The Mongolian Month
Aug 30, 2015 10.30 PM
The flight CA 955 landed at Ulan Bator by 7.40 pm, nearly an hour late. It was interesting that at the Beijing airport, they first changed the gate from E33 to E03 and just a stroke of premonition we had saved us from missing the flight. The Beijing airport is a massive one so got scared whether we will reach the gate in time but we did. The lady called out the Ulan Bator flight the first time only to tell everyone that it’s indefinitely delayed. With her limited English and a very sweet smile she fought off any thoughts of indignant protests that anyone might have entertained.
We found four lounging seats and promptly both of us slept off …. We could hardly sleep in the flight from Delhi to Beijing. The economy seats are cramped and funnily enough they served one meal, around 4 am India time, just after take off which we refused. After that service, there was just no other service at all. A bit surprising given that airlines keep you stuffed and juiced. We drank an awesome Hot chocolate at Costa Coffee, Beijing airport, Terminal T3 and ate the dosas I had made.
Today happens to be an all dosa day – all meals were just dosas. They served us some tuna sandwich on the Beijing – Ulan Bator route, which we couldn’t eat obviously. We had specifically asked for a vegetarian meal when we booked our seats but looks like the instruction was not passed on.
Just to backtrack to the start of the day and the plan for the trip.. This is the first overseas trip where I had not completed the packing till the day we were leaving. I had kept everything in one place but had not put it into the suitcases. Initially we thought we can manage with just one checked in suitcase and two carry-ons. When I put in everything into the one check-in suitcase, We realised it weighed about 25 kilos. So we tried moving some stuff into one of the carry-ons but it left out the extra shoes that we had to take. So finally we took out another suitcase that could be checked in and put everything into it.
First thing in the morning Krishnan went for his swim and didn’t get back in an hour as he promised …, for some strange reason (maybe PMS) I got scared and went to the pool when it was nearly two hours and he was just coming out of the club. Apparently Krishnan told his swimming buddies that he has gotten late, so if he stays any longer, I will land up at the pool. He does know we me very well :).
Around 10, Javed had come along and we spent some time chatting after a really long time … Molina also came but I asked her to come back in the evening because we hadn’t done most of the work. She didn’t seem happy but then she also has taken four days off in the 15 days that we stayed in Gurgaon … After Javed left we went by auto to the MGF Metropolitan mall to buy Krishnan’s new shirts for our anniversary. Saw the Rajdhani restaurant open and immediately had lunch there. We liked the food, as always.
Got back around 4 pm and started the packing. Molina came in the evening, around 6 pm and cleaned up the whole house. I made dosas as backup food till we reached Mongolia. We planned to leave home around 11 pm and just before that we had our regular spat about carrying the heavy jacket as our cabin luggage… Krishnan refused to accept that the airlines would let us carry a Jacket, a laptop bag and a carry-on suitcase per person. He was sure that I will be asked to pack the camera into the backpack. Anyway, it was good to have the spat because I put the jacket into the check- in suitcase and we travelled lighter. We left as planned at 11 pm. I was a little drained out, because my periods had started and having no rest the whole day just took its toll. Anyway, the excitement of the month long trip just kept us going.
The driver who came from Meru was a nice one with a clean car and enough boot space. We loaded up and reached the airport easily and well in time. Learning 1 – pack atleast two weeks ahead, like we normally do. And pack fully, leave nothing for the day before you start. Learning 2 – Air China does not allow blocking of seats and no web check-in. So reach as early as you can and get good seats. We are hoping we make enough money so we can spend travelling in business class going forward, and that’s the only other option. Learning 3 – I missed packing a few travel essentials, like zip lock bags, rubber bands, a couple of spoons and a couple of steel cups, plates and a knife. This pack is lying in Hyderabad since we left the car there.
The T3 terminal is just stunning. Deserves all the awards it’s getting and we felt very proud. The shops are nice, the whole place is very warm and inviting. The kulfi stall just as you enter the gates is much recommended. The kulfis are really good.
