Elstei Ger Camp, somewhere in Mongolia

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2008

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Elstei Ger Tourist Camp

Flag of Mongolia  ,
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Elstei Ger Camp is one of many tourist camps set up in the Mongolian countryside. The camp consisted of two parallel rows of white felt ger tents. There were also some concrete buildings used to house vehicles and the restaurant/shower/toilet complex. Both of these buildings were closed for renovation as we were arriving at the very start of the season. Instead, the temporary restaurant was two gers joined together, there were no showers or running water and the toilet block was a hastily constructed long-drop. Although it had snowed two days before, the ground was now dry and dusty.
We arrived in time for dinner and met the other guests of the camp, a nice Australian couple now living in London, a well travelled American couple and another Aussi man. We were expecting stodgy mix of mutton and dairy and so were pleasantly surprised by the high quality and tastiness of the food. The Australian's guide, who was fluent in English, told us that the camp could accommodate up to 90 people in summer, which in our opinion would be awful. We spent part of the evening learning to play a traditional Mongolian game of anklebones. This involved actual bones from sheep or goats (the name is thus literal). Each bone had four sides named after a various Mongolian animal, a sheep, goat, horse or camel. There are several different games but the one we played most involved throwing a huge pile of bones onto a table then flicking pairs together. There were all sorts of rules to make it tricky and it's surprisingly good fun.
That night we retired to our ger. All the furniture was a traditional orange colour with ornate patterns painted onto the more visible parts. There were two thin beds alongside the tent walls and a metal stove in the centre for heating. In place of the traditional altar was an orange box and mirror and in front of that was a dining table with low stools. We were given a thermos of hot water (to last our whole stay). Near the entrance to the tent was a box of firewood and a little sink with a metal container holding about 1 litre of water for washing our hands. The ger was pleasantly warm, we were comfortable but while the antibiotics were curing Louise of her bronchitis, Franz was now getting very ill with food poisoning.
In the morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, we bid farewell to the Australian couple and then we went to the corral to see the Mongolian horses. They were small and tough looking, but also a bit thin after the long winter. We were given Western-style saddles with the stirrups were set to an Asian leg. Moogie, our horseman, Baggi, and the two of us rode off one way while the other group took a different trail. We walked and trotted over the barren rolling steppe until we came to a small forest. As we passed through the forest, we came to a strange tree covered in blue silk flags and the horses shied and refused to pass by. Baggi worked frantically to stop our horses retreating and eventually had to force the horses past the tree one at a time. Most strange! After an hour or so, we came to a huge round building under construction with a giant silver statue of Genghis Khan astride a horse overlooking a valley. It was impressive! While we stopped there for photos, two tourist buses from Ulaanbaatar arrived, full of Mongolians. One man prostrated himself in front of the statue but then we realised that he was hopelessly drunk. We took another way back to the camp and arrived there 3 hours after departure feeling saddle sore but exhilarated.
Baggi invited us to his ger for afternoon tea. We walked to his ger which was just behind a hill from the tourist camp and consisted of a three ger tents and fences to hold stock. Baggi met us wearing his traditional green wool coat, black boots and cap. We entered his tent and were presented with a large bowl of salty milk tea and a plate of western cookies and lollies (obviously gifts from a previous visit). Moogie and Baggi conversed in Mongolian. Baggi showed us some photos, we handed over the vodka and rice and then departed.
After another tasty dinner and fun evening playing anklebones we headed to our ger. Our fire had been lit and the ger glowed with warmth. We fell asleep to the flickering light of the fire.
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