Dear Guest! Thank you for visiting my website. I'm a Mongol and I live in Mongolia which is the ancestral heartland for more than all 12 mln. Mongols who live now in 8 countries/Mongolia/3.0 mln/, China/6.0 mln/, Afghanistan/3.0-4.0 mln/, Russia/0.8 mln/, Iran, Burma, Kyrgyzstan and in Pakistan/. We, the Mongols are even more separated than the ill-fated Kurdish people. If Mongolia can bring Kyrgyzstan's Sart-Kalmyks, China's Kuko-nor's Mongols, Russia's Kalmyks and those Hazaras who are clearly of Mongol appearance what they have been discriminated for, back to the central land of their ancestors?! They wouldn't be coming to Mongolia as refugees, they will be here at home. ... If Astana is bringing the ethnic Kazaks from different countries to Kazakhstan in order to make their country stronger, why Ulaanbaatar wouldn't consider to do the same?! We have enough land for every Mongol who wants to settle permanently in Mongolia for the ethnic reason. UN should help us too. When Soviet Union ended up with the splits, Germany has received ethnic Germans from Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and other former republics too. Ukraine did the same.
We invite you to visit Mongolia and its people. You will be visiting a people with centuries-old nomadic lifestyle, listening to the absolute silence and breathing the purest ever air and seeing the eternal blue sky dominating over this beautiful land on Central Asian plateau:
green taiga forests, the second largest fresh water lake in Siberia, ancient burials, icy streams of crystal clear rivers, in its north,
two-humped camels, towering sand dunes, green oases with saksaul trees, rocky mountains in scarsely green plains, natural formations of cliffs... in its South,
endless steppes, homeland of best horses, bird gathering at blue lakes, fishing rivers, numerous gazelles, volcanic craters... in its East,
snow capped mountains, great lakes, rock paintings, steep canyons, yak herds and massive sand dunes, mountain and field caves ... in its West!
Discover Mongolia with Bolod's Tours which operates since 1991!!! Stay comfortably in Bolod's Suburban Guesthouse!!! It's a truly experienced native tour operator and guesthouse reccommended by Lonely Planet's "Mongolia" guidebook of 2001/page 139/, 2005/pages 69, 72/, 2011/page 58/ and its "Trans Siberian Railway" of 2006/p. 263/, "Mongoru"/in Japanese/ by Globe-Trotter/ of 2007-2008/page 56/, "Mongolie" by Petit Fute of 2008-2009/page 86/and on thewww.mongoliatourism.gov.mn- the official tourism website of Mongolia.
What's now the situation with Mongolia's tourism like? As Mr. Davaadorj Ts, the Minister of the Manufacturing and Trade admitted on October 2nd, 2007, on TV, "-Now, most foreign tourists enter and leave Mongolia by foreign-owned airlines or trains, stay at foreign-owned accommodations, eat at foreign restaurants and travel with foreign tour companies". It's true, indeed, nowdays.
This country doesn't need foreign investments in fields where the Mongols are capable or must do businesses themselves. What kind of foreign investments does Mongolia indeed need? The country needs foreign investment in manufacturing and technology most!!! Mongolia's rulers must serve in the interests of their own people.
Exodus of rural population and export of Mongol women are the greatest threats to the further existense of Mongols as a nation...
Nationwide mining boom and gold rush are the greatest threat to Mongolia's nature... The gold may feed the people for 50 years, while preserved Nature-Mother would be able do it for another 5000 years.
Thank you for taking your time visiting my modest website.
I will keep my website live and constantly updated.
Impressions of the Mongols:
1: "Two were Mongolian lamas in shabby robes of saffron and crimson, bound at the waist by twisted sashes of faded purple cloth. One lama had a crushed felt hat on his shaven head, the other was bare-headed, and both wore high, leather Mongol boots. The one with hat was tall and rather gaunt, with a long nose, and sunken cheeks below high cheekbones. The other was shorter and more thickset, with a broader face. Both might have been taken for American Indians. As we camp up, they were in the act of replacing their carved snuff-bottles in their belt-purses, having taken them out to exchange them with third man, who had just joined them.
The newcomer was a layman, with a frank, pleasant expression in contrast to the somewhat furtive looks of the lamas. He too would have resembled an American Indian except for the long, drooping moustache under his small, finely chiseled nose. Unlike the lamas, he was wearing a dark blue summer robe of heavy serge, with a red sash, a brown belt hat, and cloth boots. Though the features and dress of all three were so typically Mongol, and unlike anything we had seen in China, I thought I would try the experiment of greeting them in Chinese. The taller monk answered, with quite a strong accent, explaining that he, like many other lamas of the border regions I had visited, often had occasion to deal with the Chinese merchants in buying things for his temple, and had learned their language in that way.
pages 6, 7. "The Land of the Camel" by Schuiler Cammann. 1950. The Ronald Press Company. NewYork.
2: " We found the Mongols to be a hospitable people with full, healthy-looking faces and often with handsome and intelligent intelligent features...