As we were landing at the Chenggis Khan airport at Ulan Bator, it was still bright and sunny at 7.40 pm. The drive to Zaya’s hostel took about 30 minutes and I spoke to Amma and Nachi and informed them that we reached safely. Traffic is much lighter than what we experience anywhere in India. The driver didn’t know much English and spoke Russian. We reached Zaya’s and he lifted the two suitcases of 20 and 16 kilos respectively, as easily as we lifted our backpacks and took us to the second floor where the office is. Anand was at the reception and the place was spotlessly clean. Loved the look of it. He had got us a room which had a shared bathroom, but was ready to shift us tomorrow morning to another room with an ensuite bathroom. We just crashed and were asleep in a few minutes past 11 p.m.
Aug 31, 2015. 10.30 pm
We woke up at 9 am :):). We were tired. Had breakfast of cereals, milk, bread, butter and tea. Juice is only the tetrapack juice. We then got ready and left for Goyo Travels which is on the same road as Zaya’s hostel. Anand showed us the place from the office and we walked down. There is a nice broad sidewalk for the pedestrians and the really nice thing about Mongolia is everyone stops to let you cross the road. There are also traffic lights that let you cross.
Met Goyo and Tuul and confirmed the itinerary and bored them with our healthy food habits :). We managed to get the connector kit for the camera and iPad in a store near Goyo travels’ office, for as little as $7.5, and were thrilled. We walked back to Zaya’s and changed our room to the one with the ensuite bathroom. Went out for lunch to Delhi Durbar which is on the road across the State Department store. We had lassi and Chole Bhature. The food was ok… The spices were missing but the portion sizes are huge. We got four bhaturas and lots of channa for MNT 15000. So order less.
From the Delhi Darbar restaurant we went to the State Department store – which is a hypermarket. We got some fruits and yoghurt and water. Everyone commented on my sari :). One kid called out “Namaste” which was nice. We got back to Zaya and just slept again for a couple of hours. In the evening we made our favourite “Wagh Bakri” tea with honey.
Initial impressions – people are really nice and welcoming. The toilets don’t have butt cleaners so you only have to use toilet paper or carry your own mug. Packaged water is available in plenty. Fruits and vegetables are available in Ulan Bator, but Mongolia is largely a meat eating country and vegetarians have to find stuff that don’t have non-vegetarian items added to them. The air is pure and at night, it’s really quiet … Feels good. The wi-fi works really well at Zaya’s, but we are on a “digital detox”.
Sept 1, 2015
The day started early at 8.45 am. We had breakfast and started off with our guide Daria. The first stop was at the Gandan monastery. It’s a teaching monastery and the buildings are beautiful. The main temple has a huge statue of Buddha and it’s probably the second largest Buddha statue that we have seen, inside a temple, after the reclining Buddha in Thailand and not taking into account some of the statues in Cambodia that were massive, but they were mostly on the outside walls.
The pictures of Dalai Lama are everywhere. The main temple opened a little after 9.15 am and we went to the teaching monastery first. Many young monks were chanting. At the main temple we were asked to pay 8000 MNT as entrance fees but we had only dollars. We gave a $10 note and the ticket collector didn’t know how much to return to us :). So Daria told him that we will change money and come back to pay him, to which he readily agreed !! Imagine saying that in Delhi or any other big city in the world. We then found $1 notes and Daria went back and paid him $4. The approximate conversion is 1990 MNT to a dollar.
From the Gandan monastery we headed towards the National Museum stopping enroute at the Sukhbaatar Square. September 1st is the day schools re-open and the Sukhbaatar Sqaure is where they are congregate. We took pictures in front of the huge Chinggis Khan seated statue and then Krishnan noticed a young man with three security guards walking across to where the students were congregated. He asked Daria if that was the Prime Minister, but she wasn’t sure as she hadn’t seen him. A few minutes later we walked towards the student congregation and indeed it was the Prime Minister and he was addressing the students. It was fascinating to see the man whom our PM Modi met in July at such close quarters.
From Sukhbaatar square we went to a money exchange place and changed some dollars to Mongolian Tugrik. Then we went to the National Museum. The National Museum is huge with 12 halls that trace the Mongolian history from the Bronze Age all the way till the modern times. The Russians have had a huge influence in recent times and the communist regime was overthrown in 1990. So Mongolia also is celebrating its silver anniversary of democratic rule. We saw a full fledged “Ger” on display. Some of the protective gear that warriors used in Mongolia are similar to the ones in India like the chain mail, breast plates, metal helmets etc.
