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Published: October 1st 2014
Today we were heading a couple of hours out of the capital to go to a ger camp in Terelj National Park, about 60 kms northwest of the city, where we would stay overnight in a ger or yurt, as they are otherwise known – the traditional nomadic round tent “house”.
Nemo had said to us that, even though our destination wasn’t that far away from the city, it would take us about 2 and a half hours to get there because the road conditions out of the city were very rough in parts until we reached the outskirts so, we would have to travel slowly.
All tar-sealed (for the most part) we did, however, encounter some very large pot holes and other areas where the asphalt had broken away from the edges of the road, making it necessary for Oggie, our very capable driver, to have to slow down to navigate through these areas.
A few kilometres out of Ulaan Bataar, we stopped for half hour or so on the outskirts of the city as there was a man by the side of the road with two very large birds sitting on high perches. One bird was
a Golden Eagle and the other, a Black Vulture. Both birds being quite common in Mongolia.
They were tame in the respect that they sat quite happily on their perches even though they were tethered and obviously, quite used to people.
Clearly aimed at the tourist market, for T350 Tughrik’s (about AUD.20c), you could have your photo taken holding one of the birds.
Most in our group were a bit hesitant at first as we eyed off these huge raptors but then, almost without exception, one by one, we then fronted up to have yet another picture taken to add to the holiday photo album.
Ted and I opted for the vulture – a huge, somewhat ugly black bird, with a face that only a mother could love, and with a vicious-looking hooked beak and huge claws that could have shredded you to pieces in seconds, if he was so inclined, and we only hoped that he was in a good mood and had also had a big breakfast this morning.
The handler helped us get into position and gave us the thick elbow-length leather glove to put on, to protect our hand and arm
and to also allow the bird to get a grip on our arm with his claws. Better that than on my skinny wrist!
All prepared and geared-up, our handler then helped us to take the weight of the bird before leaving us to hold it by ourselves.
The weight of this thing was phenomenal. I don’t know what it weighed but, it was all that we could do to hold it up in the air with our arm extended for about 15-20 seconds before the weight got too much and our arm started to waver and we just couldn’t hold it any longer. It weighed a ton, or felt like it.
Daughter Jenni opted to hold the golden eagle which was a bit smaller than the vulture but, still a huge bird, with both birds having a wing span of about 2 metres.
Once we were prepared, our handler then told us to face the birds into the wind to make them spread their wings which would make for a better photo.
It certainly made for a good photo but, also made the bird wobble as it regained its balance and, when you have this
huge bird of prey wobbling around on the end of your arm, it does take quite a bit of effort to regain control again and keep your feet.
Their balance was fine – but, it was ours that we had to struggle with to maintain to be able to keep holding these birds. Even then, we could only manage a few seconds before our arm gave out from the weight.
Photos taken amidst many funny moments and squeals from some of the girls as the birds wriggled and flapped their wings to maintain their stability and, we were once more on our way to the ger camp, about 2 and a half hours drive away.
The scenery in Mongolia surprised me somewhat. Why? I’m really not sure but, I don’t think I had expected what I was seeing. The countryside was much greener and certainly a lot more mountainous than I thought it would be.
Beautiful mountain scenery in the background with picturesque valleys running away into the distance and mountain streams and rivers with water rippling over the pebbly bottoms in the shallow parts but rushing away over mini rapids as the river deepened and
There were beautiful river flats with loads of pretty picnic areas under shady trees on the riverbanks where families were doing just that, enjoying the perfect sunny weather. People were fishing and also swimming as the day was quite warm. Bet that the water was freezing though as it rushed down from the surrounding mountains.
We stopped en route on a hill overlooking Terelj Village which was only a small village nestled on the floor of the valley below us beside the river. Not a lot in the village itself except for a couple of hotels and other holiday accommodation and a few shops etc. but, it is a favourite holiday spot for Ulaan Bataar-ites wanting to escape the city for awhile or for that quick weekend getaway.
Our main reason for stopping, other than to admire the view, was to have a look at an “ovoo” which is a shamanistic large mound of stones that Nemo had been telling us about, which sat atop the ridge on this high mountain pass.
Whilst they aren’t burial mounds, they are a fairly common site throughout Mongolia, particularly in high mountain passes and roads and
often mark the way for travellers in more isolated areas and are also sites for them to pause and to offer acknowledgment and prayer to tengri. Tengri or tenger in Mongolian means “sky.”
Slowly circling one 3 times in a clock-wise direction and tossing some small item of food that you have handy – some fruit, a sweet or biscuit etc, as you reflect on your own inner thoughts whilst making a wish, is to give thanks to earthly spirits. If you have no food to offer, simply tossing a small rock onto the pile is considered appropriate.
These mounds of stones or cairns, are always topped with a blue scarf, called a khadag as a tribute to the eternal blue sky or tengri, an ancient supreme deity. Shamanism is still widely practised throughout Mongolia with sky worship remaining a large part of this belief.
3 types of funerary rites are still practised in Mongolia today – western-style burial or cremation and traditional sky burial, where the body is taken a long way from the home/village etc and left to the elements and the wildlife – grey
wolves, vultures etc. This is considered the best way to return a body to the natural world and leaving the soul to reincarnate easily into another body, either human or animal.
Even though we had only been in Mongolia a short time at this stage, we were learning a lot about the country and its people.
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