Let’s try something new:
Dear Bolormaa and Ishwanchig,
Firstly let me say thank you very much for waking up at 5.30am on a Saturday to meet me off the train from Irkutsk. I have to say it is always quite a relief to see someone carrying a sign with my name on it because I know I am in good hands for at least this part of the trip. From the very outset you both seemed determined that I should see everything there is to see and we headed straight to the War Memorial, set high on a hill, reached by how many stairs? You did tell me! Not taking any hesitancy from me you sped off up the hill and I attempted to keep up, I thought I did quite well considering I am about three times your age. The War Memorial was one of those curious circular designs featuring reliefs of the subject. I have seen these in many ex Soviet countries. Back down the stairs and driving out of the City I had my first glimpse of the steppe, my first reaction was green, how could it be so green? This was to be a recurring reaction all over the parts of Mongolia we visited. So green and verdant and so vast. Our destination was the enormous statue of Genghis Khan, or Chinggis as he is known in Mongolia, completed quite recently by an International team of engineers and designers. I am struck for the first time that Chinggis and his family created the largest land Empire the world has ever known, from way out here on the steppe of Mongolia. I see that it is the tallest equestrian statue in the world and my goodness it is tall. There was a museum and you explained the development of the ger, the Mongolian version of a yurt, you also threw a fur around me and took photographs as I pretended to be a world conqueror. Up and up then to the viewing deck, battling the tourist hoards from Korea where we had a fabulous view of the surrounding countryside and the river Tuul. You took more photos and seemed pleased with the result. Time to move on and we made our way back to the city, I remarked on the amount of traffic, you reminded me it was Saturday, I have completely lost track of the days. A visit to an upscale Mall featuring a supermarket bearing the Whole Foods logo, I wonder if they know. We bought a SIM for my phone and you spent at least an hour negotiating with the phone company as we drove along before it started to work. A break for lunch at a neighborhood supermarket where you informed me we were heading to a National Park for the night and away we went.
The roads of Mongolia are not, shall we say smooth, but there don’t seem to huge potholes it is just not smooth, a result I suppose of the harsh winter conditions. It is not as if they are going to repave the roads every year after the snows have melted and anyway our driver, Ishwan, avoided the worst bumps. Taking photos from the back seat was challenging though and I have had to delete many photos of the sky or road surface taken as we swerved, rocked or bounced. There goes my opportunity for National Geographic Photograph of the Year! We stopped at a temporary lake with horses drinking and you kindly stopped the car for more photos but some other tourists were operating a drone and scared the horses away. I do have to complement you Balormaa for your very professional use of the very low bushes, practice makes perfect I suppose.
Kilometers later we swerved off the road and joined a rough track out onto the Steppe. Oncoming vehicles required us to leave the ruts and take our chances on the grasslands, not a problem for our hero and driver Ishwan. More kilometers of the track and we came to a ger camp. I did explain gers didn’t I? A ger, or in other parts of the world a yurt, is a portable round tent. Balormaa, you did try to explain the difference between a ger and a yurt but the distinction eludes me apart from the fact that yurts have bent roof supports and gers have straight ones. After my short sleep the night before which was interrupted by the border crossing, on The Trans Siberian Express from Russia, which took 5 hours (they locked the loos!) I was exhausted but you helpfully suggested a short nap after which we would go and look at wild horses. Well, looking at wild horses is not high up on my list of exciting things to do but you seemed excited so I went along, go with the flow, as they say. A nap, some tea and back in the 4by4 for more rockin’ and rollin’ on the rough track to Hustai National Park where we attended a short introductory film and looked at an exhibit on how the Park was developed. My enthusiasm began to match yours Balormaa as we were given a short lecture on the Przewalski Horses, the only true wild horses in the world, but even so I had my doubts that we would see any, maybe one in the far distance. Oh no you said, every evening they come down to the river to drink and we may see many. There were other keen horse spotters out on the Steppe, some enthusiasts hiking up the hills for a chance of a horse observation. On we went along the rutted track until we saw a lone horse high up on the skyline. My heart stopped, this was absolutely the stuff of an Attenborough BBC documentary and I was wearing my blue shirt (!).
We parked and walked about cautiously, trying to be unobtrusive, as more horses appeared high in the hills and began making their way down to were we waited. Excitement built as more and more appeared from all points of the compass making their way down to the river, quite narrow, where we were. We were surrounded by these beautiful animals that looked at us somewhat disdainfully and just carried on with being wild horses. It was definitely a lump in the throat moment and I found it very moving. Ishwan took over my camera and I persevered with my phone but between us we captured the scene quite convincingly I think.
Balormaa and Ishwantrig that was just the best possible day, you showed me a side of Mongolia I would not have seen without you, your pride in your country was apparent and as a result I went to sleep keenly anticipating seeing more. I was not disappointed and that is a story for another day.
I hope more visitors to Mongolia will share your knowledge and enthusiasm and that your careers will continue to develop successfully.
Thank you again.
Much love and kind regards.
Useful information: Mongolia tour organized by Anard at Zaya travel.
Mighty Genghis Khan.
Ghinggis and me!
Horses spooked by drone.
Sunrise on the Steppe.
Sunrise with distant gers.
Horses on distant skyline.
On the way to the river.
A battle for mastery of the herd.
Interior of ger.