion traveler, Adriano from Venice, Italy. He was going to join us only for the park experience and then he was going to Beijing. Since his English aptitude was not up to par, I jumped right in and helped translate everything between Italian to English. With 25 years of traveling experience under his belt, he had been to almost everywhere in the world except for Mongolia, Russia, and Antarctica.

At the park, I got a chance to ride a camel and a horse. Also, I attended a traditional Mongolian festival called Naadaam, which was an open-air contest comprised of horseback riding skills, traditional wrestling, and archery. In short, it was very relaxing to camp out in the park and watch the stars shine at night, high up in the black velvety sky. The sound of crickets and other insects melodiously filled the chilly summer evening air. While sipping on warm Mongolian tea, I saw how simply the people of Mongolia lived, and how much they cherished the short warm months of summer. From the end of October to the beginning of June, the country would be covered with snow and draped in -30 degrees Celsius. How this civilization had existed for more than 2000 years in such brutal conditions was a testament to the fortitude of the nation.
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