Hiking, Genghis & Nomads

On the second day of our 3-day Mongolian tour, I woke up at six in the morning by cows mooing and someone practising basketball. The lone guy throwing balls at the basketball ring nearby soon gave up, but the cows and bulls were determined to walk by our ger on their way to wherever they were going.

Breakfast was interesting. There was bread with thick cream, and dried yoghurt. I skipped the dried yoghurt but had two cream sandwiches, which kept me full for hours. I think none of us had any of the salty milk-tea.

First on the agenda was trekking up one of the beautiful mountains in Tarelj. It was stunningly beautiful, and Mungunshagai’s enthusiasm made the trek very enjoyable.

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Mungunshagai and Kevin made it eventually to the top, but the rest of us returned to base after trekking uphill for about an hour. “This is enough for me today, I think!”

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After lunch we headed for the giant sliver-plated statue of Genghis Khan east of Nalaikh. Again, the roads are very poor and it took us quite a while to get there. I realise that taking an out-of-city tour in Mongolia means spending quite a few hours in a car each day.

The 40-metre statue of Genghis Khan was impressive.

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It was fun walking up into the horse’s head for a view of the green grassy hills surrounding us and a close-up of Genghis Khan himself (using a lift and stairs).

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And it was also fun dressing up in traditional Mongolian gear.

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After yet another bumpy ride over the steppe, we finally arrived at our host family’s dwelling. Our host family was a nomad family consisting of seven ethnic Kazakhs. Their welcome of us was terrific. This was probably the highlight of the 3-day trip for all of us.

We got our own ger to sleep in, and again the interiors were gorgeous. Here’s my corner of the ger.

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At dinner, we were invited to the family’s kitchen ger, and in addition to milk-tea, dried yogurt, cream and bread, we also had something that tasted like donuts and cheese that looked very European, but which was hard as rock. When we thought we had finished eating, they served up a second dish: pasta with sheep meat, which was rather tasty.

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Thankfully, they offered hot water as an alternative to salty the milk-tea (an offer we all gratefully accepted), but when I saw our driver dunking her rock hard piece of cheese in her milk-tea, I immediately thought that dunking a piece into hot water would not be a good idea. Rock cheese in hot water just doesn’t seem right.

After dinner, we were invited to join the family milking the cows, which was fun. It was real team work, with all the kids milking a cow each all at the same time.

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After the milking was over, it we play time. Some of the sons of the family showed us their impressive skills in Mongolian wrestling.

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Then it was time for basketball and football, and just generally hanging out on the steppe.

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After a walkabout on the steppe at sunset, I called it a day.

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I was incredibly tired. But as soon as I had crept into my sleeping bag, our ger was invaded by kids wanting to play some kind of horse-racing board game.

I kind of drifted off to sleep during the board game when the mum of the family came in and asked if we wanted hot milk. I said, “I’m OK”, with the result that I was given a bowl of hot milk immediately. She had only heard, “OK”.

I tried very hard not thinking of all the un-pasteurised antibodies meant for the calves swimming around in the milk, but it was difficult. Simone and Zaiza both pointed out that in the Mongolian country side, it’s no point saying, “I’m OK”, when you need to throw both arms in the air forming a cross and saying, “No!”. I’ll try that net time, but it’s difficult for an English teacher like myself to be so direct.

Anyway, sipping on hot milk rich in live antibodies, I drifted off to sleep on the floor of a Mongolian ger out on the steppe.

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