Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yurts, Gers and Mongolian Nomads

The Mongolian sky is endless, I always thought Alberta was "Big Sky" country, and then I spent a week galloping across the Mongolian steppes.

The past 6 days were spent walking, horseback riding and camel riding around Bulgan aimag (province) in Western Mongolia. I signed up for a eco-tourism getup with an Irish couple to spend a week carousing with the locals.

The first day we traveled to our first ger (yurt) and settled into the landscape. It was vast and empty with almost no greenery to support any substantial life. Even though the pictures show swaths of green - it is deceiving - the grass grows only inches and sprouts in small tufts that are separated by the lack of nutrient content. We mounted our camels and set off for a few hour ride, then a massive sandstorm rolled in. Somehow our guide found his way in the storm to a spectacular sacred site covered in blue cloth celebrating the sky.

The second day was a bit of an adventure, our guide from the day before was too hung over to actually do the scheduled program so we made our own program hiking all the rocky crags and hills in our site. Vodka is a burden everywhere in the world.

Our next site we stayed in the ger with the family, watching solar-panel powered black and white TV crowded around a 14" set. A Night in the Museum isn't as good when its dubbed in Mongolian. That night we were greeted with one of the most spectacular sights of my life - with a sunset that gave a panoramic vista of mountains, sand dunes and pastures filled with goats and sheep.

Our last site was nestled into the mountains and we rode more horses, hung out with the nomads and ate traditional Mongolian food with the families. This traditional food consisted of dried mutton, noodles, more dried mutton, more noodles and the occasional milk tea. Now back in Ulaanbaatar - I went for pizza.

Few people can say they have galloped across the steppes and in the same trip visited mountains, monasteries, sand dunes and rolling hills. It was spectacular.

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