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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ger to Ger - Complete

See the pictures!

Our Ger to Ger trip was a wonderful experience. I’ll continuously update this post till all is said and told. It may take me a bit longer till I can publish the pictures, we altogether have about 500 and I want to select the best.

Our trip started early on Wednesday morning, we were the first on the bus at 6.45am, shortly afterwards Kris from Australia arrive who joined us for this trip. At 8am the last seat in the bus was taken and the luggage was safely stored in the aisle. There was so many luggages, that we had to climb over the seats to get in and out. The streets went from bad to worse the farther we got. After passing Karakorum, there was just a dirt track left, at times there were several different tracks running almost parallel.
Around 6.30pm we arrived in Tsetserleg, the “capital” of the Arkhangai Aimag. There our driver awaited us to take us to Ih Thamir, where our trip should start.
Urgaa invited us into her house and served us milk tea (consisting of milk, water, salt and tealeaves) and Cheese. Signing the guestbook we discovered that there were only 30 people who did this trip before us.
From there we hiked for 30 minutes to the first Ger. One of the suggested activities on the program was to rest our feet in a stream. And indeed we had to cover several small streams and because the stones were pretty slippery, everyone got their feet wet :-).
The whole day it has been raining on and off, but just as we started to walk the sun came out and there was a beautiful sunset.
Bat Ochir bid us into his Ger and served us milk tea, Borzg (fried cookie) and Cream. The location of this Ger was perfect, it was close to Ih Tamir, but the only thing you could see was wonderful countryside. After setting up our tent close to the forest, we had our first Nomad Dinner; it was soup with fresh noodles and small pieces of meat. Everyone was pretty tired from the long trip, so we soon went to bed.

Day 2:
Protected from the forest, the sun only woke us up around 10.30am. The first thing I saw was how the neighbors were skinning a sheep. After a Nomad Breakfast (Borzg and cream/liquid cheese), we packed our things onto a yak-cart and started our journey.
Bat Ochir and his dog led the way. We walked along a valley, seeing several Gers on the way. One was just being dismantled and the nomads ready to move on. Again we crossed several rivers; I tried my look on foot: two times my socks got wet, and once my trousers (which I had rolled up to above my knees!). Shortly afterwards we saw the Ger to Ger flag showing the location of Batdelger’s Ger. After drinking milk tea and setting up the tent Evelyn and I decided to go for a swim in the river, which was pretty cold. Dried by the last rays of sunshine we joined the nomads in the Ger for dinner. With our phrasebooks, dictionaries and vocabulary lists we tried to learn more about their lives. The correct pronunciation often got in our way, but through describing, charades and pointing words out in our book, we got the meaning across most of the times. Batdelger was kind enough to lend us a blanket and a deel to protect against the cold weather outside.

Day 3:
On this day we started our journey on horseback with Mongolian saddles, they are made out of wood and have ornamental metal pieces at the side, thus they are not very comfortable...
My horse was very nice, it followed my every command. We crossed several creeks and rivers before entering a long valley. On the hills to both sides of the valley we could see large forests. The valley slowly led us to a hill with a big ovoo on top, where we stopped for lunch.
Here we said goodbye to Batdelger and his daughter and continued the way on our own. The trail directions were easy enough: take the left road at the fork. There even was a sign to support this information. First we walked through the dense forest, which reminded me of the forests back home, but soon we came into another valley which we followed for almost 2 hours. On the way we met no one, just a group of horses grazing on the hills. Finally we saw the end of the valley and close-by a couple of Gers, but there was no flag! A couple of minutes later we found a sign, pointing to the right, so we rounded the next corner and there we spotted the flag next to some Gers on the horizon. But nothing is as easy as it seems, we first had to cross a river before reaching our destination totally exhausted after 3 hours walking.
We quickly put up our tents; we were getting experienced and followed the nomads to the animals. There we could watch how the men caught and castrated a yak.To celebrate the occasion we were served Airag (fermented mare’s milk; alcohol content: 3%) and Shimiin Arkhi (distilled Airag; alcohol content: 12%).
These were the first Gers we encountered which did not have solar power and thus no electric lights in the evening.

Day 4:
I woke up “early” in the morning and could observe how the nomads milk the cows and yaks. First the young one can drink, then it is put into an enclosure and the cow or yak is milked. Then the young one gets another go. This process is sometimes repeated several times. After breakfast we started this day’s journey, again on horseback. My horse didn’t want to go anywhere. It turned out that it was the father of the foal which was walking along and Kris’ horse was the mother. So at the beginning my horse just followed Kris’ horse, but hers didn’t want to walk either and so the nomads had to take our reins and pull our horses onwards. I got a Mongolian saddle again, this time it was not so comfortable anymore, and my ass soon started to hurt. After riding for several hours it started to rain heavily, fortunately it didn’t last long, however, it was long enough for us to get drenched. Fortunately it was not long to the next Gers and the sun soon came out as well, so we could dry our clothes.
There were a lot of children around these Gers; they just loved to pose for pictures and afterwards look at the results. Again we could observe how the horses, cows and yaks were milked. The children all helped wherever they could.
Dinner consisted of rice, potatoes and meat (of course), it was delicious.