From the National Museum we went to Zaisan Memorial. It’s a war memorial, built by the Russians to commemorate unknown soldiers that lost their lives in several wars and you have to walk up about 12 flights of stairs to get to it. But the views of Ulan Baatar city from the top are stunning and worth the climb. You can also see how the city is expanding in all directions. We cross the Tuul river that supplies water to the city of Ulan Baatar.
From the Zaisan Memorial we came to the Bogd Khan palace. It’s the palace of the last King of Mongolia. A beautiful palace that has two palaces, one winter palace and the other for summers. The dresses and artefacts are beautifully displayed. Daria plucked a few wild berries and I ate some. They tasted really nice.
It was nearly 1 pm and we were ready for lunch. Daria and the driver went searching for the vegan restaurant chain called “Loving hut” and found one near a monastery. We invited both Daria and the driver to have lunch with us and besides being a nice gesture, it was also a sensible one because the menu was in Mongolian only !! The servers did not know English and we would have remained hungry if Daria wasn’t around to translate. The food was ok, not great, but we were assured that it was all vegetarian. Again portion sizes are huge, the dumpling soup was a meal by itself.
We got back to Zaya and just slept for a couple of hours. We confirmed the program for tomorrow to go to the Terelj national park, about 75 kms from Ulan Bator. Anand offered to reduce the price if we went with a couple of other folks but we declined the offer and just went with the private tour. We couldn’t figure out getting a local SIM card and Anand immediately offered a prepaid SIM card of theirs and we spent some time trying to use it on the Zolo phone. It just didn’t work and finally we tried using it on Krishnan’s iPhon and it worked in the first instance – every single time Apple proves to be the best !! I sent an SMS to Amma with the Mongolian number and my smart mom called right back. Am happy she is learning new things and not staying away from change.
I soaked some of the reetha nuts and we munched on the packet of mini butter biscuits and they were nice. We read late into the night and slept off around 11 p.m.
Sept 2, 2015 The day we understood Chinggis Khan, the great Mongol emperor
I washed my hair with the reetha nuts and they are magic .. No conditioner used but the hair feels soft and satiny. That’s what natural products do. We left at about 10 and the driver’s name was Bold. Very sweet guy who took us in a taxi to his car which was parked near Zaisan Hill.
We then drove to the Chinggis Khan statue. Oh it’s massive, a 40 metre tall statue looking east towards the place he was born in.
The museum below the statue is setup really well and that’s where we read the story of Chinggis Khan and realised that our history books do a great disservice to the man – he was egalitarian, while being a follower of Shamanism, he allowed religious freedom in all his conquered territories. Science, music, art and other skills were promoted. He wasn’t a looter or plunderer, he certainly was a conqueror and a very intelligent man. His empire was half the known world in 1200s and the Mongol empire sustained itself for 200 years, no mean feat. Now, here’s the clincher, Mongols ruled over China … So rightfully they should be taking back their territories from China because Chinggis Khan and later his youngest grandson Kublai Khan’s seat of power was just outside Beijing. Buddhism flourished under both Chinggis Khan and Kublai Khan.
As much as Alexander the Great is venerated, Chinggis Khan needs to be given his rightful place in world history. The more we travel in Asia and Africa, we realise that the world history paints a very Europe centric view of the world …. There were bigger, smarter, better kings and kingdoms in Asia and Africa which have been completely lost or termed barbaric. As we walked back to the car we saw three huge Eagles which were tied to a post … Sad, but they were a means of making some money, so we just clicked pictures and walked on.
The next stop was at the Ger restaurant inside the Terelj National park. They had bread and tea already laid out. We had brought some sandwiches and Amma’s tomato pickle. The bread tasted great with the spicy pickle and then we saw the restaurant serving rice and asked for some. Ate the rice with curd and pickle … Thayir Satham in Mongolia. The restaurant offered us some soup which we didn’t take since we weren’t sure if it was vegetarian. We had a couple of Americans, a Brit and a Thai lady as the other guests.
