As promised we had our cast iron hearth topped up with animal dung at 3am ensuring we were toasty when we woke up to the snowfall. There are no problems with privacy here as there are no locks and Mongolians will just walk into any ger without knocking, it isn’t considered rude and we are getting used to it and when it is beneficial, for example you need your hearth refuelling at 3am, it is most welcome.
Throughout the night you can hear the sound of sheep and goats shuffling around the ger, we had been warned to keep the door closed as the dogs would try to open the door if they were afraid of something. The dogs are there to defend the animals from wolves by barking and scaring them off, if that doesn’t work the want to come inside (which I don’t blame them).
In the morning we tentatively poked our heads our the door and saw the light dusting of snow covering the surrounding countryside which was picturesque but flipping freezing considering our main activity of the day was a 4 hour horse ride. We went back into the toasty ger to try and get our heads around the day!!!
Badz appeared with breakfast, bread, hot water, jams, German pate etc and we dived in. At least it was all familiar food.
We waited around for sometime as the Dad of the ger, Dorio, was off tending his herd and getting the mares ready for our trekking. In the meantime Gran had to leave for town so we said our goodbyes, gave her a gentle hug (otherwise we would have smothered her). She is quite the loveliest Mongolian I have met.
Both of us were a little uncertain about this activity, neither of us being particularly horsey people, the last time I attempted horse riding was in New Zealand and my mate Colette can testify that I was no natural (not helped by my horse being slightly tempestuous).
Thankfully Mongolian mares are smaller and more placid so that immediately made me feel better than the huge beasts you encounter at home. We were dressed up in traditional Mongolian horse riding outfits which thankfully are not tight jodphers and unfortunately no helmets. Although we look a hoot these clothes were really warm when it was freezing and breathable when it warmed up.
We got dressed up by Badz and Dorio, I felt like I was five years old again, being dressed by someone else. We then managed to clamber onto the mares, it wasn’t pretty or easy.
My mare was on a leash and being coaxed a long by Dorio, Guy was on his own but managing to steer, stop and go albeit along the lines of a knackered shopping trolley. Mine was a stubborn lazy mare, I spent all the time at the back, a good 10m at the back, with not much success in getting her to go any quicker. I did have a teeny whip but was too nice to use it. Every once in a while the dad just came up behind and shouted ‘Choo Choo’ at which point her selective deafness disappeared and she got a move on.
Off we trotted along the valley where were were staying. It was a simply stunning with the snow covering the hillsides and the herds of sheep, goat, cows and horses on the periphery. Every few kilometres there was another ger with suitably positioned long drop. After a while the sunshine came through the clouds and the scenery became epic. The wide valley now has snow capped mountains on the horizon, and we are riding with a rock escarpment on our right and then we follow a trail into a mini valley, surrounded on all sides by imposing rocks. In the distance we can see some ruins and a temple teetering on the rock face and we trot, slowly in my case, towards it.
We disgracefully dismount (I nearly take Dorio out) and sit and stretch our legs. Dorio pulls out a COLD can of Heineken from his swollen coat! How he kept it cold I don’t know but we all took a swig and Tok Tooy’ed each other til the can was finished. We then wandered around the temples, clambered up to the teetering temple and enjoyed the views, then scrambled down to wander through the ruins (Badz said these were from the Mongal empire) and marvel at the trees (maybe eucalyptus?) which were in various states of decay.
The journey back was at an amble and with the sun shining and blue skies returning it was simply stunning. Dorio got our horses to canter as we near home and even mine gets going for a bit. On dismounting Guy seems to be in agony as I think his reins were too short so he has the John Wayne look about him.
Lunch in the ger was horsemeat soup with hand made noodles and potatoes which is delicious.
The mum, Dolgar, not content with having served up lunch for everyone then carries on working making donuts (flour, water and jam) for about 50 people. I help with cutting up the dough and she fries them all off. We get to taste them and they are absolutely delicious.
She is an amazing woman, out milking the mares in all weather’s, cooking for about 10 people each meal as the uncle and other relatives live with them to help with their 1600 (approx) herd, toss in a few tourists turning up with their guides and drivers who need feeding makes her a human dynamo.
Dorio pulls out 4 freezing Heineken’s from under a bed and we watch satellite tv (intermittently). Beer finished we retire to our ger and the uncle and daughter come in, unannounced, for a game of snakes and ladders, Mongolian style, We let the daughter win (!).
We need to stretch Guys legs and aching parts so take a walk up the escarpment just behind the ger. There are breathtaking views, again.
We have new friends in our ger, a guy who is passed out and doesn’t wake up til the morning (it is 6pm) and a French Canadian who is off for a horseride with Dorio. Outside the sheep and cashmere goat flock is heading towards the ger in formation making a gentle munching sounds as they enclose our ger camp for the night.
The sun disappears and leaves the steppes tinged with orange and purple.
We head over for dinner and chat to the French Canadian lass watching Dolgar create another meal from mutton and noodles. As a canape we have off cuts from the sheeps head that was cooked earlier. Tough but tasty is my verdict. We also had a boiled rib which was a bit fatty but the meat was rich and chewy. I am still wondering where the luscious lamb leg and shoulder meat is.
We settle down to watch Mongolias Got Talent with the family, tourists and guides. We are routing for the teenagers playing traditional Mongolian instruments, the trio dressed as cats doing acrobatics and hula hoops are engaging.
Guy has Mongolian milky tea and the dad has disappeared never to be seen again which means we have to have our medicinal vodka in our tent straight from the bottle. The French Canadian isn’t too shocked.