Ger Life

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2013

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 247: Friday 21st September 2012 - Tour Day 1

Today was to be the first day of my tour around Mongolia that would see me living in Mongolia's famous Gers, trekking on horses, camels and by foot, visiting the ancient Mongol capitol of Kharakhorum and of course seeing lots of Mongolia's fantastic landscapes. My travelling companions are Joop (Pronounced Yobe in English) and Harrat from Holland. Both in the late 50's they are like virtually everybody else in UB doing the Trans-Mongolian route. This is Harrats first real trip out of Europe, whilst Joop is a pretty seasoned traveller having visited over 80 countries. We are also travelling with our guide named Onna and our driver with an unpronounceable name beginning with an "S".

If I thought getting out of UB would mean better roads, I could not have been more wrong. I had thought the roads in Sumatra were bad but they really have nothing on the "roads" here. Very, very few are tarmac and of those that are only a handful in the whole country are not riddled with pot holes. The vast majority of the country's road network is made up of unmarked dirt tracks, more carved from frequent use than anything else. Seeing alternative routes carved out by the traffic during overtakes/avoiding obstacles is commonplace. You spend your entire journey trying not to smack your head as your car rolls around on the bumps. 

Despite the toils of life on the road it was really nice to be out of UB and into "Real Mongolia". The landscape here really does simply astound you, and the emptiness of it all just constantly baffles the mind. It really is a kind of bland beauty you need to behold for yourself to really understand. Just driving through it was a real treat, which was fortunate as over the next week or so we would be doing a fair bit of just that. We made a few stop on our way to the national park, firstly at a sacred cave where 100 monks had been killed during communist purges and then at the aptly named Turtle rock. One of the parks highlights its named as you may have guessed due to it's turtle shaped appearance.

Lunch gave us our first real Ger experience, when we were welcomed inside one and given a selection of traditional Mongol snacks and tea before lunch itself. The Mongol tea is very milky and not really to my tastes, quite similar to Nepali tea actually. Still when its a bit chilly outside a nice hot drink by the fire is pretty nice. The snacks we got were a selection of "cookies", a dry plain, cake biscuity thing that you then cover with homemade butter or cream topped with sugar. Following the standard Mongol rules its simple but tasty. The other snacks I enjoyed a little less. We had dried goats cheese which whilst the flavour was pretty much what you would expect it was the hardest thing to eat in the world. It was literally like chewing on a stone, to break even the tiniest piece off required a serious concerted effort and you definitely ran the risk of loosing a tooth or two. Lunch itself was lovely although we were all pretty full by the end of it, we had some Khuushuur with a mutton vegetable soup.

After lunch, and having a break to let our stomachs settle we went on a short hike with another tour group made up on a young English couple from Southampton. They had just started a round the world trip like myself. They had started with the Trans-Mongolian and were planning on heading into SE Asia before hopping back towards Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. At the end of the hike we came to a monastery on a small hill. The monastery itself was small and like many here not particularly visually stunning to look at but it's location you can fully understand. Completely isolated from the rest of the world, it is the perfect spiritual retreat.

Our next stop was the new massive Genghis Khan statue. This 40m high mounted statue is the biggest of its kind in the world, construction of it only finished in 2008. Its sits on top of an interesting museum about the Great Khan and his empire as well as the statue itself. You can actually climb up the statue and walk up along the horses neck for a view over the plains.

As evening rolled in we went on to our ger that we would be staying in that evening. It really was an amazing experience. It was totally in the middle of nowhere the only other living things for miles around were the goats, sheep and cows that belonged to the nomad family that we stayed with. As the sun set we got a brilliant unspoilt view of the stars that rivalled that that I had seen in the desert in India. Inside the ger we had a very welcome central fire that burned into the early hours to keep us warm at night. We had a nice evening meal that was essentially just goat meat served on a slice of pasta, after which one of the family played some traditional Mongol music to us on guitar-like instrument. All in all a very cool evening and a great one to kick off our trip.
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