Going Native in Mongolia

Because I had arrived in
fat bike elettrica at the start of the tourist season, the only people around were a group of 5 Japanese girls, so the camp was really quiet. I had a ger or yurt (Mongolian tent) all to myself! Fantastic!

I stepped through the little Hobbit style, painted door, into a cosy room furnished in the traditional style with painted wooden furniture. On either side of the yurt (can a round thing have sides?) were two box beds; at the back was a dressing table; to one side a small wardrobe, and in the centre next to a little table and stools, was the wood burner!

This thrilled me no end as I LOVE playing with fires and I particularly love the cosiness of wood burners, although I did manage to set fire to my nice expensive, travel towel the following day which was very annoying. The fire was already roaring away merrily and of course,

I couldn’t resist adding more wood to the inferno. After a refreshing shower and some food, I sat in the yurt, cocooned in the warmth and listened to the fire breathing and crackling, it was all very soothing. As I stepped out of the door to see the night sky, all was quiet; only a thin, silver crescent moon and one bright, shining star illuminated the sky. The night air was cool and crisp with the damp fragrance of grassland and mountains and I could see a little stream of woodsmoke puffing out of the chimney which poked out of the top of my yurt. There was not a sound anywhere.

It was still. Peaceful. I ducked back into the yurt, switched off the light and got into bed and lay watching the flickering flames in the woodburner cast their shadows and dance on the walls. Looking up at the gap in the roof where the chimney disappeared, I could see the moon shining down on me and I felt incredibly fortunate and so very, very glad to be there.

The next morning was bright and clear with a fabulous blue sky and the plan was for myself and Zabloo to ride over with the herdsman to his family yurt where I would spend that night and the best part of the following day. We weren’t sure what time this would be as he had to catch our horses first, but at 10am there was a knock on the door and there he was, with a face the hue and texture of a polished conker, with a wild looking pony with any evil glint in its eye! Actually he was surprisingly obedient (the pony I mean) and we set off at a fast trot across the grass. The Mongolians seem incapable of walking their horses, it’s either a fast trot or a gallop (which they do standing up) and that’s it! I don’t mind the galloping, but the trot is done sitting down and I can tell you, it’s bloody uncomfortable without the sports bra and with a rucksack bouncing around on your back. We pushed the horses into a gallop and soon the yurt was in sight. In my mind I thought we probably looked like the ravaging hordes of Genghis Khan (or more correctly, Chinggis Kahn) charging across the fields, but in reality as there were only three of us, probably not, but it was exciting all the same.

We were met by a big, fat cheery woman called Tunga and shown to our yurt by the father who had followed us on the modern day equivalent of the horse – a little motor scooter. There were four yurts in total – one for guests, one for the men, one for the women and one was the “next door neighbour.” The family I stayed with had something like 700 sheep and goats, 70 horses, 30 cows, 2 yaks, some dogs and a cat. Having dumped our bags in our yurt, we were invited for tea in the main yurt. Well, I have to say, in comparison to this, my yurt back at the camp was a palace! I wrote in my diary “It’ll be a miracle if I survive this without food poisoning!”. The floor of the yurt was just mud with some bits of old lino around the edge where the beds and cupboards were. The furnishings consisted of two metal beds on either side of the door with a filthy looking blanket on each of them and a small mountain of assorted old boots underneath; a “kitchen” with pots and pans, sacks of flour and plastic containers; an altar, various stools, a chair, plastic canisters, a goatskin hanging from the ceiling and large chunks of mutton hanging to dry from string stretched across the yurt; festooned on the walls were all sorts of paraphernalia – rope bridles, metal stirrups, blankets, carrier bags, pots, tin lids and photographs.

We sat down round the central wood burner and chatted, with Zabloo translating, while Tunga made tea. The Mongolians’ drink of choice is made of full cream milk (straight from the cow), green tea and salt, and they drink it by the gallon. Let me assure you, it was as foul and revolting as it sounds and as I don’t drink milk, it was even more fouler and revolting for me. I had a couple of sips to be polite, tried not to gag and put the bowl back down. Next on offer were some sweet crunchy biscuits for dipping into the tea and then some bread which Tunga spread with a cottage cheesy type thing that also tasted very milky/creamy.

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