We were headed for the countryside to see the real Mongolia.
We drove out of the city after a brief shopping trip to get supplies for the weekend. It was all two land paved roads but the landscape was flat windswept and covered by about an inch of snow. Once past the city limits we saw only a handful of cars. About an hour and a half later there was a flash in the distance. As we got closer we saw a stainless steel statue about 100 feet high of Chinggis Khaan on horseback rising into the sky in the middle of nowhere. It was still under construction and by 2008 will house a tourist restaurant.
We circled around and doubled back before heading northeast. The roads began to wind and we soon saw rugged hills on either side as we climbed higher. The bridges over the riverbeds had to be a quarter mile long but only a relative trickle of water was frozen below us.
By now with the bright sun and cloudless sky it a warmed up to a mere 10 below zero. We rounded a curve and there without a building in sight was a lone Mongolian man accompanied but a three foot high Golden Eagle tethered to a rock and two camels (two humpers) comfortably kneeling on the frozen ground. Needless to say... we stopped. Baagii put on a heavy glove and lifted the eagle up to arm level. Then Mark and I mounted the camels for a brief stroll around the neighborhood. They stood up easily if a bit unevenly, but when we ended the trip they complained loudly about kneeling down again, perhaps because Mark is a good 6 foot 4 inches tall and a tad bit heavier than me. Anyway my first camel ride was short but uneventful.
Eventually we pulled into a tourist camp in Tereljhirota which believe is called UB-2 and we were told is famous in Mongolia. Our room for the night was a traditional Mongolian ger (pronounced gear). The ger is a round tent about twenty feet in diameter, eight foot high in the center and about five foot high around the outside Farther east it is known as a Yurt. It is a form of home to most Mongolians and I see them even in downtown Ulaanbaatar. It was heated by a cast iron stove which we started using wood and later fed by local coal which is a low BTU version called lignite that is highly polluting which is why Ulaanbaatar is normally covered in pollution haze.
The ger was furnished with brightly painted traditional Mongolian furniture and has two or three layers of sheepskin and wool in the walls and ceiling. We were wondering if it would stay warm but was toasty when the fire was roaring. We had a very late lunch and ended up in the billiards room for a few rounds of snooker. Baagii was easily the best player but we forgot to keep score and had a better time and a lot of laughs that way.
Later we sat down inside our ger for a dinner of bread, cheese, sausage and pickles accompanied by the locally produced Mongolian favorite, vodka made from either grain or milk. A perfect evening in true Mongolian style and an authentic Mongolian setting.
By ten thirty we crawled into the beds and covered up. I left my nose exposed to get air and kept the rest under wraps.
Our hero for the night was Baagii who emerged from his warm bed about 2:30am and again about 5:30am and rummaged about in the coals until he got some flame and then stoked the fire with wood and coal until it was blazing once again I went back to sleep to the smell of burning wood and the crackling sound of renewed flames.
Needless to say we did not get up early. Sometime after 9am we finally emerged from our cocoons and dressed for breakfast and a bathroom break.
After we packed up and paid our bill Baagii turned right instead of heading back to Ulaanbaatar. Soon he veered off onto a dirt path covered with ice and we slowly worked our way down into a valley. At the end was a corral with about 30 horses and a collection of gers. This was the real thing, a local family in residence. An elderly man invited us into the ger. It was much like what we slept in but also had a cooking stove, microwave and TV with DVD player. We sat down and his wife served us Mongolian tea in small soup bowls. Mongolian tea has not only sweet milk but also a dash of butter and salt. Through Muugii he told us a little about his family and life. There was also a young woman and a one year old boy who toddled about while we talked. One feature of a ger is there is no such thing as privacy and when the boy became hungry his mother unselfconsciously nursed him while we sipped tea and talked. This is the way most of the 2.8 million Mongolians live.
An hour or so later we crossed into the city which was clearly spotted in advance by the low hanging haze of pollution.