Since our arrival in UB, various things have happened. We have been meeting so many people and their families, alternatively to Mongolian country pop we are now listening to techno-minimal-house (Mari&Juliette are officially in the UB techno gang now, how weird is that), visiting homes and country houses (Mongolian hospitality!), eating too much meat (horse meat, lamb tail, mutton mutton mutton), partying, sightseeing, shopping, cooking Mongolian/French/Estonian, getting to know the Mongolian mentality and way of thinking (“We’ll see…”), chilling, visited the Mongolian Krishna-temple-ger, etc. I even met another (crazy Uhhuuduur) Estonian (!) and had drinks with European Commission officials (sic!). So we’ve been quite busy and finally there’s internet :)
Yesterday we were celebrating St John’s day (Jaanip2ev) with locals. For Mongolians it was weird to go out of the city and make a real fire (not much wood lying around here) and I found it hillarious being suddenly in a huge 4×4 jeep with 4 serious Chingis Khan-looking men, driving around in complete darkness (again with techno music) and trying to find a good spot for our little bonfire. My modest explanations about the shortest night, glowing worms and mysterious flowers were ignored and instead, young Mongolians started to wrestle (kind of their national sport). They did, however, fancy jumping over the fire and were excited about almost burning their clothes…
And then it happened. Our perfect trip in the middle of nowhere had ended and we suddenly found ourselves back in Ulanbaatar. Our eyes were still used to the emptiness, greenery, mountains, horses… But kaboom! All of a sudden we are surrounded by heavy traffic, noise, polluted air, buildings (!!!), too many people and too much information. The only familiar thing was the condition of the roads :)
So when Juliette and I met a friend-of-a-friend, a young handsome Mongolian Huntushe (thanks Kaspar!), we were still a bit shocked about the huge contrast between the countryside and the city. Huntushe took our bags and showed us the way to a great apartment in the centre of the city. Already seeing a shower (with hot water!) and a real bed made us jump with joy. But it was difficult to enter this new reality… A moment later we were in a car with young trendy Mongolians, driving around the dark capital, flashing lights around us, and listening to Norwegian techo, and it just felt too absurd. I was happy Juliette was in the same dream as me.
The until 5 AM “Lost in Translation” private techno party in a random hotel bar with super cool and well-dressed Mongolian elite didn’t help (my dirty pants were still smelling like camel sweat)…
During the last couple of days of our trip, people started revealing their real nature. I guess everyone was tired already and kind of blown away by all of it, so I wasn’t very surprised when the Artist just took off his clothes and showed us all he got (Mongolian sense of privacy?), girls went a bit crazy with the yak yogurt treatment, our driver started a strike to finally get some mutton and the evenings usually ended with painful laughing cramps caused by the comic synergy between the Artist, Juliette and all of us.
The population density of Mongolia is the lowest in the whole world: 1.4 people per sq km (try to imagine that for a second!). However, the vast Gobi desert in the south is so poorly inhabited that gives the word “empty” a new meaning. There, if one gets stuck on the road without not enough water or petrol, help is seldom to come, because the void landscape of Gobi is home to merely about 0.2 persons per sq km. Only experienced drivers or locals (and somehow all the goats) know where to find the few streams or springs for fresh water.
In Gobi, there is always wind. Strong and whining, carrying loads of dust and sand in random directions. Sandstorms and sand-tornados are so common and powerful that they can even reach Beijing, which is 150 km away. So in springtime, the residents on Beijing can rush around with plastic bags over their heads, because Gobi winds are blowing the sands towards the capital at a rate of 2 km per year. This a major environmental issue, and China’s government is investing huge sums to create a “Green Wall”, a 5700 km long belt of trees and plants to protect the city from being eventually swallowed up by the Gobi desert.
And so, the highlight of my Gobi trip was not the hundreds of camels (nor the slightly perverse experience of riding them), not hiking along the freezing ice-gorges in Yolyn Am, not climbing the famous dinosaur-fossil-rich Flaming cliffs in Bayanzag (where in 2006 67 dinosaur skeletons were discovered in one week!) and not even rolling down the gorgeous Khongoryn Els sand dunes, but a simple afternoon when we found a small stream close to a even smaller village, and started playing with local children. This all ended in a major water-battle (vees6da) which our team graciously… lost :)
Shower in Gobi:
After hours of bumpy riding we arrived to the Ihk Bogd Uul mountains where Juliette and I decided to check out our “mountain goat genes” and climbed one of the closest summits. However, the climb was so steep that even goats took the other way, but somehow we still made it to the top and got an amazing view on the (dry) Orog Nuur lake and empty Central Mongolia. Juliette is the Queen of the Mountain on the first pic, and on the second one, in the down left side you can see our bus and tents waiting for us.