Day 5:
This promised to be an easy day, just a couple of hours travel with a yak-cart. First we had to cross the river and the boys used two horses to bring us to the other side. After a long walk uphill we reached the peak and continued downhill through a beautiful forest. It soon gave way to a grass hill, at the bottom of which we could see our destination.
There the kids lead us to the hot springs, which were close by. In the program it said “Take a bath in a hot spring” and indeed there were houses built next to the hot springs and in one of them we found two bathtubs, one of which could be filled with hot spring water. The bath was extremely refreshing.
We cooked lunch, it was now almost 5pm, and shared our spaghetti with the kids who had accompanied us. Back at the Gers we walked to the Stupa which was located just behind the local school. There I spotted a dragonfly on one of the many clothes wrapped around the spires. After dinner I helped with sawing wood with a whipsaw and the girls did acrobatic exercises with the younger kids who had a great time.
At first we wanted to spend some time alone to play a couple of games after dinner, but the older kids had other plans, they brought their ghetto blaster to our tent and played music from tapes. The ghetto blaster could even flash in blue and red colors. So we had our own private “Nomad Disco”. That was great fun, even though the music wasn’t quite my taste ;-).

Day 6:
The night was frigging cold, Kris had ice on the outside AND inside of her tent!
Before continuing with another yak-cart, we were very glad that there was no horse riding for today, my butt was still sore from two days ago, we visited the local school of the valley. We could visit both classes; they had approximately 20 primary school students each. They were all dressed very nicely and were very polite. The walls were decorated with various drawings and the teachers looked like they worked with all their heart and soul.
On the way we stopped at the ruins of an old monastery to cook our lunch. Then we came to an old reindeer stone which is part of an ancient burial site.
Our next Ger was just next to the bank of a beautiful river, unfortunately the weather was too cold for a swim today.
Because we had some free time we sat at the river and just enjoyed the beautiful view. Jargalsaihan, our host for tonight, played with us traditional Mongolian games after dinner. The first was a kind of horserace. All that we needed were a lot of anklebones of sheep. They were differently colored and have four unique sides representing horse, camel, goat and sheep. You could move as many fields as you threw horses with four bones. If you threw one each you could move 4 fields. Evelyn won the race, followed by Jargalsaihan and Michaela. Kris, Sofia and I had a close race for the fourth place, in the end I managed to pull ahead.
In the second game you had to bring two bones with the same side up together, and then you could take one. After all the bones were distributed everyone gave the same number of bones for the next round. Whoever had no bones left had to leave the game. I managed to hold on to the very end, but then lost to Jargalsaihan who obviously had a lot more practice than I :-).

Day 7:
First thing I did in the morning was swimming in the river. However, it was colder than I expected, after standing in it for a couple of seconds my legs started to get numb! Nevertheless I swam a couple of meters, what a joy; a great refreshment.
Today an ox-cart carried our luggage. But because we told Jargalsaihan that we would like to do some horse riding, we could take two horses along which we rode in turns.
Our journey took us across a valley and along a beautiful river. Time seemed to fly with these varied landscapes.
After arriving at Batchuluns Ger we again had some time to relax. Then we helped to saw wood with a whipsaw and joined the family while they were milking the cows and yaks.
After our dinner the driver arrived and signaled that our trip was about to reach an end.

Day 8:
Shortly after we got up Batchuluns family started to dismantle their Ger. At first I was wondering whether they were getting ready to move on, but we soon found out that they had to replace the wheel which holds together the roof. We were helping them wherever we could, it was a great experience and I got a closer look at how the Gers exactly are built. After replacing the wheel we put the roof back together.
The goodbyes took a long while, but then we finally were in the jeep and back on our way to “civilization”. The drive to Tsetserleg took a long time, on the way we stopped at the driver’s family and were promptly invited in for milk tea and borzg.
After reaching Tsetserleg we tried to figure out how to get back to UB. There was an official bus planned for the next day, but we weren’t sure how to get tickets. After we found the information I sat outside the ticket office to wait for the return of the guy selling the tickets. There were a couple of microbus drivers there as well and they wanted to make me believe that the bus was not running because of a) the wheels were broken, b) it was not running tomorrow and finally c) it was sold out. The guy selling the tickets came back and confirmed story c), however, he was encircled by the microbus drivers who were talking to him avidly in Monglian so I was a little bit skeptical and decided to check the situation personally the next morning.
For dinner we went to “Gost Tavern – Pub & Night”. Shortly after we had our goulash, they dimmed the lights and started playing music, it was 6pm! At one table close to ours there were four Mongolian guys who ordered a bottle of Vodka and a bottle of water, they were drunk within minutes and always wanted to encourage us to join them and dance...
We stayed at a guesthouse for the night, unfortunately it was located in the same building as another disco and so we had music till 3am.

Day 9:
We got up very early to check the bus which should leave at 8am. The driver told us that it was sold out and we quickly saw that this was true by the amount of people who wanted to get in. Just next to the bus was a microbus ready to leave for UB at 9am and so we took that. A couple of minutes after we took our seats, Austin who we last met in UB just before leaving on this trip, walked in, he had spent the last couple of days around Tsetserleg horse riding. The drive back to UB was very long. In Kharakorum something below our car broke and we had to drive back to a “garage”, a shed with equipment for welding and other things. After about 20 minutes the problem was solved and we continued on our way. We reached UB shortly before 8pm.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ger to Ger pictures

The 5 of us took 821 good pictures. I tried very hard to select the best of them, you can see the results here:

Unfortunately I ran out of space on the school server and had to delete some older pictures. I will restore them once I'm back home.

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