In the morning several Mongol men and women looked in on us and very kind-heartedly sewed the extensions on our sleeves and fixed knapsacks for us. The Chinese have a long way to go to match the Mongols in kindness...".
"The Chinese Agent In Mongolia" by Ma Ho-t'ien. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1949.
3: " Here, for the first time, we accosted representatives of pure Mongol race; truculent-looking rascals they seemed to us, after the reserved and rather timid Uriankhai/энэ тохиолдолд Тувачуудыг хэлж байна.А.Б/. The natural influence of the wild life and freedom of the open Mongolian plateau could be traced in their careless and reckless manner; they were loud-speaking, rough soldiery, used to a hard life, apt to bully those below them, but respectful to their superiors./page 260/
...Thus we never saw the Khan/of the Durbets/; and much to our regret, for he was a rare type of an hereditary prince of ancient stock, claiming direct descendent from Jenghis Khan himself. One evening two of his sons visited us, giving us thereby an idea of appearance of a Mongol of a good birth. After our dealings with the rift-raft of the herdsmen, with rough soldiers and with primitive hunters, we had grown accustomed to the idea that all Mongols were heavily built, rough, ill-mannered, ugly to look upon, and with leathery faces, but these two Mongol gentlemen astonished us by their indefinable look of breeding and by their charm of manner. Of average height, and lightly built, with clean, sharp-cut features, soft, dark, olive skin and small hands, they showed a marked contrast to their retainers. Their had the refined air, the politeness of manner, courteous style, which belongs only to those Mongols who are accustomed to rule...There is still "spirit" left in the Mongols, judjing by these two men of a good birth; they, at any rate, gave us no impression of decay or deterioration. Turned into the right channels, the Mongol Khans could wield great power to good effect. Even now the tide is turning, and when the nomads have realized their strength and regained their self-reliance, they may also regain their independence..."/pages 269, 270/.
"Unknown Mongolia" /a record of travel and exploration in North-West Mongolia and Dzungaria/ by Douglas Carruthers. 1913. London. Hutchinson & Co
4: "The houseboys, Chinese privates from the Sarachi district of central Suiyuan, tried to crowd into the mess hall, saying that if "that no-account" could come in, they could too. They recognized him as a Mongol by the scarlet vest he wore with his student uniform-no Chinese would wear anything as bright- and Sa-hsien people, as members of the first wave of Chinese migtation into the Mongol grazing lands, are the most open in their scorn of the people they dispossessed.
Their feeling was even more obvious next morning when Fred went to ask the cook for an extra plate of eggs to give Dunguerbo. "Mongol no good!" the Chinese servants said with emphasis. This annoyed us very much, as Dunguerbo had a far finer personality and a much more generous nature than most of the Chinese we had contact with up there"
page127, "The Land of the Camel" by Schuyler Cammann. The Ronald Press Company. New York. 1950.
5: "Huc and after him, Prjevalsky have described the Tsaidam Mongols as morose and melancolic, speaking little-in fact, hardly better than animals. I was glad to find all those I met quite different from what the accounts of these travelers had caused me expect. Not only they showed themselves ready to do anything for me, but they expected themselves to make my stay agreeable, inviting me, or playing on a rough kind of banjo they manufacture themselves".
page 130, "The Land of the Lamas" by Rockhill W.W/a journey into eastern Tibet and Mongolia in 1888-1889/.
6: "Away in the distance we had seen some black spots from which faint columns of blue smoke were raising peacefully in the morning air. these were the yurts, or felt tents, of the Mongols, towards which we were making.. .. All round the sides of the tent boxes and cupboards were neatly arranged and at one end were some vases and images og Buddha. In the centre, was fireplace, situated directly beneath the hole of the place. I was charmed with the comfort of the place. The Chinese inns, at which I had so far had to put up, were cold and draughty. Here the sun came streaming in through the hole in the top, and there were no draughts whateever. Nor was there any dust; and this being the tent of a well-to-do Mongol, it was clean and neatly arranged"
-"Among the Celestials" by Captain Younghusband, C.I.E. London. John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1898
7. "...Pass begins. The carts here began to progress in brief spasms, and the gradient, together with the general conditions, made this a somewhat painful experience. Leading our ponies, we were able by devious paths to discover rather smoother going, and the number one Mongol, a charming old man of some position, who, having no mount, now seated himself (without invitation) on the shaft of mycart, remarked that " The great one must be possessed of extraordinary strength to be able to walk like that". I learned subsequently that a horseless Mongol is just about as much use as a seagull with its wings clipped. The missioneries had arranged that this same old Mongol, Dobdun, by name, should act " boy" for me on the way up, i.e. boil water, peel potatoes, and spread my bedding at night. I liked him very much, but mainly for the sake of his picturesque appearance, for besides being very stupid, extremely lazy, and knowing not one word of Chinese, he had not the foggiest notion as to how to do anything for my comfort beyond getting me hot water, and smiling in a paternal way, when, to relieve my beasts, I got out and walked up the steep places.
