Central Mongolia attractions
We then set off to Bayangobi about 175 miles to the south west. As we drove through the high plateau grasslands, very green, there were occasional gers, herds of horses, sheep, goats, cows, and even a few camels. There were very big eagles, hawks and cranes. We stopped to watch a nomad family milk their horses to make the fermented mare's milk (an acquired taste!). We stayed in a tourist camp. All the buildings (restaurant and individual cabins) were gers. We know them as Yurts. There are like 5-star hotels without the terrycloth robes! They are clean and spacious (except for the low doorway getting in) with a wood stove in the middle. This area of Mongolia is populated by nomads who tend to live in groups of 3-5 gers (usually family members). They will move their gers and animals 2-10 times a year depending upon pasture conditions.
Our ger was a typical one. It was spacious inside with a hole in the ceiling to let in a lot of light and vent the wood stove. The round walls are made of a lattice-like wood frame - sort of like a huge baby gate, with the door facing south. Rumor has it - to keep an eye on Manchuria in case they might invade again! Above the latticed walls were many roof poles going from the walls to a circular wooden ring. This right has 2 vertical wooden column holding it up. The ger is covered with a layer of felt (maybe 2-3 layers in the winter), then a cotton layer, with a canvas layer (originally animal hides) on the outside. Our driver and guide ate with us - the 1st time this has happened since Africa. Our driver is the most sane of all we have had. Our guide's English was good and talking with him is both interesting and enjoyable. It is obvious that he truly loves and cares about his country.
The next morning we drove to a sand dune area, stopping to look at a winter animal shelter on the way. You have to love wind to live here! We also stopped at an 'Ovoo'. It is a pyramid-shaped pile of rocks, wood, various offerings, and many silk scarves (usually blue). Ovoos tend to be located at the top of hills, mountains, or passes and represent a shamanistic traditional offering to the Gods. The one we stopped at was on a hill next to the road. - sort of a 'safe journey' one. Wanting to insure
our safe travels, we tossed some rocks on it and walked around it clockwise 3 times. Anything to help with a safe journey!!
About 50 miles further was Karkorum, the 13th century Mongolian capital. Outside of town is the 1st buddist monastery in Mongolia (Erdene Auu Khiid). It has been vandalized and destroyed over the centuries, the latest was the Stalinisht purges of the '30s. Many relics, paintings and statues were saved by locals hiding them. What has been restored is very nice. Encircling the monastery area is a square wall of 108 stupas. Just outside the walls are 2 turtle rocks. We walked over to one - sure enough - a carved stone turtle on a rock. Turtles are considered symbols of eternity.
Our ger camp was near by. Were were very cozy inside during an evening rainstorm, and the fire in our stove was really nice. The next morning we drove up a hill on the opposite side of town to the 2nd turtle. There used to be 4 (n,w,s,w) marking the ancient town. Now only 3 remain. At the bottom of the hiss is Phallic Rock (representing God of Fertility). Legend has it that the rock was placed there to stop frisky monks from fraternizing with local women!!
As we drove to Khustai (Birch Mountain Range) National Park, we passed many prairie dogs and Siberian iris. Oh, how I wish I could take some of these iris home. The park was established in 1993 to protect the 'Takhi' = Mongolian wild horse. These horses became extinct in Mongolia in 1969. There were about a dozen in zoos in Russia and Europe. With the help of a Dutch fellow and international environmental agencies, 15 were reintroduced into this area in the early 199-s.
Today there are about 120 with 10 more births expected this year. The philosophy of the park is to let nature take it course, so wolves tend to get several horses each year. These horses are not domestic horses gone wild, but genetically different with 2 extra chromosomes. They are sandy colored with a dark strip down the back. The tail is more fan-shaped, the tail and legs have zebra stripes, the skull and jaw is heavier, the legs shorter than a domestic horse.
There is no forelock and the mane is short and erect. With the local park guide, we were aboe to walk within about 50feet of a small group. There were about 20 horses in this area - all very healthy and impressive looking.