Byambaa is the local manager of our project who speaks fluent English and Russian and Chuka is a diplomat who speaks both languages and had previously been posted in Holland and most recently Australia. They had met while studying in Russia. I was in the back seat with Egshiglan in the middle. She had been in Australia during her early school years so spoke fluent English and entertained me with her jokes.
We drove for over an hour and passed through an old coal mining village are which was Chuka's home town so this was an area he knew well.
After turning off the highway and hurtling down dusty dirt roads. Well not exactly roads as we know them, more like tracks and several of them as well. When one gets too bumpy or full of ruts you just drive along side it and create another track. Many times we had three or four choices.
Eventually we came upon a collection of gers (round tents that the nomadic Mongolians live in) with fancy decorations and some very large gers up on platforms.
2006 was the 800th anniversary of the Mongol Empire and they had staged a spectacular performance including a reenactment of the Chinggis Khan's Cavalry in battle. The Mongolians are still to this day famous for their horsemanship. The Japanese were so impressed that they funded a place for tourists to come and see the battle over and over. There was only one puzzling factor. Aside from a few workmen there were no people and no horses. Chuka went inside on of the large gers and found a woman to talk to.
I had thought it just my lack of Mongolian skills that whenever I asked a local for directions I got a wave in a vague direction or instructions that were often wrong, not just a little wrong either. Chuka had asked the desk manager at the Puma for directions (after all they were one of the few places selling tickets) and this is where she sent us. But it was not where the event was being held. So even Mongolians get spurious directions at times.
We piled back into the Mitsubishi and drove up to the base of the hill where there were large rock outcroppings and a good view of the countryside. There the picnic supplies appeared and we had a brunch on a tarp in the wide open Mongolian steppes, although it is July the grass was only about an inch high and it appeared in little tufts 4-6 inched apart. I think sparse is a good description. This was the scene as far as the eye could see.
After a delightful snack we set out in search of the cavalry. Rather than go almost back to Ulaanbaatar Chuka set off cross country. And I do mean "cross country" mostly dirt tracks but often across the grasslands since there are few fences anywhere. Chuka used the sun, intuition, knowledge of the area and a few stops at gerís in the middle of nowhere to ask directions. Along the way we saw rare flowers that had no business growing in that harsh environment and pairs of cranes with youngsters (almost 3 foot high) scampering across the grass and over the gullies. There were occasions when we needed the 4 wheel drive. Eventually we came over a hill and saw the viewing stands for the Cavalry. Of course we drove in directly through the battlefield (much to the dismay of the show staff) since the real "road" came in from the other direction but the Cavalry was not to ride for another 2 hours so all was well.
We parked and walked up to the ticket counter. Since this was a "tourist" attraction it was a bit pricey. Eric and I were going to pay for the family and started digging for cash. While Chuka had been overseas a lot we discovered he was still a true Mongolian and a diplomat as well. When the chatter ended Eric and I had bought tickets and Chuka who was now the tour driver and Byambaa our interpreter and tour guide had free passes and the kids, well they just tagged along with the parents and no one asked questions. This is the Mongolian way.
After a brief mid afternoon lunch and an hour of Mongolian music and dances we saw the contortionists bend their bodies in ways that looked like they had to be movie special effects there was such incredible flexibility and balance.
About 3:00pm we moved to the viewing stands and saw horses gathering in the distance. The sign said to stay inside the stands as getting run over by a herd of horses is not recommended. There were 500 horses and horsemen dressed in Chinggis Khan era armor with spears, swords or bows. What a sight as they galloped wildly up to the edge of the stands amid clouds of dust and war cries. The battle was fast and furious with men and even horses left lying on the ground. Chinggis won (no surprise there) and spared the remaining captives when they joined his army. The final scene was a banquet with horsemanship and archery competition. All in all a visual and sensual experience.
This place was only 35 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar but we had driven more than 200 km to find our way there. I dare say we saw parts of Mongolia no tourist will ever see. Another of those "outing's" that turn into an impromptu adventure. Oh and the little girls loved it....