By the time we were at the top of the pass, between five and six thousand feet above sea level, it was dusk. We had taken our time over the ascent, an icy wind was blowing, and the scene before us was desolate indeed. Earlier in the day and under normal conditions the traffic here is very considerable. Not so at the time of my visit, for beyond being overtaken by a couple of
Mongols trotting swiftly along on camels, who drew rein for a few seconds just in order to pass the time of day, or, more literally perhaps, to put the inevitable question as to our destination, before they flew on again, we encountered never a soul. I had never seen camels trotting before and they reminded me of leggy schoolgirls fielding at cricket, for they scatter their limbs about in just such an ungainly way..."
\from "A tour in Mongolia" by Beatrix Bulstrode\Mrs. Manico Gull\ published in 1920.
8. "...Our first halt was 30 versts from Kiachta, where we found a rest-house used by travellers, at which one could obtain the use of a samovar for a few kopecks. These rest-housies had only just been put up and in point of cleanliness and accommodation were very far below the standarct of those on the way from Verkhne-Udinsk.
After our meal we continued the journey for another 30 versts over fine country with pretty scenery. The snow was still to be seen lying in drifts out of the sun. How we rattled and jolted over the ground ! Sometimes we went at a canter, the telega swaying from side to side as the yamschiks urged their ponies forward. At times when descending a hill at a gallop, we thought our last hour had come, and in vain we remonstrated with the drivers, who in true Russian fashion shouted " Nitchevo." Our expostulations were in vain and in the end we resigned ourselves to our fate. A more nerve-shattering travelling experience it would be difficult to imagine. Just as it was beginning to grow dusk we sighted, on the bank of the frozen Yero, our resting place for the night. It was the only sign of human habitation we had seen since leaving the first rest-house after lunch. Here the ponies were taken out and attached to the telegas by their halters. To our disappointment we found other travellers already in possession of the only available accommodation, and fast asleep. The hut was very dirty and overheated by a huge Russian stove which seemed to take up all the room. There was no ventilation of any kind, and, as every effort was made to keep the door shut, the atmosphere in the one and only room could be better imagined than described. Henningsen and I decided to sleep out in the telega, notwithstanding the temperature, which by this time was very low. We lined the bottom of this vehicle with all the skin rugs we could find, and shifted it into a position to protect us from the wind. The wind increased in force until at midnight there was a blizzard from the North and, curled up in the telega, we ha-d the greatest difficulty in keeping warm. It wae so cold that even the ponies put their noses in our cart to find shelter from the wind. When the day broke, we crawled out of our uncomfortable bed, isuffering from want of sleep, cold and cramp in the limbs from lying in one position so long, and went across to the hut where we found Wong preparing tea — a very welcome beverage after our night in the open.
We were on the road again with the wind behind us and, having crossed the Yero not many yards from our halting place the previous night, we followed the cart track winding through a valley which has all the characteristics of Siberian scenery. A few hours later the weather showed signs cf improvement, and by midday the sun burst through the clouds, much to our delight. Here and there off the road we caught sight of Mongol yurts, and of sheep and cattle grazing on the sides of the hills and in the sheltered parts of the valley. When we came to a particularly stiff climb we invariably eased the load and stretched our legs. Sometimes we rested on the tops of the hills to give the ponies a spell, and this enabled us to get a good view of the surrounding country for many miles.
In the afternoon of the following day we reached another small station where it is usual to halt for the rest of the day. From the Yero to this place, we had done 60 versts without stopping longer than a few minutes to rest the ponies after a stiff climb. Here we found a tolerably clean isha of a better type than we had hitherto encountered, and we made ourselves as comfortable as circumstances permitted. A stream runs through the long valley and on the opposite side we saw a cluster of yurts and a temple standing out in the landscape, conspicuously painted in flaming colours of yellow and red. The scene was aSso enlivened by ducks and geese, and by plenty of lama duck, a variety peculiar to this part cf Asia.
The next morning we set out at 8 o'clock with the knowledge that progress would be slow and tedious over the pass leading to Manhatai, where there is a telegraph station in charge of a Russian. A very stony road leads to the foot of the pass through a well wooded valley. Snow drifts and melting snow, with boulders every few paces, rendered it anything but easy going for pedestrians in heavy boots. The ponies threaded their way cautiously along the track, but the telegas rocked from side to side, with a jerky motion, and we were thankful not to be inside, as the jolting and jarring of this springless vehicle must have been trying, to say the least. Mr. Henningsen and I were walking ahead and just as we came to the top of the pass, a Lama appeared with his servant, leading their ponies. Both stopped and appeared to be apprehensive of danger. The Lama gave the Mongol greeting, to which we responded by raising our right hands, fingers closed and thumbs pointed up. As we approached each other we noticed that the Lama was armed with a Mauser pistol, which, when he saw that we were two inoffensive travellers, he handed back to his servant, who concealed it in the ample folds of his sheepskin coat. He made a few remarks in Mongol which we could not understand, and after trying him in Chinese, we gave him him up as hopeless. We were told by the Russian in charge of the telegraph station that this part of the country is particularly dangerous in the spring and summer, there being many brigands who infest the pass and rob travellers, not stopping short of murder if they offer any resistance. The descent of the pass on the other side was equally bad going, the road leading into another valley in which we found the telegraph station and a resting place for the night...".“
\from "Old Tartar Trails” by A. S. KENT\
9. "...As we approached it, dogs began to bark, tent door opened, and fires gleamed. We had found inhabitants at last. We were soon seated by the bright fire of a lama's tent. The lama was about twenty-seven years of age, and lived with his mother, an old woman over fifty, and another little lama, about fifteen...", page 83, "Among the Mongols" by James Gilmour/1843-1891/,
Impressions on the Mongols\collected by Bolod \:
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2. "Diary of A Journey Through Mongolia and Tibet in 1891" by Rockhill W.W,
3. "Notes of a Journey in Northern Mongolia in 1893" by Borradaile, A.A.
