These photographs are taken at our friend Iklama and Tugi,s family Ger campabout 55 kilometers west of Ulaanbaatar yesterday. The state of the highways here is as interesting as the roads in UB. Much roadwork under construction and cars just have to pick a way through the dug up signless mounds of rubble, bitumen and deep holes.
Finally, out into the true countryside. This is Monglia. The countryside is stunning with open landscape and hills without fences. The country at the moment is very dry. Last time we came was a bit later in the season, June July and the same hills were green. Now they are still brown from the long winter. Unlike our countryside spring does not generally bring rain. The rainy season is more likely to be August; though it did rain yesterday and the forecast for next two days is also rain which will do much to improve the landscape. The harsh winter cold of as much as -40 degrees Celsius is too cold even for snow and dries the earth to dust.
If only computer and Internet technology could create a scent file to share. I am sure the future will bring this. How I would like to tag the smell of the Mongolian countryside. As soon as I stepped out of the car the heady herbal scent I remembered from two years ago came back. It is just the most exquisite scent of the herbaceous plants emerging from the dry earth. It is like an exotic kitchen preparing the finest dish of sage, tyme and rosemary; but different. I cannot describe the smell any better. And the crisp fresh air. This is what we have come to Mongolia to experience. UB is in complete contrast to this experience. Sadly, this time the countryside is only for the day. We still have exhibitions to be with and work to do. Soon we will take our trip to the Gobi and more countryside.
In this valley live several families of herdsmen tending to yak, sheep, camel and horses in the traditional method. Tugi’s family have taken over the ger camp also in the valley and welcome tourists and use a mix of traditional and modern methods to give a wonderful experience.
The sleeping gers are new like and clean and the food served was traditional soup, salad and hire horeshew, delicious. A group of American visitors were on the books today so we were invited out to witness the working tour which included an explanation of life in a ger and a how a family moves camp for the seasons. Each family will up and move about four times in a season to follow stock feed for animals and to shelter over winter. Gers have a summer and a winter covering, the winter being twice as thick with felt as summer. Everything is made by the smiley from felt rugs, dried milk products, cheese and clothing.
After lunch and the Americans had left we were invited to rest in one of the gers and how peaceful a sleep we had. There is a comforting atmosphere inside the silk lined ger with the stove fire burning. A swallow also had found a camp inside the ger to raise a family. When the rain tapped lightly on the glass roof covering we were mesmorised to sleep. The gentle breeze nudging the steel chimney against the wooden roof structure drummed a lullaby. I didn’t want to ever leave. The headiness of burning birch, herbs, light rain and wind song were sirens from the steppe gods. Sleeping Tugsoo, Mervyn and Jenni in the warmth of the windowless felt ger, warm and ever so cosy.
When we rose from our deeply relaxing siesta the family had brought all of the traditional hats and boots into the eating ger to show us. The woman of the family are as many Mongolians are expert seamstresses. Seduced by the exquisite quality of the cloth and tailoring I have ordered a married woman’s outfit to add to our collection of traditional Mongolian clothing.
The afternoon rain produced stunning rainbows across the golden hills. The rain of course made the roads even more terrifying. I had hope our hosts would decide to stay overnight instead of driving back to UB. Nothing seems to phase Mongolians. Not the completely mangled newish Toyota 4 x 4 that appeared to have rolled over… Nor the three car pile up. As dusk descended the road became more slippery and the toll point was a mystery, was the toll for the mess of a road or a collection point to find money to finish it?
The drive home was as eventful. There were smashed cars on roadsides and other mini three car pileups. I was praying hard to anyone who was listening to get us back to our apartment, safely Tugi also sang Mongolian songs with great strength in his voice to the accompaniment of the Cd player. The windows fogged and darkness fell… The rough road on the way out to the countryside was me a series of puddles. At least in the dark we could not see them