Monday, October 15, 2007

Mongolia Day 3

Didn't sleep a WINK the night before!! Stomach started churning round about midnight and by the time dawn came around I was grouchy as hell and dying for some sleep. JJ raced off over the plains clicking away while I huffily tried to come to terms with the fact that there wasn't toilet within miles of where we were and that I would have to actually dig a hole in the ground and... you know. (horror of all horrors!) Well I had psychological issues with using the wide open plains as a toilet and so decided to soldier through the day and hope my tummy would sort itself out...

Drove up to the ruins if the 16th century Ovgon Khud monastery that was destroyed -
according to our guide, by the russians, and according to The Lonely Planet, Zanzabar's warriors - whatever.. it was destroyed. I personally didn't think it was anything to shout about but LP stated that a 45 min hike up into the surrounding mountains would bring us to a much prettier ruin. By this time my tummy was screaming for my attention and I had to finally relent - thank god for the hole in the ground with 3 wooden walls.

Background: My saviour!

Glad I was able to do the hike. It was an easy trek which allowed us the time to appreciate the stunning scenery and the fresh crisp air. The monastery was indeed much prettier and had alot more character and charm. The silence up there was mildly disarming and at the same time brought about a sense of peace and tranquility. I was content to just sit and listen to the sounds of flapping magpie wings as they call out to one another from their perches.

We arrive back to our driver and guide after 2 hours and it was off to the Mongol Els for camel rides! YAY!! We negotiate for an hour's worth but beg to be led back after only 20 mins - JJ coz his nether regions were giving him sharp reminders of yesterdays horse ride and me coz the up and down motion did NOTHING but aggravate my already grumpy tummy.

Once on
terra firma, we were invited into the camel herder's ger for a sampling of some airag - fermented mare's milk. It's got a pretty low alcoholic content - even 5 year-olds drink it - and involves a simple but labour intensive process of making. The milk is collected and poured into a large barrel where it is churned by hand, CONTINUOUSLY for 24 hrs. What you get is a thin, slightly sourish milk that if consumed enough, apparently keeps you from feeling hungry. Hmmmm... diet option? hehehe

Next stop, Karakorum, ancient Mongol capital ruled by Genghis Khan. Did a quick tour as it was already late and all the monks were pretty much done for the day. Decided to spend the night at a tourist ger camp where heating was in the form of a log fire YAY! not so great thing was that the fire tended to go out in the night and then I was reduced to a shivering bundle under the covers. Had a typical mongolian dinner of 'booz' - meat dumplings that were OH SO YUMMY but OH SO FILLING! JJ then had the bright idea of taking out his bottle of Chinggis Gold vodka and initiated drinking games. Silly boy! trying to win against mongolians!! At least I knew when to stop. Needless to say, he skipped breakfast the next morning and suffered a pounding head. Sigh....

Mongolia Day 2

Woke up bright and early, mainly coz the sun was streaming in through our little tent window. Had a lovely night's sleep... well as lovely as I could get sleeping on the ground, but my sleeping bag was so WARM! I actually had to take layers off in the middle of the night. Hooray for good quality sleeping bags!! Breakfast was of bacon and scrambled eggs on toast. (Hooray for our gas stove and pots and pans!!)

Bleary eyed and tending to the bacon SLURP!!

Packed up and headed into the Hustain National Park to try and catch a glimpse of wildlife and the takh - Mongolia's re-introduced wild horses and the last remaining ancestor to the modern-day horse.. The takhi are very shy and we were lucky to get as close as we did. Was slightly disappointed at the fact that apart from the takhi, marmots (which scrambled off too fast for me to take photographic aim), eagles and vultures were the only other creatures I was able to spy (oh and the mostly intact skeleton of a deer). Didn't realise that the red deer, gazelles and lynx were up in the mountainous areas - far far away. BLEH!!!

Headed back to the ranger's office for a spot of horse riding. I made sure our guide translated the importance of me having a gentle horse, but I guess she did too good a job coz the horse I ended up with not only didn't trot, it kept bloody stopping every 5 steps to EAT!! I swear a snail would've overtaken us at the rate we were going!! So while JJ and our guide went cantering up ridges, I was left to fight with my horse. The saddle I had wasn't very comfy either. A piece of leather was placed over a mongolian saddle (which is basically 2 slats of wood tied together) and that just kept biting into my thigh bone. JJ thankfully suggested we swap horses so I could get the rush of a faster moving beast. But took pity on him soon after and swapped back coz he looked like he was in pain on that saddle :p Enjoyed an hour of meandering and then it was back into our Delica and off in search of our next camp site.

Decided on a nice level spot at the foot of a stone hill (to block out most of the wind) not too far from the Mongol Els which is like the mini Gobi desert but with sand dunes. Scurried down to some dunes to catch the beautiful sunset which gave me lots of opportunities to experiment with the aperture settings and shutter speeds on the non-digital SLR I was carrying.

Back at camp, dinner of rice and mutton was ready to be served. Wolfed it down and with full bellies retired into my sleeping bag in anticipation for the next day.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mongolia Day 1

Flew to Mongolia with D & L. Was grateful for their company. They made the flight and transit more manageable. Touched down in Ulaanbaatar airport but my bag didn't. Was told to call the airport the next morning. BLEH! Lovely way to start the holiday. JJ met us at the airport with a large bottle of Chinggis Gold Vodka and insisted on a welcome shot so that kinda made up for the mild annoyance. Damn it was good! Spent the night partying at the wedding of someone we didn't even know and only got in through JJ's friend. Free flow alcohol! Woohooo! Survived the night with no hangovers the next day. Said goodbye to D & L around 10a.m. and hello to our O & B; our guide and driver for the next 6 days.

First task of the day... grocery shopping. Since we were gonna be camping in the middle of nowhere, we had to stock up on food (rice, pasta, veges, pre-packed instant meals, fruit, etc...) and water. JJ stocked up on beer.

Drove 2 hours along dusty, bumpy unpaved roads to Hustain National Park. It was a beautiful day, 15 deg C, with cloudless blue skies that stretched as far as the eye could see. Set up camp just outside the border of the national park while O whipped up a yummy dinner of pasta (which turned cold in a matter of minutes). Didn't expect the temperature to drop so much so quickly (3 deg C). Scrambled for warmer clothes and sat down to dinner in pitch blackness save for the light coming from our lamp.

And then I looked up and was completely blown away. The night sky was dotted with millions of stars! Bright twinkling eyes looking down. Such a sight is truly a rare treat for me! (Think big cities) Ordinarily I would barely be able to see a handful of stars in the city sky let alone the Big Dipper sitting just above the horizon; We spent ages just absorbing the magic of
the night, the silence, the tranquility. After about half an hour or more (and a crick in my neck) we were preparing to crawl into our sleeping bags when I noticed a bright pin prick of a glare peeking from above a little hillock in the distance. I passed it off as light from a neighbouring village but the longer we watched, the brighter it became until we realised we were actually watching the rising of the full moon. Again we were content to just sit and watch till the moon settled into her place amongst the stars. I went to bed feeling like there simply couldn't be a better way to end a day. What a privilege!

Here are some pics from the trip... more to come once I sort the other set out.

The Big Dipper!!

Starry starry night