4. "The Land of the Camel/tents and Temples of Inner Mongolia" by Schuyler Cammann. The Ronald Press Company. New York. 1950.
5. "China Caravans" by Robert Easton. Capra Press. Santa Barbara, California.
6. "Unknown Mongolia" by Douglas Carruthers. London. 1913. Hutchinson & Co.
7. "Men and Gods in Mongolia" /Zayagan/ by Henning Haslund. National Travel Club. New York. 1935.
8. "Beasts, Men and Gods" by F.Ossendowski, 1923, New York. E.P. Dutton & Company,
9. "Mongolia and Kam" by Kozlov Petr Kuzmich. St. Petersburg: The Imperial Geographical Society, 1905-1906.
10. "Travels In Mongolia, 1902": Journey of C.W. Campbell,
11. "The Desert Road To Turkestan" by Owen Lattimore, Boston, 1929.
12."1900-High Tartary" by Owen Lattimore. Kodansha International. 1994
13. "Among the Celestials" by Captain Younghusband, C.I.E. London. John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1898
14. "Mongolia and Mongols" /Presenting the Results of a Trip Taken in 1892 and 1893/ by Pozdneev A.M
15. "Chinese Agent in Mongolia" by Ma Ho-t'ien. The Johns Hopkins Press. 1949.
16. "Mongolia: The Tangut Country and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet" by N. Prejevalski, London. S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. 1876.
17. "Siberia, Northern Asia and the Great Amoor River Country" by Major Perry McD. Collins. New York. D.Appleton and Company. 1864.
19. "High Road in Tartary" /travels in Tartary, Tbet and China during the years 1844-1846/ by Abbe Huc. Charles Scribner's Sons. 1948.
20. "Across Mongolian Plains" by Roy Chapman Andrews. D. Appleton and Company. New York. 1921.
21. "The Story of the Mongols whom We call Tartars" by Giovanni Di Plano Carpini /c. 1180-1252/.
-"Accounts of the Mongols" by William of Rubruck.
22. "Travels" by Marco Polo.
23. "A Journey in Southern Siberia" by Jeremiah Curtin, 1909.-
24. "The Black Year" (The White Russians in Mongolia in the Year 1921) by Konstantin Noskov. Harbin, 1930.
25. "Report by the Russian consul in Urga Shishmarev on the situation in Mongolia, July, 1885"
Author: Shishmarev, Iakov Parfen'evich, 1833-1915.
26. "The Far Eastern Republic" by Junius B. Wood, National Geographic Magazine, June 1922.
27. "A Wayfarer in China" /Impressions of a trip across West China and Mongolia/ by Elizabeth Kendall.
28. "Унгерн, Урга и Алтан-Булак". Першин Д.П. Барон (Записки очевидца о смутном времени во Внешней (Халхаской) Монголии в первой ирети ХХ века).
29. Русский консул в Монголии: Отчет Я. П. Шишмарёва о 25-летней деятельности Ургинского консульства. Иркутск. Оттиск. 2001.
30. "A Tour in Mongolia" by Beatrix Bulstrode (Mrs. Edward Manico Gull) with an introduction bearing on the political aspect of that country, by David Fraser. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1920.
31. Ровинский П. А. "Мои странствования по Монголии" Вестн. Европы. — 1874.
32. Грумм-Гржумайло Г. Е. "Западная Монголия и Урянхайский край".
33. Рерих Ю.Н "По тропам Срединной Азии". Хабаровск. 1982
34. Владимирцов Б. "Монгольские сказания об Амурсане" Восточные записки. 1927.
35. Позднеев А.М "Монголия и Монголы" /Дневники и маршрут/. 1896
36. Козлов П.К "Монголия и Кам", Санкт-Петербург, 1905.
37. "Луч Азий", 1930-аад онуудад Харбинд хэвлэгдэж байсан сэтгүүл.
38. "Бог войны-Барон Унгерн", Макеев А.С. Шанхай, 1934.
39. "События в Монголий- Халх, 1920-1921 годах" /Военно-исторический очерк-воспоминания/, Шанхай, 1942.
