Sanbeno! greeted a friendly smile at the airport. Mongolians are simple, warm people
Having traveled some 40 odd countries, I was looking for something different for this time around, something challenging and wanted to see something Real, get dirty, and get adventurous too and no phone services or no 4G! Wanted to go to a place where no one spoke English and wondered where we were from. Travelling with an 8 year old, I thought, would not permit me to go too adventurous, as it turns out, it can be, in fact more fun than i imagined in doing non conventional things. Never under estimate the spirit of a child!
May is a month of Joy for us since we celebrate 2 birthdays just 3 days apart.
Our tour started with our Furgon loaded with our things, food supplies etc for the next few days. A drive of about 400 kms off road was the plan to reach the monastery Amarbayasgalant. It lies in a calm and peaceful Iven valley near Selenge River,at the foot of the Mout Buren-Khaan.
So how exactly was Mongolia even different from the rest of my travel?
"It was awesome, it is the most beautiful landscape that I have ever seen and yet I am not able to verbalize how beautiful Mongolia was. I cant find those words to describe what I really saw. I am once again attempting to summarize and relive my extraordinary journey.
The next coming days did indeed give me the basic insight of Mongolian tradition, culture and more than anything, their way of living.
Of all the things that impressed me about Mongolia, it had to be the family life and hospitality and how different the world runs there. Mongolians are very simple and shy, easily mistaken to be rude and hostile. but once you exchange the snuff with the family and have the hot milk tea, that misconception vanishes in thin air.
Travelling with our Guide Luna and our driver Dunia proved more valuable in terms of understanding the people and the culture. She was so knowledgeable and so much valuable information was shared.
Ger for the first time!
Our first real Ger, semi-nomadic life started when we reached Uran Togoo. We camped there in a small Ger camp that night. It was definitely exciting to see, also maybe because we were exhausted by the 8 hour drive overland and something I definitely don’t think could be considered “roads” in the world, the Ger was magical and comfortable.
For me, the Ger retained that magical sense of comfort for the rest of the trip.Inside it smelled like fire, horse, grass and general coziness, if coziness has a scent, let’s just say that it does. The walls are covered with felt and amazing hand-woven tapestries called tuskies sealing in the warmth and giving the Ger a beautiful colorful decor, different from anything we’ve experienced around the world. The sound of the fire at night is so romantic makes you forget the world outside for a brief moment.
Like I said before the Mongolians hospitality was simply the best. The family of the Ger camp did their every bit to make us feel comfortable in many ways, sometimes even going their way out.
We had Gambir (a crispy bread) some rice, eggs for breakfast.
We all became so close to Luna, the trip manager,guide,cook etc and etc. Making sure everything ran smoothly, she was a true powerhouse and kept everything organized, sorted and put a smile on our face day in and day out. She made us feel comfortable in every possible way
An amazing singer, she was also a superb rider and cook too.
She did so much for us, whenever every chance I had, I did go up to her and thanked her for all the things she was doing for us.
Hiking on the Uran Togoo is moderately difficult. If not for the wet patches and the loose branches the hike is pretty easy. If you feel exhausted, reaching on the top of this volcano make will make it all go away. The peak is over 1600 mt and it forms a circle shaped ridge about 500 mt and that contains a crater lake about 20 mt wide and 15 mt deep.
That night we reached Khuvsgul lake driving 350kms about 7 hours, yes I am not exaggerating. It is this exact thing that made this trip so different and exciting. But before reaching we did have lunch by the very picturesque Traialan soum, Khuvsgul province. I always looked forward for these pit stops, eagerly waiting to explore while our hot fresh lunch would be prepared.
I have always been very keen and interested in cultural travel, educational travel. For me, just doing something isn’t enough, I need to have a reason behind it or be able to take away some valuable lesson in the end.
And I really really love learning about other cultures and countries, however you interpret that. While I have no pretensions of leaving Mongolia an expert, if I take away some insights into the way of life of the people there, make a few people smile and have some wonderful memories, I will count that a success.
Baigalia and Hujaa are waiting for us to show their simple ways of living today. Here on a metal stove with a tall chimney that juts out the roof and is where the boiling of the milk tea was going on. She offered us the traditional milk tea and home made bread. The freshly baked Bread was kept on the little bread crumbs on a large plate. She also showed us the way to milk the yak, tie the little ones while she is at it.
Finally this was the day that we were all waiting for. We would be riding horses for about 40 kms in the jungles and woods in search of the Tsaan family (reindeer family).
Let me tell you something that I have not told anyone, I was terrified of this day! I told to myself, I will either fall from the galloping horse or i would be bitten by the horse. Luckily none of this happened and I instantly could connect to mine and I also named him. I named him Raphael, dont know why, maybe i liked to call Rafa,
Mongolians do not name their horses. I dont know why, but they never do.