After lunch we went to the Dzong called Aryapala. This is a meditation centre and setup on a small hill.
We saw it as we drove to the Ger restaurant and since my knee started troubling me yesterday, I said I won’t climb. We went and parked the car near the entrance and there is a nicely cemented path laid out, but it’s also a climb. The entrance fees is about $1. We started off slowly, ok, I started off slowly and stopped several times on the way to catch my breath, but it was not so difficult. Just that we had eaten just then and that made the climbing up slower. There are nearly 50 odd signposts that have the sayings of Buddha on them. So you read them and reflect upon them as you go up to the Dzong. About 300 meters along the way, you have a huge prayer wheel with an arrow on top. You are supposed to spin the prayer wheel and the arrow will point to a number between 1 to 150. The signpost with that number has a saying of Buddha that you are supposed to meditate upon. I got 21 and Krishnan got 46. We found number 21 easily on the way to the Dzong, but 46 was a little difficult. The boards with the numbers of 1 – 30 each had 5 sayings so we took pictures of board number 21 and then saying number 46 and 21 too.
Once we reached the landing to climb up to the Dzong, the lunch was digested and since it was just 108 steps, I climbed up too. The Dzong is small but just stunning, colourful and vibrant. You chant Buddha and Osho’s favourite “Om Mani Padme Hum” as you climb.
There are 3 million sutras that are inside the prayer wheels in the Dzong. Again lots of pictures of Dalai Lama. We sat down inside the Dzong for some time, took some pictures and then walked around spinning the prayer wheels. We got down more easily and just drove back to Ulan Baatar.
Reached Zaya exactly at 5 pm as planned.
We went for a walk, a little further from the state department store, then bought a few things at the store before getting back to Zaya. I used the lemons we had bought at the state department store and they hardly had any juice in them. We also ate the Baguette with cheese like the Brun in Pune. Gave some to Daria and made our favourite Wagh Bakri tea to wash it all down.
It started to rain the evening just after we got back to Zaya. Good omen !! A good day, but my left knee is hurting. Tomorrow we just relax and rest.
Sept 3, 2015. 9.21 pm
We relaxed the entire day. Just went out for a long walk and washed all the clothes.
Just got the email from Harshit saying they have sought an adjournment from CIT, Chandigarh to Sept 11th for hearing ShikshaDaan’s case. We are so upset and deeply disappointed…. it’s a huge let down. This whole thing is testing our patience.
Sept 4, 2015. 5.18 pm. Ger No. 8, Day 6
It’s raining outside and we are sitting inside our Ger. We will be sleeping in this Ger today …. Our first experience in a Mongolian Ger. Mongolians are traditionally nomadic people and their mobile houses are called Gers. These are round tents, with wooden flooring and walls, covered on the outside with felt. They have doors and can be really large with 16 or 20 wall panels or tiny with just three wall panels. They can be assembled and disassembled in about an hour. Every time a nomadic family puts up a Ger they need to register themselves with the nearest local town.
A family usually lives in the Ger and if any of the children get married then a new Ger is put up for them. It is so silent in here, that one can almost hear one’s heartbeat… No wonder, Buddhism took roots in Mongolia, the silence just goes deep into you.
We are at the Amarbayasgalant Uguur camp. We drove down in a Hyundai Starex van from Ulan Bataar. The last 35 kilometers was over a dirt road, no highway, but the views all along just make you forget the road.
We started at 8.15 am from Zaya’s and drove first to a small town where we stopped for lunch around 12.30. Nara, our guide, found a vegetarian restaurant affiliated in spirit to the “Loving Hut” chain of vegan restaurants. We got fresh Blue berry juice, an awesome vegetable soup, even more awesomer dumplings… And yes, amazing vegetable rice with pine nuts and soya nuggets etc. The flavour was just fantastic and Krishnan polished off the rice in complete silence as soon as he got some spicy Kimchi to go with it. The restaurant was spotlessly clean and we walked around the mall a little bit to find it. Just as we were exiting after a great lunch, Krishnan saw this shop with a very unique method of ironing the clothes. We stopped to take a picture and Nara told us it was a tailoring-cum-sales shop for traditional clothes. Of course, a beautiful Mongolian blouse caught my attention, we tried it on. It was too big .. So we found another black one that fit just right and bought it – just $35, a steal.
