Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Mongolia  , Central Aimak,
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

DH was convinced that no visit to Mongolia would be complete without at least a short gallop on a horse across the Steppes with a sword firmly clenched between her teeth. This put us clearly in the hoof-prints of Genghis Khan and his sturdy mount, Mutton (I'm just guessing at that, but given the God-like status mutton has as a food-group here, it would seem logical). The Mongolian steppe spreads out like an ocean of grassy plains from the orient to Europe and has long been home to mounted nomads as well as the start of the conquering highway for Genghis and his boys.

In physical geography, a steppe is an ecoregion characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes. Besides huge temperature differences between summer and winter, the differences between day and night are also very great. In the highlands of Mongolia, 30 C can be reached during the day with sub-zero C readings at night (for our American friends, that's about 85 and 32 F).

On the way to our mounts, we explored the immediate steppe area including a visit to the Aryabal Temple (108 Buddhists, 108 signs along the pathway, 108 steps to monastery , surrounded by 108 shrouds- apparently 108 is equal to the number of positive organs in body), Turtle Rock, and the gigantic Genghis Khan statue (40m high) complex on the bank if the Tuul River ( where Genghis Khan found a golden whip). After a lunch meal of vegetable soup ( with mutton), fried dough with mutton inside, and a steaming cup of Kumis (fermented raw unpasteurized mare's milk), we were ready for the horses.

The horse holds the preeminent position in Mongolian hearts and legends- as one of the only remaining horse-based cultures left in the world, Mongolians greatly cherish their horses. Outside of UB, the horse is still the main mode of transportation and children begin riding as young as three years old.

With Rita and Carol both questioning my toughness, I hesitate to mention the saddles, but what rocket scientist thought that crafting a saddle from wood and metal was a good idea- apparently the Mongolian saddle is built for speed, not comfort (I suspect that it was designed by a woman in response to a man designing high heeled shoes and thongs). What little padding there is comes from blankets stuffed with camel hair. And to make the challenge complete the stirrups are kept "jockey short", which explains the unique Mongolian riding style (as Carol has pointed out, I won't be mistaken for a jockey any time soon).

Unlike westerners, Mongolians don’t give names to their horses. They consider it enough to distinguish them by their colour. There are around 300 names of colour which are used just for horse identification. We just went with Blondie and Brownie.

And if either one of us knew how to ride a horse it would probably have been a little easier to imitate a fearsome Mongolian horse-riding warrior, living in round felt tents, eating mutton and conquering all in our path. DH was assigned a horse that wouldn't move so she ended up being dragged by our guide right away and after my pony bolted I was also dragged through some pretty amazing mountain scenery. It ended up being more of a trail ride than a Mongol raiding party but it was still good fun although DH did end up with an unusual side-to-side waddle for a couple of days.
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