40. "От Кяхты до Кульджи. Путешествие в Центральную Азию и Китай" /1892-1894/. - Ленинград, Издательство АН СССР, 1940. Обручев В. А
41. "Mongolian Adventure" /1920s danger and escape among the mounted nomads of Central Asia/ by Henning Haslund
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43. М. В. Певцов. Путешествия по Китаю и Монголии М., Государственное издательство географической литературы, 1951.
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45. "A Tour in Mongolia" by B.M. Gull," (1920), posted on Internet Archive
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47. "Outer Mongolia, Treaties and Agreements" by Carnegie Endowment, (1921), posted on Internet Archive
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Finding the Sacred in Outer Mongolia
By Sharon Steffensen
www.yogachicago.com / "Yoga Chicago Magazine", November Edition, 2006/
About 15 years ago, my friend Joyce shared with me an article she saw in the Chicago Tribune about a train trip across Mongolia. It sounded intriguing to both of us. Last July, after seeing an exhibit of Mongolian culture in Chicago’s Daley Plaza, I started to think seriously about going. By early August, Joyce, her 24-year-old daughter, Lotus, and I booked flights to Beijing and Ulaanbaatar (the capital of Mongolia), leaving September 10 for 19 days.
The travel agent in Chicago timed our departure from Chicago (a 13-hour flight over Canada, the North Pole and Siberia) to arrive in Beijing on Monday afternoon, so that we could take a plane Tuesday morning to Ulaanbaatar. There are only three flights a week to Ulaanbaatar from Beijing, one of the few cities in the world from which you can fly to Ulaanbaatar. It was a four-hour trip to the International Chingiss Khaan Airport (Mongolians’ spelling of Genghis Khan). Mongolians consider him to be a hero. After all, he united the Mongol clans, promoted religious tolerance and extended the empire from Beijing to Poland, creating the largest empire in terms of land the world has ever seen.
Upon arrival at the tiny airport, we took a taxi to Bolod’s Guesthouse, a backpackers’ dorm in Ulaanbaatar, which also arranges tours. We found it through Lonely Planet’s guide to Mongolia and had E-mailed Bolod before we left Chicago. It was located in a sunny, two-bedroom apartment that accommodated up to about 15 people. Within an hour, the driver and an interpreter showed up with a map and a tentative plan for our 10-day loop tour of the Gobi desert to begin early the next morning.
The interpreter, Erdenbat (Eric), offered to come along as a guide on our trip to the Gobi, and we decided to accept his offer since the driver, Jia, did not speak English. It would cost an extra $18 a day, in addition to $85 a day for the driver, van and petrol (split between us), and it proved to be well worth it, especially when it came to having Mongolian customs and observances (there are so many!) explained to us. Looking back, I can’t imgine the trip without Eric.
At Bolod’s we met Flurina, a Swiss woman in her 20s, who was trying to connect with people going to the Gobi desert. The Gobi is the destination of almost all tourists traveling to Ulaanbaatar. She decided to go with us, and we all went together to the State Department Store, where we purchased bread, cheese, apples, carrots, potatoes, toilet paper, flour, sugar, drinking water, coffee, tea, rice, onions and other staples.
That night we met an Italian woman who had just returned from a Gobi tour. She was exhausted, happy to be back at Bolod’s and told us stories about sandstorms, hard beds, biting flies and freezing nights.
We set out the next morning, traveling south, and within a half hour we were on unmarked, deeply rutted dirt/sand “roads”--basically tire tracks in the sand. This was the kind of surface on which we would travel for the next ten days, with an average speed of 38 kilometers (22 miles) an hour. Our van was a high, sturdy, Russian-built, gray vehicle with four-wheel drive and two other floor gears “for special occasions.”
We soon stopped at an ovoo, a sacred, pyramid-shaped collection of stones, with a blue silk flag on top and other items laid on it, such as empty Chingiss Khaan vodka bottles or small amounts of paper money. Eric instructed us to walk clockwise three times around the ovoo and to put three stones or other items on the shrine. Usually ovoos were situated near dangerous inclines or sacred places or at the edge of a village. Often we stopped to perform the ritual; sometimes Jia just honked and kept driving.
For the next several hours, we bounced along in the van; I imagined my abdominal organs getting a good jostling, shaking up stuck areas and massaging the tissues. The terrain was flat, and you could see the horizon in all four directions. We saw no other people, only occasionally some flocks of goats and sheep.
We stopped for lunch near a sacred mountain--so sacred the guide would not tell us the name of it. Even the Mongolians do not say the name aloud to one another. Apparently there are many places like that. We ate bread, cheese, salami, apples and tea and coffee. Jia had brought a small stove so we had hot drinks at every meal.
That night we stayed in a ger (a one-room, round felt tent in which the nomad families live) in Baga Gazriin Chuluu, one of the many protected areas where no hunting is allowed. There were huge boulders surrounding the area, which Eric told us were part of an ocean floor in ancient times. The family, which had a six-year old girl and four-year-old boy, raised goats; the father also served as caretaker of the protected area.