5.40 pm… Well our rooftop flap just opened up and rain fell inside the Ger. I remembered that the lady in-charge had tied the flap-rope to the side of the door and luckily I found the rope and managed to close the flap just in time before more water came in.
The Ger has an electric bulb and a charging point. The construction, though temporary, is so good that not a drop of water has come in and it’s warm inside. There is also a wood stove inside the Ger for when it gets colder. Wish we could transport this Ger and the surrounding areas to India ! Just the views that we want as we wake up each morning and the blessed silence.
We stopped enroute for tea and Nara pulled out this cool camping gas stove that fit into a small briefcase. It has a small gas canister that you keep separately and just use when needed. I made our favourite Wagh Bakri tea with Ginger for everyone and it’s probably the most scenic place we have made tea in, anywhere. We learnt a lot about the Mongolian lifestyle from Nara and we shared a lot about India and our culture. Nara is fascinated enough to come visit and we would love to be her hosts and show her around India. When we try and explain our culture to someone who has never been to our country, we realise the richness of our culture. Every religion in the world is present in India, how fascinating is just that fact. We speak thousands of dialects and nearly 30 languages recognised officially. Our history dates way back, even pre-dating Alexander, by thousands of years. The only other country that can boast of that old a civilization is probably Egypt and guess what, we were trading with Egypt.
Today is our 5th day in this beautiful country and we are so glad that we made the decision to celebrate our 25th anniversary in Mongolia.
Sept 5, Day 7 – Family visit day
4.01 pm, just entering Bulgan province
All of Mongolia seems like a golf course or several acres of Khajjiar. … There are horses and sheep and cows for company on the road and the occasional Ger, just when you think no human being is around.
It rained heavily last night. We just got into the camp and it started to rain. We used umbrellas to reach the restaurant within the camp for dinner at 6.30. Great food – the pumpkin dish was awesome as was the soup. We got to taste Russian chocolates for the first time last night and they were good, in fact less sugary than the American versions. We just sat around talking and hoping the rains would stop but it didn’t. Finally the camp owners told us they were ready to shift us to another Ger which had a twin bed and they had lit a fire to keep us warm. So when there was a short break in the rain, we quickly shifted to Ger No. 1 and it was unbelievably cozy, warm and idyllic. There was a opening in the roof where the chimney went out, but water did not pour in. This was our first night in a Ger … It was pleasantly cold, not biting cold and we slept well.
We woke up at 5.30 and it was still dark, so we finally woke up at 6.15 and did our morning exercise, ate the dry fruits, and took bath in piping hot water. Great breakfast with crepes that came really close to dosas and filter coffee.
During the communist purge in 1937 to 1941, 700 monasteries were destroyed and 34000 people were killed, nearly half of those were Buddhist monks. Just 7 monasteries survived and we went to one of those that survived. It’s not a functional monastery and not preserved well, but is stunning. The architecture is the Chinese style with animal figures on the roof edges. We took lots of pictures and nearly gave a short history of Hinduism to Nara.
As we walked out of the monastery two beautiful dogs came by and one of them was very playful. Wish we could have taken him along :):). We traversed back over the dirt road for 35 kms and reached the highway. Then travelled another 100 odd kilometers to the second largest city in Mongolia, Erdenet. It’s a mining city and copper and coal are mined here in collaboration with the Russians.
We went to Nara’s brother’s house for lunch and got to meet her niece and sis-in-law. We bought some blue berries and apples at the local market. Her sis-in-law has done amazing crochet work and embroidery paintings. Very creative. They have sea buckthorn plants at home and we got to eat some fresh berries. We also ate the Mongolian samosa filled with potato and cabbage as two variants. We left from Erdenet at about 3.15 pm and drove another 4 hours to our camp for the night. We stopped for tea enroute like yesterday.
Caught the Selenge river in many places today. We also played Raja’s songs on the iPad … Two of my favourites – Janaki’s “kaatril enthan geetham” and SPB’s “Illaya nila” sounded great surrounded by spectacular views !! We played both Hindi and Tamil songs.
