Living like a nomad…

TERELJ N.P., JUNE 2002 - We arrived in the early afternoon in Ulan Bator (UB) with a Mongolian train, coming from Beijing.  We had travelled for a full day and night, with an almost endless stop on the Mongolian border in between… We were tired, after having seen so many desert, steppes, horses, camels, … and swallowing so much dirt.  But we were very excited to see this city from the distance.  The most striking part to me are the ‘suburbs’ which are a mixture of traditional nomad yurts (called ‘gers’ in Mongolian) and basic wooden houses, sometimes not much bigger than sheds.

Mongolian Countryside

The next day, we left the hotel early to go into the Mongolian countrysite with the bus.  Our destination of today was to visit some Mongolian nomad settlements, and to go to the Terelj National Park, where we would sleep in ger tents ourselves !  Everybody was pretty excited about this idea.  The first thing on the way were the ‘suburbs’ we had already seen from the train,  in close-up this time.  These appeared to me really unbelievable and so different. Mongolian people just prefer to live in a ger, and the sheds are mostly only used in winter (by the way, temperature difference between mid-summer and mid-winter is 70 degrees Celsius !).  Also in the suburbs , horses are a normal way to travel, and on rare occations some use them even to go ‘into town’.  But these days, also a lot of old (Russian) cars around.  The dust in these places , like on the infamous ‘black market’ I visited, is covering everything !

The countryside was soon becoming desolate, and the dust dissapeared, and nice green hilly landscapes were unfolding.  Almost no other traffic on these roads, only nomad settlements and horses and herds besides the road.  We stopped to meet some men reparing their truck – standing in the middle of the road, but if it is broken, what can you do ?  The pieces of the engine were on display before the truck, and someone was hammering on some pieces… These men were friendly guys and they asked us ourselves to have their picture taken, as if they were proud of their repair work that was now lying in the middle of the road.

Nomad family

Mongolian Gers Real nomads in here !

Later we stopped to visit a nomad family.  This campment consisted of two ger tents, and some herds of sheep & goats, some horses, and two very big dogs – which were to my relief very friendly and did ignore us all together…  Our Mongolian guide asked the ‘chief’ (the oldest man) if we could visit them and enter the ger.  The inside of the ger was very nicely decorated, with a family altar and several carpets.  Our guide translated some of our questions.  We learned that this ‘man of the family’ was the 70 year old son of the woman sitting in front of the ger (she was believed to be ‘almost 100 years’, but her actual age is not precisely known) .  Mongolian people are rather superstitious, and we had read about not turning your back to the altar or elderly people, always move in clockwise direction inside and (obviously ? ) not leaning on a supporting post.  The man explained us they could set up the tent in about 15 minutes, and that the outside consisted of three layers of felt during winter.

Ger camping

Real tourists in here ! Lots of rocks to climb

Then it was time to move on, and to move into our own ‘ger for one day’.  In the fabulous environment of the Terelj National Park, there are several ‘tourist campments’ with ger tents.  There is a wooden restaurant with bar, and there are some light bulbs here and there, but there is no running water in the gers, no showers,  and as in a real ger, you have to make your own fire to keep you warm in the evening.  And the stay was very enjoyable, I could easily stay another week in this place.  During the day some walking between the rock formations, enjoying the views or some horseriding, and in the evening talking with the locals (i.e. learning some Mongolian for you, for them learning some English) , having fun playing cards or billiards (very popular with the locals, but they get very noisy at night, especially some drinking… – it is also a tradition that they sing traditional songs afterwards).  But to me the real spectacle only begins around midnight, because then the stars are bright in the ink black night, and this is a great place to see them all (or nearly all).  I drifted a little bit away from the camp at night, and I could see nothing but stars and the milky way ! It was so wonderfull ! However our Mongolian driver who was with me – who only spoke like three words of English, but knew a lot about star constellations… – warned me not to stay long out there, because of the wolfs…

The following morning, for the first time during this trip I really felt cold,  partly because we did not get up in the middle of the night (some did…) to keep the fire going in our ger, but also because I had to leave this fantastic place & these people today.   But I hope to be back one day…

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