We've just returned from an overnighter in a national park north of Ulaanbaator where we stayed in a ger with a herder family. Very, very interesting not least the arrival of snow today as first predicted by the Worcester Park world weather centre and James (MacAskill) Scott!
Bye the way if some of you are puzzled by Buddist Monasteries and Ben Nevis as postcard photos this is because we need to use a standard photo until we load our own.
One of the most interesting and differents so far was to stay with the semi-nomadic herder's family in Terelj National Park. This sort of experience is widely available but this was not a tourist camp - this was the real thing. We got dropped off at their home - one of the gers (tent) in a small cluster sitting beneath a rocky outcrop. A ger is a circular tent-like structure, one room, with a wood-burning stove in the centre kept burning all day. No running water, no sick, no cooker (other than the stove) and all cooking is done in a large wok-like pot placed on top of the stove. There are few items of furniture - dash a couple of dressers, 4 beds and a fridge (yes electric is brought in with a single cable). A low kitchen table and stools are in the centre. We're uncertain how the family was made up as they had little or no English and we have no Mongolian. But they were all very friendly and welcoming.
We were greeted with some bread, butter and sugar to make a sugary piece (reminded us both about our simple Scottish past!!) and Mongolian tea, which seems to be hot flavoured milk. We had 3 main meals and breakfast. The meals were simple affairs and all contained the same main ingredients (mutton, carrots, onions, potatoes) and variety was provided by the addition of rice or noodles or made as a soup. Tasty and filling.
The toilet was outside in a corner of their plot - a draughty shed over a hole in the ground. We avoided too many visits. Generally hygiene was a concern. The chopping board and knife were never washed just wiped with a dirty rag and put back in the drawer. Flies were always buzzing around. With water always having to be carried from the well it was at a premium and we never saw them washing their hands!! But we did have an inkling of what to expect, have survived with no ill effects and haqve a better understanding and appreciation of the simple but hard lives other people lead.
The biggest friend we made was Aska the dog who took to us and chummed us on our walks and protected us from other animals - mainly other dogs. We saw a good few eagles and other birds, mountain goats as well as a selection of domestic horses, yaks and oxen.
During our evening meal there were 9 people in the ger who we think were extended family - all tucked into the same food as us. The young lady of the house seemed to have a suitor. Afetr dinner he arrived with Mongolian horses already and saddled up. We'd been a bit uncertain about riding after Eric falling off the horse in South Africa but at this stage it would have offended to have refused. Out of the blue one of the women produced her desh (a long quilted silk coat) to keep Margaret warm on the ride (see Terelj photos) as the temperature was dropping quite quickly. We headed off just as daylight was fading for a romantic moonlight ride along the valley.
Family and us were early to bed at 9pm as there is absolutely nothing to do - although we entertained each other with hand games, hand shadows, etc. Woke early to a bright but freezing morning, blowing through snow. Morning was spent helping the family gather much needed firewood for the stove. The herder was highly impressive when he shinned up treews to lop off branches with his axe. The gathering was not a random affair - the women carefully graded each branch and bundled them on the back of the bullock cart to be brought back down the hillside.
A worrying aspect is that many of the trees are either dead or dying and we wonder what will happen when the wood runs out both the look/ecology of the area and the local people who depend on it for their daily life. We presume they just up sticks and move to a new area.
It was certainly an experience to see how a fmily can live with such limited resources and see them looking so healthy and happy. As we would wanted to find out more about the family and their way of life and sent some questions to our Mongolian guest house. Our family's name was Gantumur and in winter 2006/7 they were planning to move to another site - although keeping their summer site (where we stayed) They are an original nomadic family but nowadays they do not move so much because Terelj is such a beautiful & natural place with good grazing. Interestingly their children study in Ulaanbaatar.