The camp site is great and is called Ikh Uul. It’s an Eco friendly resort. The bread they had made was just out of this world. I made some Puliyogare using the MTR mix. The dessert was rhubarb made the Mongolian way and was delicious.
We went for a short walk and got a really nice selfie. Breathtaking sunset views. Day 7 done.
Sept 6, Day 8… Breathtaking Khuvsgul
We left Ikh Uul after breakfast. Krishnan took some great pictures with the family. I tried making filter coffee but the coffee powder that we used in the “press” filter is coarsely ground and I made a mistake with the quantity I used. So I added the instant coffee as well and piping hot coffee was ready :).
We opened the slightly spicy Maharashtrian peanut dry chutney that we had bought at Chitale Bandhu as seasoning for the bread and also gave some to Nara and Amaraa to taste. They liked it as well. We got some bread packed for me to eat later and left for Khuvsgul.
We stopped at the town of Murun to pick up our traditional wedding clothes on rent. We also had lunch at this restaurant called 50 degrees. The vegetable noodles were great and because we have gotten smarter about portion sizes, we ordered just one for both of us. Nara ended up eating just half of her lunch, so we ate some of that as well. The wifi is free at this restaurant.
We tried out a couple of dresses and picked up two that fit. Interestingly the one that fit me is the same colour as the saree that I have bought for the anniversary :). Coincidence ?
We then went and visited the Bronze Age Deer stones at Ushigin Uvur. These are monoliths with deers etched on them. Some are coloured but many of them are without colour. The belief then was the soul of the departed will go as swiftly as a deer to heaven ! Our heavy duty Jackets are out finally because the breeze is just so cold. We also had to wear our caps to cover our ears.
From the Deerstones we drove to Khatgal and then to the Ar Davhar camp which is on the Eastern side of the Khuvsgul lake. Our first view of the lake was spellbinding … And the camp owner’s wife is also Nara. So we will be calling her Nara Sr :). We made Indian tea for everyone at the camp and everyone liked it. We didn’t have dinner but had some soup.
It was raining when we got onto the dirt road to reach the camp. This was really tough terrain with slush and big stones. Amaraa got off at a couple of places to check if the vehicle will be able to go across and had to take a detour at a couple of places. Very similar to our 25 years together – we have had a beautiful life together but the path has been strewn with big boulders, slush and difficult terrain :). Perfect way to celebrate our silver anniversary.
6.53 pm, Sept 7, 2015, Officially remarried, the Mongolian wedding
Ar Davhar Eco camp
We woke up late, only by 7 am like the Mongolians. Like Indians they follow the Sun and the Sun rises only by 7 am and sets only by 9.30 pm during summers. Mongolia sees the Sun only for 250 days in a year. The Khuvsgul lake that we are at right now freezes over during Dec-Jan and vehicles can be driven over it. They have banned driving trucks over it now otherwise the frozen lake was used more as a driving area rather than boating over it. It supplies 2% of the world’s fresh water supply and feeds into the Baikal lake which holds 20% of the world’s fresh water source.
Last night the heat from the fireplace was strong and we actually started to sweat. So I woke up with a one-sided headache. Anyway, we quickly completed our exercises, brushed our teeth, and came over to the restaurant to have breakfast. The pancakes were fantastic as was the homemade yoghurt, butter and blueberry jam. Nara and Amaraa didn’t want the Indian style filter coffee so Krishnan and I also had just regular tea. We told Nara the story of Mahabharata because Amma told us, yesterday was Gokulashtami when she called to wish us. Nachi and Kousalya also called and wished us in the morning.
We took bath and wore our new clothes and Nara told us that we had to walk about 30 minutes to a place where the surprise they had planned for us was getting ready. So we walked with her and the elder son of Nara Sr. Everyone was wearing their traditional clothes and Nara looked lovely with danglers. We saw some of the other folks from the camp and Amaraa wearing their traditional clothes and riding on a horse. We guessed they were going to this beautiful location ..