The horses here are shorter and larger. They can go for long distances, Luna told me one of the reasons for the Mongols in their attacks and invasion was their horses. Horses play a large role in the daily life of the Mongols; it is traditionally said that "A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without the wings.
I think the coolest thing that I have done in my life was to sit on a horse and take control and Tchu tchu him to gallop! it was definitely fun and scary when he Rafa took charge and started to walk his way. Never mind, one short pull, Rafa would realized who was in charge. Isnt it fun to learn new things everyday?!
The herders here live for their animals, follow them to places that the animals would take them, same does the Tsaan family too, they follow their reindeers.
If Ger was the simplest dwelling I had seen, Teepee was even more simpler in its way. It is easy to build and dismantle. Since they move a lot, the reindeer family prefers to live in Teepee.
We started from khatsgal around 9:30 and started driving towards Shineitr village,
From Khatsgal to Shinetir is about 260 kms. 130kms was paved road and the rest is off road.
Now we have stopped 150 kms we found a beautiful spot to have lunch. By a frozen river and hills surrounding our little car and cake 🙂
We celebrated Ishta s 8th birthday by this beautiful landscape. I have a feeling that this is the best way to celebrate. Enza tours had arranged her a cake and many gifts. She loved her cake and her super hat 🙂
That smile that Mongolians greet us is really pleasant and welcoming.About 5kms distance to our today’s camp that is to Shinetir, we stopped by a small family house to have some fresh yak milk and yak yogurt. It was delicious. Their house is set in the middle of the valley with yaks and herds of sheep goats surrounded. We had our refreshments and had dried yogurt. It was some strange taste and nice.
We arrived at our today’s camp in Shinetir, Ulziit khishigt (ulsheeth khisith) . It’s a very cozy place. The toughest part of our tour was the usage of the toilets. I never thought I could bring myself up to using a Pit toilet. In winters the pipes are frozen, making it impossible to have hot water for shower and even cold running water in the pipes, since the water is.frozen too. So the owner of the camp had dug out a pit for the poo that was hilarious when we saw it and almost unbearably funny to imagine us using it.
The efficieny of a person is at full test while on such tours. About 20 kms of travel almost 2 hours drive our Ger camp, our guide decided that we will cook in some nearby nomads family house asking their permission since it was too windy outside. These nomads are really kind hearted people. They immediately accepted us and their hospitality was impeccable. They offered us goat milk tea and bread and some cookies.
Our guide immediately set to cooking, boiling on the oven is a hot vegetable soup!Truly it was a lot of fun and very very authentic experience to see the real nomads and their living ways.
The landscape continues to inspire us during our off road journey. The road was simply full of pebbles, rocks and dusty. About 160kms we have paved road to reach our destination.
In total we have done about 1440 kms so far has been our total journey since our start from Ulaanbaatar city.
It was snow storm and hail storm, was very windy and very very cold. We decided to finally hike the Volcano Khorgo. It was relatively easy to hike the hill except we had to be careful about the loose lava stones. These stones are light and the way it is scattered gives you a feel of the eruption.
We reached Altan Nutag (resort) which is in Tsenger (tsinher). This is a natural spring water area.The resort draws water from the natural spring water source and collect it in a pool. This resort has 3 different pool with 3 different water temperature. The big pool and 2 small pools. Over looking the majestic hills. Immersed our body in the 41degre hot water Snow on our face n head we sat there for over 2 hours enjoying every bit nature offered us today. Snow heat mist clear sky cool breeze… What a creation 🙂
Today we also had something more special; Airag, It’s a mare’s milk that is fermented. (It tastes like buttermilk). Of course there was a bottle of vodka that we had bought it. Had a little bit of that and Airag too.
Tuluu (thulo) -cheers in Mongolian, to this wonderful experience and time!
- Airag is also called as Khumis by khaziksthan
- Airag is only available in summer and autumn.
- Northern Mongolia doesn’t do Airag.
- Gobi region has more sour and fermented Airag
After driving for about 90 kms we stopped by a beautiful cliff overlooking a river which was just by the Karakorum city for our famous Lunch time!
From kharkhorum 85 kms we reach Elsen tasarkhai which is mini Gobi I mean this is a part of Gobi. There is Mountain Khugnu khan outlining the sand dunes.
The elder of the family Mr Bor who welcomed us in a traditional Mongolian way. They exchange snuff with the guests and guests are to sniff it and return it. The elder also handed down a traditional cigar that was super strong.
Looking back, it almost brings me to tears thinking about how much of their life and culture they were willing to share with us, no questions asked and without worry or problems. Here on the Eurasian Steppe at the end of world, people are more friendly and welcoming than any I’ve ever encountered.
I love being in a place where hospitality, respect and courtesy to anyone you meet reigns supreme.
Finaly good bye to our sweet host and driver.