This family, like many of the families we stayed with, owned two gers. When visitors arrive, they let them sleep in one of the gers, while the family sleeps in the second ger. The cost is between $3 and $5 per person. Inside, brightly colored carpets cover the walls and floor. In the center are two supporting poles and a stove with a chimney that rises out of the roof. Opposite the door (which always faces south) is the altar, or sacred area, where they keep statues of Buddha, candles, incense and family photos. On both sides are couches that fold down into beds, like narrow futons.
We were also surprised to see a vanity table with a three-way mirror and matching chest of drawers. The women nomads wear makeup (including blue eye shadow), Western clothing and even high heels when they go to the market. Most families also had a satellite dish outside and TV, on which they watch the BBC news and Western movies dubbed in Mongolian. The TVs are powered by an outside solar panel and in southern Mongolia, where it is windy, by windmills.
Eric instructed us on proper etiquette inside a ger: never point your feet toward the altar; visitors sit on the left side, the right side is for the family; don’t pass things between the supporting poles-- reach around; the stove is considered sacred since it holds fire, which is also sacred, and is always cleaned after cooking. You would never burn garbage or toilet paper in the stove. Instead of firewood (there are no trees), the nomads collect dried dung, which burns well and has a pleasant earthy, musty aroma.
That night Eric cooked Mongolian dumplings for us made of goat meat, potatoes, onions and garlic, which he boiled and then fried, a meal we enjoyed several times throughout the trip. Although I prefer vegetarian, I decided ahead of time I would eat whatever was offered.
Because of the sandy soil and lack of water in the desert, Mongolians eat mainly meat and dairy products. It was common to see a big bowl of goat’s milk sitting on the stove. The skin that forms on top is skimmed off and eaten (very delicious!) or stored in a skin to be used later for cooking oil. Pans of curd cut into rectangles are seen drying outside on the roof of the gers. Tea is made from goat’s milk; the alcoholic beverage is airag, or fermented mare’s milk. To me, airag tasted like thin yogurt--a bit sweet and sour. In fact, almost everything tasted like yogurt in one form or another. Later, back in China, I sorted my dirty laundry and it still had the sweet familiar smell of yogurt.
The next day we drove through a narrow rocky pass near a gold mining operation. We stopped in a town called Mandalgov just as the afternoon session of school was getting ready to start. The older children attend from 8 a.m. until noon, the younger children attend from 3 to 7 p.m. The nomad children live in a dorm ten months out of the year; they have a three-week break midway through the term. Mongolia has a 99% literacy rate.
Since Ulaanbaatar, we had been driving through the steppe--low, stubby grass that goats and sheep eat. The terrain gradually gave way to rocky, gravely sand, which Eric announced was the Gobi desert. Since there was less for the herds to eat, and even less water, we saw even fewer animals and gers.
In the winter, many families move their gers near the villages, where they keep their animals in pens. By mid-September, most had already moved. Looking through binoculars, Jia finally spotted one ger. We drove across the desert to it and were greeted by a little girl wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and riding on a make-shift rocking horse made out of metal pipes. This family owned only one ger, but they let us pitch our tent nearby. It was a small tent for four people, so we had to turn over in unison, but we kept warm with two sleeping bags on the bottom and the other two on top. Jia and Eric slept in the van.
Shortly after we went to bed, I heard strange sounds just outside the tent. Florina, who had lived on a farm, reassured me it was only the goats and dog outside that had moved closer to the ger. All night I heard them snorting and breathing, sounds I became accustomed to and even enjoyed over the next several nights. The next morning we saw camels along the road and stopped to take photos.
In Dalanzadgad (population 15,300), a major town along the Gobi route, we went to the large open market surrounded by stores to buy supplies. It was bustling with children in school uniforms, women shopping, old men wearing traditional long Mongolian coats and dogs. We saw motorcycles, bicycles, Jeeps, a Land Rover and several ice cream carts hooked up to generators. The large residential area consisted of wide dirt streets with gers and sheds hidden behind tall wooden fences. No trees or foliage grew around them.
Dalanzadgad is just north of the snowcapped Zuun Saikhan Uul mountains. Although this area is usually dry, this year it had rained a lot in July, so the hills were green and lush. This area was one of the most beautiful of the whole trip. That night we were given permission to stay in a resort for Mongolians only. We had wondered what Mongolian women do for fun, and we found out that night when we heard a big group of them laughing, drinking and dancing to music played on a car radio.
The next morning we drove a half-hour to a place called Yolyn Am in the mountains, where we hiked through a deep canyon along a river to a place where the ice never melts. High up on the cliffs we spotted seven ibex. I would have liked to stay there a couple of days. Leaving the area, Jia took an adventurous route through a spectacular narrow gorge with only a few inches to spare on the sides of the van. This mountainous area ended abruptly as he drove up a steep hill and out onto a flat green plain. Here the road was smooth, and Jia could drive at 60 km (36 miles) an hour. Later that afternoon we drove west to Khongoryn Els to hike up and slide down the huge sand dunes (the highest is 990 feet).
