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Published: October 1st 2011
FYI: Jim, our fellow traveler, finished high school and college with Walt. They took ROTC at JSU and both retired as Army Lt. Colonels. Jim thought he loved trains until he had 5 cabin mates between Moscow and Irkutsk.
This trip has been full of surprises –some good and some not so good. The train ride from Irkutsk to Ulan Bator was on a small train with just 5 cars and no dining car. The train cabins so far have had no bathroom facilities – not even a sink. Each car has 2 toilets but no showers. The cars do have plenty of hot water in the samovar. The attendants add charcoal or coal in the burner to keep the water boiling. After a couple of days, you really miss the comforts of home. The cabins have a tendency to be too warm more than too cold.
When we arrived in Ulan Bator (around 6 A.M.), our guide and driver met us at the station. They drove us to a hotel where we checked into very nice rooms so we could take a shower and change clothes. After having breakfast at the hotel, we headed out of town to
a Ger (yurt) Camp in the Gorkhi Tereij National Park.
Mongolia has definitely been a pleasant surprise. The people of Mongolia are very friendly and generally are smiling. They are still adjusting to being an independent country with complete freedom. The Communist Party gained control of the Mongolian government in 1928. They banned all religious ceremonies and seized the monasteries. When the people rebelled in 1932, the Communists started eliminating their opposition from the population and ended up killing 36,000 people. They regained their freedom after the fall of Communism in the late 1980’s. There seems to be a pretty wide gap between the wealthy and the poor.The houses seem a little shabbier than the ones in Russia. Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, is unimpressive---just a bunch of run down Soviet architecture, poor roads, junky looking buildings.
Once we left town, we crossed the steppes – golden colored wide-open grasslands that seem to go on forever. Mixed among them were huge rock formations and mountains in the background. The sky reminded me of Montana because it seemed to go on forever. On our way to the camp, we passed several ovoos, piles of stones with silk prayer scarves at
the top. Ovoos, originally a Shaman custom, mark a sacred place. The natives walk around these ovoos 3 times clockwise, add 3 stones or coins on top, and offer a prayer. Shamanism derives from worshiping nature. They believe the Earth is Mother Earth and the Sky is the Father. We passed herds of yak, cattle, sheep, goats, and horses roaming free. I did discover that most nomads have branded their livestock. We saw a few Bactrian camels (2 hump) and learned that they are able to endure the Mongolian extreme cold winters and hot, dry summers. On a couple of occasions, we passed up to 3 eagles sitting on perches with their handlers nearby. The eagles are trained to hunt small game.
When we arrived at the Ger Camp, we were assigned a ger (yurt). There were about 12 yurts at our camp, plus a dining room, and another building with toilets. I am posting some photos of our yurt. The camp was in a wonderful setting with huge rock boulders overlooking the camp. After having lunch, we rode out to Turtle Rock and to a mediation center (former monastery.) We found the scenery breathtaking and thoroughly enjoyed being out
with the Mongolian people. We were worried about how warm we would be in the yurt that night since the temperature was dropping to the 20’s. Our yurt stayed cozy but it was only because we fed the wood stove all night long--using up every piece of fuel.
33% of the families in Mongolia live in gers (yurts) just as nomads did during the time of Ghenghis Khan. A yurt is a round one room tent that is supported by poles, covered with felt and a waterproof fabric on the outside. A wood burning stove in the center of the yurt provides heat and a place to cook . Wood, coal, or dried animal dung are used for fuel. The inside supporting poles, roof poles, and furniture are all painted orange, the color that represents fire. They each have elaborate decorations in the same patterns. Many of the people are still nomads and move their yurts to different locations based on the winter weather and summer grazing destinations for their animals. They raise yak, sheep, goats, horses, a few camels and cattle.
On the second day at the Ger Camp, we paid a home visit to a local herdsman’s
There were 4 beds in our yurt.
family. This man had 10 yak and a herd of horses. This 72 year old man still rides and trains horses. His horses have won many racing medals. He served us yak butter & salt tea in small bowls, hard Mongolian cookies, dried cheese curds, cream cheese, vodka, and snuff. Walt and Jim tried everything but not me. I had read that the welcoming drink is usually fermented mare's milk. When I asked about this, they said that this milk is only available in the summer months. (Thank Goodness!)
The herdsman had a terrific sense of humor. He put on some of his ceremonial clothes and let us take photos. He was proud to show us a photo that was taken when he visited his daughter in Paris when she was studying for a university degree. As we left, we saw another daughter pushing a wheelbarrow and collecting dried dung for fuel.
That afternoon, we visited the Ghenghis Khan statue and the Bronze Age Museum. The statue was very impressive – weighing 250 tons, 40 meters high. Ghenghis Khan is Mongolia’s national hero. From another perspective, he was nothing but a marauder, rapist, and killer.
We returned to Ulan Bator
This sink has no running water and has a bucket in the cabinet to catch the water. In the summer, a tank is put on the roof for a water supply.
last night and attended the Mongolian National Symphony. The National Folk Dancers also performed. The costumes and music were wonderful. Today, we visited the Ganden Monastery and the National Museum of Mongolian History.
We are really glad that we had the opportunity to experience Mongolia!
This blog has 44 photos. Make sure you scroll down below the blog to see them.
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