Kharakorum, Lake Huvsgul & back to UB

Mongolia Travel Blog

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I'm flipping out right now because Mac decided to change their mail platform while I'm here, and I can't access it from any computer in this internet center.  Also realized after a few days here that AT&T must not have an agreement in place with Mongolia, so if anyone's sending me a text, I ain't gettin' them either.  Looks like this is the best place to get me, or you can use my puttyland@yahoo.com address.

OK...soooo...lots to tell, and I'll post pix tomorrow.  I have an hour before the last dinner with my tour group. 

The best parts of this trip have been meeting the people and experiencing their way of life for just a bit.  This country is not entirely nomadic anymore.

Lake Huvsgul reindeer
..although most folks in the country have a place for the summer and a place for the winter, but even the city folks in UB go to their family's ger in the summer in the countryside.  However, I have never been anywhere where the land stretches out forever, and there are absolutely NO farms.  Nobody grows anything here. 

Literally, they eat meat and dairy, and a couple of veggies that the Russians introduced.  We've eaten the same meals in the ger camps (cooked for tourists) with the same ingredients every meal:  mutton or beef (cooked to death...you can't herd pigs or chicken, so no pork or buffalo wings!), a humongous helping of starch (2 scoops of white rice, or white rice & potatoes, or potatoes and noodles...all with a loaf of white bread on the table), and either potato salad, or cole slaw or carrots or beets or summer sausage or something else mixed up with mayo and possibly pickles or onions.

Tsataan guy from Lake Huvsgul (his teepee in the background)
  Dessert is usually a candy bar.  And there's beer, vodka, water or black tea.  And these people are not fat!!  HOW???  In their gers they eat curds and fried dough and whole milk yogurt and drink milky tea.  We had a Mongolian dinner (pretty much a whole sheep...that was delicious, actually) in Kharakorum, and our guide and driver fought for the tail (which is a chunk of fat).

Things are changing rapidly...my 3-yr-old guide book (a new one came out just before I left) is already outdated.  There are new roads (although most of them are AWFUL...bumpy, dusty, heavily rutted, rocky...we blew 2 tires already), and new ger camps (although none of the older ones are maintained...I had the first hot shower with water pressure when we got back to our western-style hotel here in UB) and the way of life is already changing.

Ed, my drinking buddy!
..people are used to seeing westerners and are no longer curious about us, even in the countryside. 

About the only REAL nomads we met were on the roadside a few days ago...they were transporting camels (and all their household items, of course) across the entire country to deliver them to a buyer.  They were wearing traditional deels (the long coat with the sash), had barely any teeth, and I'm pretty sure they were about my age.  I took video, and they all came over to see the playback.  We gave them a bunch of snacks and water while they took a break at an ovoo (pronounced ava...a shamanist pile of rocks with blue scarves sticking out of the top...even folks who don't believe in shamanism walk around them 3 times.

Lake Huvsgul ger camp
..they're very superstitious!).

Nadaam was amazing and a disappointment all at once.  I planned my trip around the date for this festival, and then, 2 days before, they changed the date...moving it UP one day.  We got in the van the next morning and drove as quickly as you can on these roads, but missed the opening ceremonies, and some of the horse races.  The wrestling went on for a long time...since it was local, they didn't require everyone to have the traditional outfit (the undies, chestless shirt and pointy hat).  Some guys were in jeans, no shirt and a baseball cap.  But they played traditional music over the speakers, they all did that eagle dance before and then after they won, and the winners all ate curds and drank airag (fermented.

The end of the rainbow
..but not alcoholic!...mare's milk).  (If I wrote this in the previous entry, I apologize!)

We wanted to see the archery, but apparently only 8 people signed up, so they kind of threw it in around dinner time when no one was around.  We had a sneaky suspicion they were deliberately trying to confuse the 50 or so tourists with the time-changing.  The tourists really were annoying...all of them had HUGE camera lenses and went right up into these poor people's faces.  We talked to a few - none of the ones we talked to were journalists.

We were waiting for the 5-yr-old horses to arrive (it's a 1 hour ride...ridden by kids around 11 yrs old...no saddle), and this sexy Yul Brenner-looking guy (but with hair) on his horse amid all his friends on horses, turns to my guide, Gana, and says he wants to marry me (ha!  another marriage proposal!  Just like Egypt!).

Naadam wrestler
  Gana translates, and I said, "How much livestock does he have?"  He said 1000 animals.  I asked how the ger was...there are, as Gana calls them, "pimped up gers" with satellite dishes and solar panels.  Most people have cars or motorcycles along with their horses and camels.  He said yeah, they have TV.  I said, "Sounds like a good deal."  I mean, he had all his teeth.  I turned back to watch the race, and when I turned around again, he was handing out a wad of cash to a little boy (there are no coins here).  I put my hand out for my share - after all, I'm now his fiance' - and asked where's mine?  Gana translated, and he started peeling off cash as all his friends started cracking up.  When I turned around again, there was a woman up there on the horse with him.
Wrestlers doing the bird dance (signifying strength)
  I said, "Hey!  This is how you treat your fiance'?"  He said, "What?  It's my sister," and everyone laughed again.  I have some good video of this - this guy was a scream. 