On our way to the dunes we had seen a lone figure walking across the desert. She was still walking later when Jia looked for a ger for us to stay in. She had been collecting “firewood” a long way off and was on her way back home. We ended up giving her a ride back to her ger, where we stayed for the night. Her name was Togoo, which means “cooking pan”; her husband’s name was Od, or “all the stars,” and he entertained us in the evening with his accordion playing. Their ger was one of the most elegant-- larger than most, with beautiful carpets and furnishings-- like a living room where they entertained guests. It was situated high on a hill with a view of the dunes and the mountains beyond them on one side and rolling hills on the other.
Bathing and showering were not possible, due to the limited water supply, and after four days I could no longer get a brush through my hair. It didn’t really bother me, but when a fly got trapped in it, I indulged in a few cups of water for a shampoo.
Before we left, Togoo gave each of us a piece of hard curd (it looked like fancy cookie that had been made in a mold) with the anklebone of a goat sitting on top. Eric explained the many uses of the bones: dice, telling fortunes, playing games and other purposes. Togoo sprinkled a few drops of fresh goat milk on each of the doorways of the van before we got in, and as we drove away, she threw the rest of the milk at the van for good luck.
We drove north to a place called the “flaming rocks,” an area with reddish sand and huge red rocks, where the world’s first dinosaur bones were found. In fact, fragments of bones are scattered around the area (people pick them up as souvenirs). We rode camels (they are soft to sit on) out to the rocks, where we spent the afternoon climbing around. After we returned, the owner chased the camels off to the hills on his motorcycle.
The next morning we awoke early to the sun rising through the door of the ger. I was surprised that nomads sleep late (until at least 8 a.m.), which is about when the sun rose (no daylight savings time). Flurina explained that there is no reason to get up early. They can milk the goats whenever they want to, as long as they’re consistent. We continued driving north past an organized tourist ger camp (with a homemade sign pointing to the “bar and showers”) toward some mountains that were green part way up, topped with irregular, jagged black rock. The terrain was mixed: reddish sand, steppe and large mounds of green bush. Then black and yellow sand. There were no gers here since there was no water. We saw construction workers and heavy machinery digging a long, narrow trench for high-speed Internet access.
At Ongiin Khiid, we visited ruins of a Buddhist monastery, where 1,000 monks had lived until 1937, when the monastery and the monks were destroyed by Russian and Mongolian communists during the Stalinist purges. One of the temples is restored as a museum.
That night we stayed with a young family with an adorable seven-month-old son. They had lived in their ger for only ten days, and they were the most hospitable of all families we met. But we experienced more drama there than during the whole rest of the trip.
When we came into the ger, the wife passed around a plate of hard candies and bread, with fresh skin off the milk piled on top. Then she served milk tea with a cookie (or maybe a curd) that tasted like yogurt. Next came the vodka.
Mongolian protocol for accepting something is to always take it with your right hand, and support your elbow with your left hand. Before drinking vodka, you dip your right ring finger into the glass and flick the vodka into the air four times to honor the four directions before drinking. (If you choose not to drink it, you perform the ritual anyway and then slide your ring finger across your forehead.) The vodka was followed by airag (fermented mare’s milk). We played with the baby for awhile, and then the mother asked Lotus and me to help milk the goats.
As we went outside to milk them (their teats are very short and hard to grip), we found the husband killing a goat in our honor. It was quick and easy, and within a few minutes, the wife was cooking the organs in a large pan. (That’s why Lotus and I were milking the goats, so the wife could tend to the cooking.) Traditionally, the pan is passed around and everyone eats some of the meat-- and you must cut the meat off the bone toward you, never away from you. I ate a small piece of liver.
After dinner, we arranged our sleeping bags on the floor as usual, but this time the family, although they had a second ger, also slept in the same ger with us. I fell asleep almost immediately but was wakened later by what sounded like angry voices of people bursting through the door. It was dark in the ger, but soon a light came on and I saw the husband pass the candy/bread/milk skin plate to the late-night visitors. My first thought was that these were friends, but friends don’t barge in on people when they’re sleeping. Possibly this nice couple was in trouble with the law. Maybe they didn’t pay their taxes (if they pay taxes) and were being busted. Or maybe these were bandits who had seen the tourist van outside and were coming to rob and kill us. We’d be buried out in the desert and no one would ever know what happened to us. I started chanting to myself, “Hey Ram, jai Ram, jai jai Ram.”
The men left shortly, and all was quiet again-- for a few minutes-- until someone else burst in, also yelling. This time I looked up. It was dark, and the man had lit a match and was shining it around the room and looking at all of us. He looked mean. I was sure it was over for us. But like the previous visitors, he soon left. The next morning Eric told us that these were neighbors whose camels had wandered off and wanted to know if this couple had seen them. Apparently this is normal, and it wasn’t that late after all, only 11:30, but being asleep, I thought it was 2 or 3 a.m. Eric said the last man was drunk.
We went horseback-riding the next morning with the husband. When we finally left in the afternoon, we were back in the steppe again, which was very green, and here we saw cows, horses, yaks and goats. There were rocky hills and mountains, and we saw circular graves (large circles of stones) from the Bronze Age. Eric said the “democrats” were buried there. He explained that by democrats, he meant leaders.
