Illuminating the heavens in crimson reds, bold oranges and vibrant purples as it sank below the hills on the horizon, the suns dying rays gloriously graced the sky with a kaleidoscopic spectrum of colours so haphazardly blended into each other it was impossible to determine where one colour began and the other ended, such is nature’s grand design. A late start meant a late finish, but cresting the last hill and sighting Moron’s dusty collection of ramshackle homes with brightly bedazzled tin roofs reflecting the divine light, the town had a heavenly aura that dispelled our feelings of tiredness in an instant.
After two days of perpetual battering from the gnarly roads twisted and contorted ever more by each passing vehicle, alighting in Moron to such a sight signalled the beginning of some much needed respite and a chance to visit a restaurant for some decent food after the previous night’s bland, semi-edible concoction we’d managed to create for ourselves! Although we didn’t know at the time, Moron would accurately represent every Mongolian “city” we would visit on our trip; dusty, barren, and with the feeling of a far flung outpost of civilisation. Somewhat optimistically labelled as a city, Moron’s
population of a seam bursting 36,000 people must live a life of isolation - two days by vehicle or an expensive flight from the nearest real city. Almost the entire population of Moron resides amongst the many ger camps; listing rows of cordoned off sections of land sprouting in every direction, just about large enough in size to accommodate a family’s ger and a vehicle. Wandering along the dusty potholed dirt tracks interspersing each row in a grid-system fashion that people from Milton Keynes would find comforting, we traipsed around the ‘ger quarters’ for an hour or so before settling for the evening.
En-route northward, Moron was a necessary stop as we needed permission from the local government in order to progress towards the border region with Russia. It was only a trivial formality, and free too which pleased us, however we might have considered ourselves lucky given the president of Mongolia was making a pre-election visit to Moron that day - in any other country in the world it wouldn’t have been possible to get within a hundred metres of the government building - his destination - let alone go inside an hour before his arrival unchecked. And
here’s where Caroline somehow managed to actually meet the president of Mongolia! She was buying a few supplies from the local market when the president happened to be making a surprise visit/ inspection of the market place, and using good English he struck up a conversation with her! Caroline unexpectedly found herself thrust into the limelight at the centre of an amassing squad of news reporters and photographers with flashing cameras, and with a microphone shoved between them, the president asked her what she thought of Mongolia, what her plans were, and where she would be going on her trip! Sadly I didn’t witness any of this, and at first we were all reluctant to believe her, but our Mongolian friend (who ran away at the sight of her president travelling towards her!) confirmed it was true. How funny! Caroline managed to meet the only democratically elected communist leader in the world, but actually he’s not the president any more; he lost the general election this Sunday to the Democratic Party. Boo Hoo.
The following day, travelling ever further north quite possibly along the very same trails used by Chingis Khan and his hordes almost a millennium ago, we
marvelled at the landscape quickly revealing itself as a more rugged and rocky ice encrusted version of the former. Despite the reduction in temperature, the landscape also became slightly greener as we glanced upon more streams and lakes that are the arteries of life for vegetation and animals alike. The mostly lunar landscape became more stunning as the hills became grander. Glancing aloft in awe of the knife edged peaks ever rising in stature as we grinded painfully slow into the north lands, the hardy forests which previously graced the mountain’s southern slopes now progressively ceded defeat to the severe climate until finally only scrub could survive their winter brutality. Below a sky so clear and blue you could almost see the black infinity of space beyond, a carpet of lush green grass extended in every direction and glaring sunlight glinted from the ice capped peaks, trickling streams and lakes like sequins adorning an already beautiful dress.
In the dry air, what little water is available quickly dissipates and many lakes bore a gleaming white fringe of encrusted salt testament to their salinity. We passed herds of Mongolian horses, famous not for their size but for their hardiness, and
flocks of sheep perhaps 500 in number slowly grazing the lush grass down to stubble in synchrony under the stewardship of their shepherd riding horseback beside them. Often Mongolia appears a land before time and the hardy yaks-come-cows nurtured for their meat, milk, skins, fur and a whole range of other uses encourage that feeling. Not fat like the cows I’m most familiar with, they appeared somewhat emaciated from the winter, but their thick, foot long hair dangling from their bellies and dragging along the ground as they walked gave an illusion of size. Despite them portraying an image of being primordial beasts that probably roamed side by side with dinosaurs, of course that couldn’t be further from the truth as they are perfectly evolved to their environment where the temperature frequently drops below minus 40C.
Traditional dress for Mongolian people is the ‘deel’ - a long and normally very heavy trench coat lined with inch-thick wool and bound at the waist with a brightly coloured sash. Each of them varies slightly depending upon the particular ethnic minority with differing elaborate embroidery and colours, and in the countryside of Mongolia this is still the attire of choice because there
isn’t anything modern that can replace its functionality as a barrier against the cold on the vast open plains. Travelling across a land with no roads, no fences or barriers, no metal in sight, no plastic in sight, often no pylons in sight and chancing upon gers and their inhabitants wearing traditional dress herding colossal flocks of cattle, I honestly wondered if the train from China had actually been a time warp.
After a super chilling night camping in Ulan Uul, the following day we arrived in Tsagaannuur, the start of our real adventure where we would be trekking to visit the ‘Tsartan’ or ‘renideer people’, so named because their entire livelihood is based around the reindeer. If Moron had looked like an outpost, Tsagaanuur looked like the last bastion of civilisation, perched on the shore of a lake still frozen under metres of ice displaying tyre tracks where people had clearly been driving across the ice, and fringed by wall of impenetrable snow capped peaks on its eastern side. This is the place where roads end and the adventure begins…….
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