We reached this place after about 30 minutes of walking and it was just stunning. A small cliff that looked out into the lake and one side had mountains with snow still on them. Just breathtaking. All the horse riders had reached ahead of us and then we wore the Mongolian traditional clothes. Then we were given a silver bowl filled with milk, placed on a blue silk scarf and both Krishnan and I had to drink from it, then pass the bowl around for others to drink the milk. Blue is the most auspicious colour for the Mongolians and rightfully so, it’s the land of the blue skies. There were several photographs with everybody and we had a seagull also just a little away.
Probably our fathers or ancestor had come in the form of the seagull to wish us. The weather was perfect, a light breeze and bright blue sky, no rain. It did drizzle a bit early in the morning but the Sun came blazing out and the whole day has been glorious so far. The plan was to bring us back on horses, but with the sari it was impossible for me to even try getting onto a horse and Krishnan probably should not be riding since he has had a back surgery. So the horse riding plan is postponed to tomorrow. We walked back and reached the camp.
The wedding feast was laid out in a new Ger and everyone lined up on two sides and invited us by saying some wishes in Mongolian. The wedding feast has a big plate piled high with cheese, dried yoghurt and topped with butter. They had made the butter in the shape of a heart. We shared notes about the Indian wedding and the Mongolian wedding. We had blessings from the camp owner’s youngest son. While he read out the blessing he held a blue scarf in his hand and read the blessing from a smart phone :). Then our driver Amaraa blessed us saying he will never forget us and that we should come back when Krishnan turned 85 to celebrate the Mongolian style golden wedding. Then everyone ate the awesome food. The mushroom creamy soup was out of this world. The Mongolian samosas were there and of course lots of chocolates, cheese and butter. After food, we followed the Mongolian tradition of singing. Krishnan started with an imitation of the throat singer of the Mongolian cultural show at UB. I sang “gunguna rahen hain Bhawaren” then a very young boy who works at the camp sang a beautiful Mongolian song. Great voice. The Mongolian tradition is that everyone has to sing. The bride and groom’s family sit together in a Ger and start the singing clockwise. The little girl who helped in the kitchen felt shy and refused to sing and the young boy sat next to her and tried convincing. Nara told us they were married which was surprising as both seemed very young. Nara was the last singer and she sang a song that is sung at all Mongolian weddings. She too has a great voice and holds a tune well.
After the feast we rested for some time and had tea around 5 pm. We went for a long walk in the evening and then slept off around 10 pm.
Great wedding and I have short hair which was my condition for getting married again. Strangely enough, I still had a headache due to the changing temperature inside the Ger and outside.
Sept 8, Day 10 – Swimming in Khuvsgul Nuur
Woke up lazily at 8 and we had slept well since the heat from the fire in the Ger was just enough and we had also reduced the number of covers we used. Had breakfast at 9, with the blue berry juice and heard the sad news that the camp owner’s brother who was unwell had passed away. I had planned on making the vegetable biriyani today for everybody, so checked with our guide Nara if it was ok to do so and she checked around and said it was absolutely fine. I brought soap nuts with me and got it nicely boiled and softened. Left the seeds with the owner of the camp to plant. Maybe one day there would be Reetha trees in Mongolia :):).
Washed my hair with Reetha, and got one of the blouses washed. There was still enough left for Nara to wash her hair. We asked about the boat ride on the lake and were told that the lake was rough and we need to see if it becomes calm later. I came back to the restaurant around 12 to start making the rice and saw that the owner, Nara Sr’s husband had come. I offered my condolences and started to cut the vegetables. The peas had to come out of a box but the Onions, potatoes and carrots were fresh from the garden.
Got everything ready, added the biriyani masala and then handed over the rice to be cooked inside on the stove. I then went out and collected all the dried clothes from the other Ger and packed one of the suitcases.
The rice got ready around 2 and we all sat down to eat. I brought the tomato pickle for Krishnan, me and Nara to add some spice … Nara Sr’s husband tried it and initially he said it wasn’t spicy then the spice hit him :):) he had to quickly drink some yoghurt to stop sweating. Some of the others also felt the rice was a little spicy while for us it was bland without any green chillies.