Roy, our travelling companion, wanted to catch the snow capped peak, and went out for a longer hike. He decided to stay the night in the mountains and came back to the base camp the next morning. While he was running away from wolves, trying to survive the hike with 1 liter of water and getting lost in Gobi, we were first enjoying the special yak yoghurt facemask and later at night tried to not fly away with our tent, as the whole area was hit by a heavy sandstorm.
Sandstorms can be extremely unpleasant: strong wind with loads of dust and sand so fine that in the morning even despite sleeping in a tent and closing all zippers we could find sand even in our underwear. Of course, it is not easy to sleep when the wind is so strong that if the tent is not flying away, it is almost like a pancake smashed to the ground. But since it was the first sandstorm in my life, I was childishly excited about the whole thing, and didn’t mind the few sleeping hours and dust in my mouth the next morning.
Weather in Mongolia can change very quickly, and thus, our horse trekking in the beautiful Eight Lakes area was illustrated by hot sunshine, thunder, and a strong hailstorm (rahetorm). Galloping in the huge and empty Mongolian steppes, through rivers, up and down the mountains with semi-wild horses is beautiful, amazing, exciting, liberating, with a lot of adrenaline and… rather painful :) Hehehehe, our muscles were aching for several days… And poor Artist (and his ass), whose horse first didn’t move, and in the end, after changing the horse, didn’t stop galloping.
It was our second or third night when we camped in an area known for its illegal gold mining. More than 100’000 Mongolians (quite a big number, considering that Mongolia’s population is only 2’500’000) earn their daily income by digging deep holes in the ground and looking for gold. Mining fields are big, dusty, dirty and poor, and the hard and unhealthy work usually done (manually) by the whole family. People who are looking for the gold are called “ninjas” and if they are not digging their wholes, they are known to get drunk and act nasty (“They come and get the women”). This is also why our guide and driver were slightly worried about putting up our tents in that area.
Besides a big herd of goats and sheep surrounding us almost all the time and a local family coming to chat, the evening was quite peaceful. But at night, in our tents, we started hearing strange noises. I am sure someone tried to eat our tent (I suppose a goat) and both Juliette and I heard mysterious footsteps outside. We were too scared to go outside and check what is going on, so we just tried to fall asleep convincing ourselves that it is just some animals, and not drunk ninjas.
In the morning we discovered that in front of Tseigi’s tent there was a big pile of dirt. Just like that. In steppes black soil just doesn’t fall from the sky, and the amount of dirt was too big for some animal to bring/produce it. But who brough the dirt? All this seemed kind of weird, and the superstitious Mongolians were even more tense. I know that a random pile of dirt doesn’t sound that terrible, but on the spot it was completely unexplainable and very spooky. With mixed feelings we drove out to find the ninjas.
First thing that amazed me was the way Mongolians have connected their ancient way of living with modern commodities. Beautiful gers scattered around the countryside are decorated with traditional bright colored paintings on the doors and colorful fabrics inside, but most of them also have solar batteries on the roof, television sets, some even washing machines and PCs. Also, it is common to see nomads herding their animals not sitting on a horse, but on a Russian motorcycle.
Secondly, the legendary Mongolian hospitality… Already on the first day of our trip we were invited to a road-side ger to drink some traditional Mongolian tea (salty milk tea), and not a single day passed without meeting some friendly locals and being kindly offered some of their food: mostly dairy products based on goat, cow, camel, yak milk such as cream, yogurt, butter, cheese, curd… Some of these things are tastier than others, all of them quite greasy and sour, but nothing can beat fresh yogurt with blackberry jam. Airag, the famous alcoholic treat made of horse milk, was unfortunately not available, because it is not the season yet.
So it happened, that when we asked for the right way in some of the gers, they immediately invited us in and offered all the freshest food. When we put up our tents somewhere (in the middle of nowhere), it didn’t take long until some young girl or a family passed (on foot, motorcycle, by horse) bringing us a pot of fresh cream. And, of course, all for free, no catch. Our guide, Tseigi, added that people in the countryside are just a bit bored, and therefore get excited to meet new people and hear their gossip, news and stories.
The gers are usually heated by an iron stove (above) and since Mongolia is not the most tree-rich country, the fire is usually made by using dried animal dung (also above). Locals believe that horse dung has the best odeur :) It is surprisingly easy to make a fire using that stuff, we know, we tried.
Suund Ulaanbaatarist läände, jõudsime Mongoolia iidse pealinna Harhorini jalamile Erdene Zuu kloostrisse, kus säravoranzhides budistirüüdes toimetavad ulakad noored mungad. 1937. aastal hävitas noor kommunistlik valitsus ligi kõik riigi 700 budistlikku kloostrit ning tappis u 30 000 munka, kuid mõned budistlikud keskused, nagu Erdane Zuu ja Ulanbaatari uhkus Gandan Khiid on õnnekombel säilunud. Aga ega tänapäeva keskmine mongoollane (nt nomaadid) usust suurt ei hooli usub pigem endeid ja loodusmärke.