We drove most of the day to Shankh Khiid, one of two monasteries in the region that had survived the Stalinist purges. It was closed, but a monk opened it for us. We slept in a nearby ger in a pen surrounded by goats and cows that had come in for the night.
The next day we drove a short distance to the hot springs in the town of Tserterleg. Finally a shower! The hot springs were accessible from a few stone rooms inside a long building built over the hot springs, which were varying degrees in temperature. Afterward we ate lunch in the restaurant nearby, which served soup with meat, carrots, potatoes and cabbage.
From there, it was a short drive to Erzene Zuu, Mongolia’s first Buddhist monastery. It’s built on the site of Chingiss Khaan’s capital, named Karakorum, which was established in 1220 and destroyed in 1388 by vengeful Manchurian soldiers. Whatever was left was used to help build the monastery, which was started in 1586 and took 300 years to build, but it was also badly damaged during the Soviet purges. The monastery contains several temples, and ceremonies are held there by the monks who live nearby.
A highlight for me at Erzene Zuu was that the gift shop had a real bathroom with flush toilets, the first we’d seen in over a week. It hadn’t taken long to get used to relieving ourselves out in the open-- over a hill, behind the ger, behind the van-- wherever. After a few days I was adept at squat pose. I could get my heels to the ground with no problem. The squat was the extent of my yoga practice out in the Gobi.
Actually, one morning early in the trip I came out of the ger and did a couple of yoga poses, but somehow it didn’t seem appropriate. The real yoga (union) on this trip was with nature--the terrain, stars, people and animals. It was all about being in the wide, open spaces, far from industrialized civilization, back in time with people who lived pretty much the same lifestyle as their ancestors hundreds of years before them (except for the TVs, solar panels and motorcycles). If you ever want to get out to the middle of nowhere, the Gobi desert is the place. It is quiet and serene, and the population density is four people per square mile.
One thing about the people is they are kind, generous and fun loving. In the desert we never saw an unhappy face; mostly people are joking around and laughing, and that included Jia and Eric. At times I wished I understood Mongolian so I could know what they were laughing about-- I’m sure sometimes it was the ignorant Americans who kept breaking the customs!
That night, staying in the city of Karakorum, we slept in a tourist ger camp (rows of gers with four beds in each). A “throat singer” entertained the tourists who piled into one ger to hear him sing and play several string instruments, including a Mongolian harp.
We left the town of Karakorum after loading up on meat and airag for the driver and guide to take home. (It cost much less than in Ulaanbaatar.) We opted to take a side trip north to Oogi Naur, where we stayed in a ger on a large, serene lake. It was windy and cold there, the grass was tall (knee-high) and the sky was overcast. When we arrived, the hosts were erecting a third ger, which took about an hour (Eric told us the record time is eight minutes).
The next morning it was foggy and misty and the lake was invisible. Jia played a CD in the van of a Mongolian woman singing. It complemented the weather and the quiet mood of our last day. Driving east, we stopped at Tsogt village, where we saw ruins of a mid-16th century city and artifacts in the museum from the 9th and 10th centuries.
We were out of food and stopped at a restaurant for lunch. The choices were soup with potatoes, meat, carrots and cabbage or a plate of rice, meat and carrot salad with mayonnaise. Soon we merged onto a paved road that connected Karakorum and Ulaanbaatar. It was sad to see herds confined to one side of the road, unable to roam freely to the other side. The road was almost as bumpy as the desert, and sometimes Jia drove in the sand rather than try to dodge the potholes. We passed a truck with all the parts of a ger piled on top and lots of faces peering out of the cab. The total trip was 2,400 kilometers, or 1,440 miles.
Back in Ulaanbaatar
Back in Ulaanbaatar, we took showers at Bolod’s and visited the Gandantegchinlen monastery, the largest in Mongolia. Since 1990, full religious ceremonies have been held daily. We loved hearing the monks chanting and decided to return the next day. I could feel that their sounds were beneficial to the earth, to humanity, to life, even as my camera was being lifted from my pocket. (Eric had warned us against pickpockets.) I practiced detachment over the 32 frames lost and was glad I didn’t have a digital camera.
The monks sit on long benches on both sides of the room facing the middle, with tables in front of them. They take turns chanting, and when they’re not chanting, they talk, laugh and make jokes. The atmosphere is informal and casual. Most of the monks have memorized the prayers, but the very young monks chant from books. Their higher voices brought a sweet sound to the mix.
Eric took us shopping at the black market (like Maxwell Street, only 20 times as large) where he held our purses and bargained with the vendors. The next day he and Flurina saw us off at the train station; we then took the Mongolian train to the border (12 hours) and then a bus (a dormitory on wheels with two layers of beds and TVs) to Beijing. Flurina gave us some good chocolate (something we had not been able to find in the Gobi) for the trip.
September is the best possible time to visit Mongolia. For us, it wasn’t too hot, the nights were not yet too cold and the flies were few. For accommodations and tours, visit www.bolodtours.com.