Up around 7 a.m. we quickly got ready and met our group. Our two night trip to the semi-gobi desert was with Chris from Canada, Baptiste from France and Jagaa, our Mongolian guide/driver.
The ride was around 6 hours to get to the nomadic family we would stay with. We passed through Ulan Bator’s downtown and a little ways out of the city we made our first stop of the day.
Naadam Horse Racing
The Mongolian event is different from the racing known to the Western world, in that the races are very long, up to 30 km, and the jockeys are very young, between 5-13 years old.
When we arrived we parked in the sea of cars on a grassland that turned into one of the largest parking lots I’ve ever seen. Walking towards the fenced off area where the horse racing was still underway.
The military guarded the boundaries. Unfortunately from our position the racers were really far away, but to our surprise it was right next to a very important path. President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, in traditional costume on a horse, trotted by with his entourage and a line of SUVs with flashing police lights. The crowd raised their hand in support and yelled his name.
Who would have thought that we would see the President in person three days in a row?
Continuing on our trip we only made one other stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant. Order of the day: lamb, rice, and beer.
The westward drive was quite smooth as the roads were paved and the trip-mates amiable. The green and yellow vast grasslands were speckled with sheep, goats, cows, horses, and the occasional white ger.
Nomadic Ger Life
We arrived arrived at our camp in the afternoon. There were five gers and a building with two animal pens.
The hosting family invited us into their ger where they offered candies, cheese, and milk tea. Their ger was outfitted with a TV (run on a car battery), a stove in the center of the room, single beds, and family pictures set on small wardrobes. An older couple and two younger generations called this home.
We were shown our ger and settled into our home for the next two days. The set up was simple, with four beds lining the walls and a table with stools in the center.
Also staying at our camp was a volunteer group helping an orphanage near Ulan Bator. We sat and shared stories and vodka.
Horse Ride and Cattle Roundup
Our tour included a horse ride and without any explanation we mounted our horses and set off with a guide. The man took our horse leads and brought us down the mountain and over the grasslands. I would have preferred to ride my own horse, but the guide shook his head when I asked.
Little did we know, we were going to herd the man’s cattle.
In one hand he held our leads and in the other his whip, in effect herding tourists with one hand and cattle with the other. He yelled at the cattle and they slowly moved. After the livestock was rounded up, we headed back quite slowly except for the occasional trot.
It started raining on the way back and got quite chilly.
Back at the campsite, there wasn’t much to do but shoot some hoops and hang out. Soon enough dinner was served on our ger’s table consisting of a lamb, potatoes and onion porridge and milk tea to drink.
After dinner our guide sat with us and let us try his prized snuff from India. Having never tried this form of tobacco before, I must have sniffed too hard, because it went straight into my sinus and caused my one eye to tear up… fail. The old man also joined us for a smoke from his pipe.
Once the sun went down, the groups gathered around a fire and sang national anthems while drinking local beers. With nationalities from Denmark, Poland, China, Korea, Japan, Switzerland, USA, UK, France, and Mongolia the singing lasted quite awhile.
I never would have expected to find so many people from around the world joined around a campfire on top of a desolate mountain in the middle of Mongolia.
Tomorrow we were off to Karakorum!