Mares milk and Mongols
by Ben and Gini
“Next up was the fermented mare's milk - which the locals drink in the same way we drink beer.”
After a couple of days on the train, looking out of the window at the endless countryside on the outskirts of the Gobi desert, we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
We were met by a guide who showed us around the main sites in the City. Most of the city was fairly run down but is it definitely being developed quite quickly. the main square (which is where Mongolians go on dates apparently) is surrounded by some quite grand looking buildings and statues. It is also home to a large number of pick pockets so we were told so we held on to our belongings closely.
We visited a monastery which housed an enormous golden Buddha. It was really busy with locals coming to pray. We then went up to the viewpoint up a hill to look out over the city. There is a definite divide between the rich areas, where people live in surprising modern houses which looked pretty plush to the poorer areas near the industrial chimneys that were really run down.
We were then driven for a couple of hours to our Ger Camp. We passed several other Ger camps on the way, just set up in the middle of nowhere. The countryside here is amazing, it seems to just go on forever.
We pulled off the road and drove a little while off road before reaching our camp down in the valley. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived and had a look round. We had a little Ger all to ourselves with our own cozy fire in the middle. It is so peaceful here. Just our camp and a smaller one about a kilometer away.
We arrived fairly late in the afternoon so just had time for a shower (there were actually proper showers here which we weren't expecting) and time to watch the spectacular sunset and have a couple of drinks in our little Ger before dinner.
After dinner we sat around chatting with other travelers for a few hours before making our way to bed. A girl from the camp had been in and lit our fire for us so it was nice and toasty. The temperatures here are pretty crazy. During the day it was bright blue sky and got up to over 25 degrees but at night it falls to minus 5 at this time of year. Apparently in mid winter it drops to below minus 30! I can't imagine what that is like living out here in the middle of nowhere! We admired the starry sky (probably the starriest we have ever seen!) for a while before heading to bed.
Next day after breakfast we
decided to go for a walk. We were accompanied by one of the dogs from the camp who we called Bessy. She followed us all morning - very cute. It was pretty hot out and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We climbed up to a viewpoint and then over the tip of the hill to the fields beyond. We passed by another, bigger Ger camp on the way that was guarded by some quite scary sounding dogs.
After a couple of hours we reached the gigantic silver statue that has been erected in the middle of the desert. What a monstrosity. Apparently they are making it into some kind of shopping and entertainment center. A bit of a shame I think as it is a real eyesore, especially out here in such beautiful, and otherwise unspoiled landscape.
We got back to the camp in time for lunch. The afternoon was spent taking the horses for a ride. The horses are quite a lot smaller than those we have ridden before and a lot less obedient! My horse seemed to like smelling Ben's horse's bottom most of the way which meant that my knee was unfortunately pretty close to it's bottom too.... It was great riding here though - we really got a sense of how vast the land is here and it was really nice being so out in the open air.
Another stunning starry sky at night. Ben saw his first shooting star.
The next morning we went to visit a local camp to see how the people really live. We met the couple who live at the camp and the lady gave us some pretty weird local foods to try, all made out of horse milk! First we tried some yogurt. It was still bubbling as it was so fresh. It was so tart though we struggled to eat it. The look on Chris's face when he was trying to force it down was a classic! Next up was the fermented mare's milk - which the locals drink in the same way we drink beer. It is around 5% alcohol and tasted grim! One sip was enough for me!
We watched the couple milking the horses. They let the foal take some milk first and then take over so the mother thinks the foal is still feeding. They rely quite heavily on the milk products, for food for themselves as well as to sell on to others to bring in some money.
In the afternoon we were driven back to Ulaanbaatar where we spent a couple of hours wandering around and changing money before getting back on the train.
Our short stop in Mongolia was a great experience. The culture and landscape here are both incredibly different to anywhere we have been before.