After Nadaam, I felt like our next several nights were kind of a way station to get to Huvsgul, clear in the north.  This trip was like starting in Chicago, flying down to the Mexican border in Texas, then driving all the way up to somewhere in the north of Canada, and then flying back down to Chicago.  Can't remember the amount of kms we covered, but it's a lot.  We stopped at Tsagaan Nuur - the white lake - which was lovely - went horseback riding (on European saddles...they didn't trust us with the hard, angular Mongolian ones), and went fishing (well, watched some little boys fishing.

Our camp in Kharakhorum
..we didn't catch anything).  Mongolians generally don't like fish.  They get them to sell to the tourist camps.  The boys were doing really well though!

We saw lots of rock formations and lots of herds of horses, cows, yaks, goats, sheep and camels.  It's amazing - the government owns all the land except in the towns (if there's a shoddy wooden fence around it, the property is privately owned), but everyone can use everything in the countryside.  There are very few pens...all the animals roam free, and are coerced back to the family's camp area at night.  We visited a few Buddhist temples, but every single temple has either been decimated during the Stalinist purges (the Russians did a number on them in the 30's and also in the 90's), or most of the temple complex will be destroyed and one little temple is left standing, or is rebuilt.  It's really sad, because it's just about the only architecture they have here.  Everything else is a ger, or horrendous Russian construction.  You would not believe the state of these buildings.  None of the angles are square.  All the stairways and bridges are precarious.  Nothing is ever repainted, and often not repaired.  There's absolutely no budget for maintenance.

We were supposed to visit the horse breeder's family, but they had already moved for the summer, so we asked Gana to find another family who wouldn't mind us coming by and asking questions.  We had brought gifts to give them, too.  He found us a family that herds yaks, sheep & goats, and was in their summer encampment--gorgeous area of Mongolia--trees, river, mountains--I think it's in the Arkhangai area.  They had already milked the yaks in the morning, but the mom did it again just to show us (yaks are WEIRD!  They don't moo, they grunt...and they're smaller than I expected).  They had about 700 animals they said.  They invited us in - we met Grandma (who has a brother in New Jersey!!!), and the dad and all the kids (one of whom was being potty-trained...although I'm still not sure where any of them actually have a potty...outside of our ger camps, we've only run into outhouses with holes in the ground in the countryside). 

They offered us all the different curds, and yak butter to put on them, and milky tea.  All of their stuff tasted much better than what I had in Terelj, but I still can't call it good.  The curds look like Peppridge Farm sugary cookies, but they're kind of hard & crunchy with a sour lemony yogurt taste.  We asked them about their life, where their winter place was, how the animals were doing, etc., and then we gave them our gifts (harmonica for the little girl from me, and some toys from Carolyn and Rod). 

We just got back from Lake Huvsgul.  HUGE, lovely lake, but the worst roads we've had on this trip...and believe me, that's saying something.  I sat in the back for most of the trip...Japanese van...as I mentioned in my reponse on the previous entry, it had a/c, but we couldn't use it due to the dust.  We visited a reindeer herding family there.  It was extremely touristy, but I guess this family needs the cash...most of them stay up north, and there are less than 30 families left.  They speak a different language.  They charged to take photos of the reindeer, and sold things made out of the antlers and skins.  

OK, I have to get ready for dinner, so I'll sign off and post some pix tomorrow. 

AmberVM says:
Well it figures! Only you would find a fiance in Mongolia! You are too much! =D Any more pictures of hot half-naked guy's wrestling ??? ;-) I can't wait to see all of you amazing pictures and video! I LOVE the picture of "the end of the rainbow"! WOW!! Miss ya mucho!!!
Posted on: Jul 21, 2008
puttyland says:
Just added photos here...in the wrong date order, but they're labeled!
Posted on: Jul 20, 2008
puttyland says:
No photos of my "fiance"...just video. But I think one of my tour-mates has a photo, so I'll post it when I get home.
Posted on: Jul 20, 2008
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Lake Huvsgul reindeer
Lake Huvsgul reindeer
Tsataan guy from Lake Huvsgul (his…
Tsataan guy from Lake Huvsgul (hi…
Ed, my drinking buddy!
Ed, my drinking buddy!
Lake Huvsgul ger camp
Lake Huvsgul ger camp
The end of the rainbow
The end of the rainbow
Naadam wrestler
Naadam wrestler
Wrestlers doing the bird dance (si…
Wrestlers doing the bird dance (s…
Our camp in Kharakhorum
Our camp in Kharakhorum