Am on bus back into Ulaan Baatar from the Ger camp. Was such a great experience out here to get a somewhat sheltered introduction to the Mongolian nomadic way of life. Around 40% of the population live like this and both fortunately and unfortunately this way of life is slowly dying. Fortunately because the nomads are getting better access to services normally only received in cities, especially health care which is extending the life expectancy of the people. Unfortunately though, grazing land is being eliminated as the main industry is cashmere from goats but goats eat the roots of the grass not just the stems so the grass does not regrow and the land cannot be used for grazing for many years after re-seeding. Also as the young people have to go to the city for education, they whet enticed by the city lifestyle and many elect not to return to the nomadic lifestyle. The government is attempting to address this by improving infrastructure and access to services on country areas and providing higher salaries for professionals who work in country areas rather than the city - not dissimilar to what our own government is doing.
The nomads move on average 3-4 times each year and we visited a family near to our camp. The mother who is 65 had gone into the hospital in the city as she was not well. One of her 7 sons now helps her tend to the herd of cattle and goats. We were given some Mongolian milk tea which tasted foul, and some Mongolian sweets while our honcho told us about the family, translated our questions and explained about the nomadic way of life. It was quite surreal to just be sitting in someone's Ger that is their home, all their possessions and life. Before leaving we presented the host with gifts such as rice, flour and lollies and chocolates for the children.
Earlier in the day we went horse riding which was great fun. The horses were beautiful stumpy things with thick fur coats, making me wonder that if the thick coat was an evolutionary thing for the climate they live in, was the stumpiness also evolutionary given the Mongolians are generally short themselves? My horse was mostly cooperative, yet for some reason "giddy up" didn't get a response. He did on a number of occasions attempt to break into a trot and thought better of it on each occasion as he realised that the fat b****** on his back would bounce when he did! The lense of my sunnies popped out and fell into the snow as the metal frame shrank so much in the freezing temperature! So I shall have to source myself a pair of cheap ones along the way to replace them. We rode for about a hour to a place called turtle rock which funnily enough had a giant rock formation that looked like a turtle! Seems the Mongolians are as creative with naming things as we Aussies are (e.g. Big Banana).
Upon returning from the ride, we sat down to lunch and I had some boiled meat with rice which was given flavour by fat and salt, Mmmmmm.
After getting back from visiting the family we went tobogganing which was a world of fun, laughs and spectacular stacks. My tailbone is still a little sore today after one stack I had where I hit a bump, I bounced up, the toboggan kept going but I just came right back down to earth with a thud right on my ass. Other highlights were the many face plants in the snow as the toboggan stopped but I did not.
Yesterday was also the first day that we actually had snow fall, was quite light but it happened on several occasions throughout the day. Last night was one of the clearest skies I have seen in many years, and you could see stars shining bright in every direction you looked. The sunrises here were also pretty spectacular.
Before dinner we tried on some traditional Mongolian costumes and as I didn't have a partner Trent kindly kitted up in the female outfit making for a very creepy photo! Dinner was, you guessed it, boiled meat, this time however the meat was boiled by placing red hot stones into the pot. Post dinner we watched a documentary on Ghengis Khan which was quite interesting. Of note was that Ghengis was the first leader to introduce the concept of meritocracy as the basis of selection - and it worked wonders for him - perhaps I should recommend the documentary to the AFAP to watch!
Almost back in town now, was quit difficult typing this novel on the bumpy road. Off to the national history museum and then jumping on a train tonight to Russia.