The trip to Central Mongolia started in the crowded bus to Kharkhorin. Apart from handful of foreigners, it was occupied by Mongolians traveling with lots of stuff so that we had to squeeze our backpacks under the seats. Only the chickens were missing there. After a few hours of driving accompanied by Mongolian music hits, the bus stopped for the lunch break. We entered one restaurant that in the end was closed but the owner invited us to join him and his family at the back. Our hosts offered us what they were just consuming: warm vodka and all kinds of freshly cooked offal. It was a tough decision from what to start.
(Un)fortunately as the bus started the engine we had to leave our new friends rushing to the shop to get some “normal” food for the rest of the journey.
Once we arrived to Kharkhorin, we explored the possibilities of moving further. After asking (or rather trying to ask) locals, comparing the offers from different guesthouses and talking with other foreigners, we decided that the easiest and the least time consuming although not so cheap choice for us is to go with the 5 day trip from our guesthouse.
And so we left the next day early morning for the first part – 3 day horse riding. The road, initially paved turned quickly into the path through the empty steppes crossed from time to time by the river. The place from where we started is in beautiful Orkhon Valley, next to the waterfall about 100 km away from Kharkhorin.
When we arrived, the nomadic family living there was just in the middle of removing horses’ testicles that afterwards were grilled and served as a delicacy together with shots of vodka. With such an introduction, the guy from whom we purchased this trip left us there with some supply of water, salads and biscuits packed on the other horse and said “see you in 3 days”.
Together with our newly met horseman Bent we left for the adventure. The first day he was quite reserved, riding meters ahead of us and singing or hanging on the phone. If we tried to ask him something he used to reply margaash (that means tomorrow in Mongolian). Within the time and with the help of google translate the distance between us got smaller and we started having some basic conversations.
One of the expressions we learnt was a greeting Nokhoi Khor (literal translation “Hold the dog”) as every nomad family has one or two dogs to keep watch over the camp. When arriving to the yurt (called in Mongolian ger), someone always came outside holding onto the dogs and inviting us inside.
Once inside, we were always welcomed with traditional Mongolian tea with milk and big portion of yoghurt with sugar. Apart from this, the menu was all kinds of offal served: stand-alone, with fat or with homemade noodles. It was repeated each day. A few times we also tried butter – it was a bowl full of butter with one spoon that was shared between all of us. Even if sometimes we didn’t like what we were served, refusing would be considered extremely impolite. It’s still better to take at least a small bite or sip of it.
The nomads use all the products coming from the animals they have (often yaks) like milk and meat, or skin and yak shit to burn in the stove. Yaks are also used for transportation.
Living in the yurt was unique occasion to participate in nomadic daily life, for example milking yaks.
On the second day we had to cross the mountains to get to Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes). The nature is simply beautiful, so empty and untouched. It’s mostly vast steppes peppered with yaks, horses or sheep and the only sign of people apart from the nomads and very few tourists (during this whole time we met only 4 small groups) are the empty bottles of vodka left behind.
The nomads’ life is very simple, usually the whole family stays in one yurt and the second one is kept as a guesthouse. The décor of the yurt is minimalistic, the family usually has very little of their belongings like couple of family pictures and small altar. Not having any access to electricity or running water, they use instead a car battery and the water from the river or lake.
Their life is concentrated around the stove, if it’s for preparing the food or just chilling, that is placed in the center of the yurt while the younger generation if doesn’t have to help their parents, plays outside until it gets dark.
The yurts are made of basic wooden construction with a few layers of felt wrapped round the whole structure. It has the advantage that is easy to assemble, dismantle and load onto horses or yaks for transport. Depending on the size of the yurt, it can be done anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours. As nomadic herders move at least three or four times a year in the search for good grazing lands, this feature is very important. The nights in yurt were quite cool. Before going to sleep we always started the fire that gave lots of warmth (sometimes even too much), but then it was finished in the middle of the night so our sleeping bags + 2 layers of blankets were very useful as none of us felt like sticking the nose outside not even mentioning leaving the bed and start the fire again.
On the last day we were joined by one dog which became our companion for the whole day of 35 km, fighting constantly with the dogs from other camps that we were passing. We finished our trip by arriving just before the huge storm. Due to the weather there was nobody to pick us up and we got stuck for one more night in the yurt camp without the shower.
Next day we visited the nearby waterfall that to our surprise was very busy with young Mongolian crowd. After couple of photo sessions, we escaped to continue the second part of our adventure…
In the story appeared:
Song: Boerte – Karawane // Mongolian Long Song and Khoomei