After tea last night, we asked Badz what would happen with the leftovers and he replied it would be reheated into breakfast, so with some relief we welcomed his unannounced entry into our ger with bread, liver pate, jam buns and tea.
The temperature had noticeably dropped and the wind had risen. Cows were now settled infront of our ger. We waved bye to mum and shy crazy daughter while dad hacked up round the back. Dirt track. High speed. Bouncing. Tarmac.
Before you can ponder how immense this epic landscape is we’re at Erdene-Zuu, the oldest Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. The main temple buildings appear to my ignorant eye very Chinese in character with pagoda roofs and tiles. We enter the subsidiary buildings which have images of various Buddhist deities hanging and Badz explains their meanings to us. The main three temples have huge statues of Buddha as a young, middle aged and old man. We hear a loud chanting and Badz explains morning prayers have started so we head inside to see monks banging drums, clashing cymbals, blowing conches and singing. We respectfully sit at the back and watch the rituals.
Next location is Khakhorum, literally round the corner from the monastery. This was the old capital of the Mongol empire, founded by Chengis Khan, brought to glory by his son Ogdei and abandoned by his grandson Kublai who moved the capital to Beijing and founded the Chinese Yuan dynasty. Not much remains now as the stones were reused to build the monastery. The are info boards about an archaeological dig undertaken here and a modern plinth representing the post holes of a palace on the site. My imagination runs wild with what was happening here during the late 13th century.
But enough daydreaming, stomachs need feeding. We drive into the local town Kharkhorin and stop at a cafe. Once again I copy Badz and have fried small dumplings, deep fried crspy pancakes, milk tea with salt and Al has fried rice with kimchi.
We need to stop in at the shops for tonights tea so we head to Khakorlin market. Its a dusty wild west affair, with meat being sold off pickups, farmers sat around on their motorbikes and young men playing pool on tables outside. One of the Mongolian specialities is airag, an mildly alcoholic drink made from fermented horses milk and there is a shop here that produces a good quality one. The shop has an overpowering unctuous odour of fermenting dairy. There are huge blue tubs of milk and cheese and a mound of cows butter in an inflated cows stomach on the counter. Badz buys 10 litres of airag and we try some out of a bowl. It has the sharpness of a goats cheese leaving a slight fizz on the tongue.
Next is meat for tonight so we head to the horse meat van, where piles of very red meat with very yellow fat sit on cardboard. We buy what we need and high from our market experience, head to a museum.
The cloud has edged out the blue sky and the wind has dropped the temperature so its back in the van to head to tonights camp.
We head off the main road and drive towards a rock escarpment jutting out of a wide plain. This is Khogno Khan where we will stay for the next two nights.
The family are out working with their flock but there are three other backpackers here who have been on a 30 day tour! Crumbs. We say hello and then they retreat to their ger and us to ours. This is a summer camp so the ger is not sealed at the bottom and force drafts swirl around our ankles.
The temperature is dropping and back in the ger the fire is fading. A Grandma suddenly appears at the door, steps into the ger and shuts out the cold wind behind her. She is stooped and small and weatherbeaten but tougher than us soft westerners. She opens the hearth door and mutters to herself. Over the next 10 mins she fetches fuel, builds the fire, lights it, patches a hole in the ger where draughts are coming in whilst constantly talking to herself. We are both utterly captivated by her and her cheeky grin. We find out later she is 77.
Toasty, we relax a bit waiting for the nod for tea. A bird flies out from under Al’s bed startling us both. It attempts to fly out of the clear plastic at the top of the ger near the chimney pipe. We casually dive out of the door and a few seconds later out flies the bird.
Our next visitor announces tea and we head to the family ger for deepfried horsemeat dumplings. They are rich and sweet and delicious. I eat five. Al doles out presents for the family and Dad ( Dorio) opens the vodka. We have first go, then Dad, Mum (Dolgor), two tour drivers, two tour guides, two family helpers and mums nephew. Only Grandma and the kids miss out. I’m amazed at how many people are in the tent. The men are also drinking homemade airag which I get handed. Its smoother and less sharp than the one earlier. The thirteen year old daughter (Altantsetseg, which means Golden Flower) shows us photos on her phone and practices her English. Eventually the vodka is finished and we’re told that due to the strong winds the family may have to herd the sheep now so they don’t lose any of their flock in the night, so we leave them to it and trudge back through the fresh snow to our ger. We are asked if we mind someone coming in at 3am to add fuel to the fire, we reply that we don’t mind at all.
Romantically, we fell asleep to flickering firelight from the hearth and in the warmth, the smell of mutton fat dripping on the floor from the piece of meat hanging from the ceiling.