Ovorkhangai Province, Mongolia

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of Mongolia  , South Hangay,
Sunday, June 24, 2007

We spent the next day getting to and back from Ulaan Tsutgalan, the Red Waterfall, Mongolia's largest and most famous.  The fact that the summer rainy season  hadn't quite gotten under wat was a double-edged sword; while Tonka had no difficulty getting there on what reputedly can be impassably muddy roads, we discovered the waterfall that wasn't when we arrived.  Because of the drought conditions not even a trickle was flowing.  So we wandered around a bit, had lunch, and Tamir and I entertained ourselves chasing yaks.

After taking a wrong turn or two leaving a small named Khujirt, once Charlie and Ben were convinced we were back on the right road (or perhaps right dirt track) south we found a campsite in a broad mountain valley and prepared for our last cold night before entering the desert.  There were several gers in the valley, so Tamir suggested I join him for a visit with the family.  There are certain rules which dictate the situation of gers and conduct within them, among which are that the door always faces south; the left/west side is the mens' side of the ger; the right/east side is the womens' side; the back is for honored guests and where religious shrines and prized possessions are kept; the front is for cooking and other daily chores.  One should neither step on the threshhold as one enters the ger nor should one walk between the two center poles which hold up the top circle of the ger - both are bad karma.  Consistent with a nomadic lifestye, gers can easily be taken apart, moved, and reassembled at a different location within an an hour.  Heinz, a retired medical researcher from California on the tour, was so enthralled by the gers in Mongolia that he bought one through Vanya for his property in southern Colorado.

According to Tamir, in this case our host was a bachelor and the youngest son in the family.  As such, he inherited all the family's livestock (as is traditional in Mongolia) and lived a thoroughly nomadic life.  All the children running around outside were his nieces and nephews, and the residents of the gers besides his were his older siblings and their families who lived in town for most of the year and only joined him in a ger camp for a few summer months.  All our Mongolian hosts have been very kind, but I have to admit that the sour sheep's milk yogurt and salted yak butter tea they usually serve us are a struggle for me to drink.

We had another long day of driving into an increasingly desertlike environment, punctuated only by a several hour long stop for some food and beer shopping in Arvaikheer, the provincial capital.  We camped well to the south of Arvaikheer in an area where the grassland steppe morphed into the full blown Gobi desert and spent a good part of the evening watching a spectacular lighting storm dump rain and hail from the sky as it slowly approached us.  We finished dinner and cleaned up as the winds began to pick up.  I ran for my tent just as a dust storm from the thunderstorms downdraft hit with tremendous winds that blew the campsite apart.  My tent was flattened with me in it, only my body weight keeping it and my sleeping gear it contained from being blown into the next province.  I managed to catch my tent's fly sheet just as the nails holding it down were ripped out of the sandy soil by the force of the wind.  Meanwhile, though, my tent bag got carried off in the direction of China like Dorothy's house in the tornado in the Wizard of Oz, never to be seen again. 

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