Nara Sr had made some Soya cutlets which as always were outstanding. I was worried if there was enough rice for everyone, but many people got second helpings and still there was some rice left. Without the rice cooker or just the pressure cooker, some of the rice got stuck to the pan … Yeah, I was stingy with the butter too. We then made “lassi”. Had to use the hand blender by connecting it to the generator set outside in the ground. My first attempt at making lassi with a hand blender in an open field. It turned out to be quite tasty because the home made yoghurt was just great so I just had to do nothing much. Everyone liked the lassi.
We were told by the elder son that the lake was calm now and we could go for the boat ride. We wrapped ourselves in everything warm that we could lay our hands on and went out to the boat. I managed to get onto it in a sari without tripping. We used one set of woollen caps as gloves. The motor boat ride was for half hour and the lake is really like the sea.. Beautiful colours, emerald, blue and colour less in some places and the cold breeze was bad enough for me to not feel my nose. We took lots of pictures and got back around 3.45 pm. Krishnan wanted to swim and the elder son was game. As we walked back towards our Gers, a neighbourhood lady had brought sweaters, socks, caps etc to sell. Nara bought a beautiful Orange coloured Mongolian jacket and we bought two pairs of woollen socks.
Krishnan got his swimming trunks and all four of us walked back to the lake shore. Krishnan and the camp owner’s elder son got into the water… It was cold, and Nara and I took pictures of them swimming. Krishnan and he swam a couple of lengths and got out of the water. We got back to the Ger and then went to the restaurant to make Indian ginger tea for everyone. We also tried to download the photos from the elder son’s camera using the camera-ipad connection kit. For some reason it never worked initially, then Krishnan was able to download some pics from Nara’s camera and the elder son managed to download his pictures on a pen drive. Ate some bread and had good tea, got back to the Ger and did some packing and read some more about Mongolia and slept off. Tomorrow is a long drive.
Sept 9, Day 11 – Toughest ride of the trip !
The breakfast today at Ar Davhar was special, we had rice and milk, a Mongolian special, then something very similar to Methi Parantha. Outstanding as always. We ate well, drank some tea and Nara had told us we can start slowly. So we got back to the Ger, used the toilet and started to do the last bit of packing. Since we were reaching a camp at Jargalant that had hot water springs, we decided not to take bath at Ar Davhar. Got everything packed and saw that the whole family was waiting to say goodbye. They are such a nice bunch of people and the camp is just the best one we have stayed in so far.
We exchanged cards and promised to stay in touch and we do hope we will. The elder son has clear instructions to call us if he comes to India. We started from Ar Davhar camp, Huvsgul Nuur at 9.22 am. The 27 kms between the camp and Khatgal had improved and was not as slushy as day one. The last two days had bright sunlight and it has helped absorb the water and the ground is firm. At 10 am the temperature outside was 1 degree Celsius. Very cold. It kept moving between 1 to 3 degrees till we reached Murun.
Reached Murun around 12 – returned our borrowed clothes, bought chairs, ate lunch at 50*100* and used the wifi to send the photos to Odbayar. Also answered a few Whatsapp and FB messenger messages. Will have to post a thank you note to folks who have wished us. Shalini is quite pissed off with me :):) haven’t told her still where we are.
Before reaching the restaurant we stopped by the post office and bought the calling card and stamps. They had a series of stamps depicting the different dresses Mongolians traditionally wear but it wasn’t for sale. The post office is getting renovated so it’s just in a small room.
We left Murun at 2.15 and drove through stunning views but no roads… Just a dirt track for 177 kms. There are no sign boards and no people around to ask for direction. We reached Jargal Jiggur by 8.45 pm after stopping for tea at 5 pm for 20 mins. Really bone jarring ride.
At the camp a little girl insisted on carrying the smaller suitcase and her even younger sister started crying when her mother tried to take the yoga mat from her. The mat when rolled up was taller than her :).
Ate some dinner and will sleep now
Day 11, Sept 10… Lucky Wolf spotting and another bone jarring ride
We got up a little late because last night was the first noisy night in Mongolia. There was a group of Mongolian army soldiers in the Ger next to us who kept playing loud music and playing cards or some other game till nearly 2 am. We could hear Nara go and tell them to pipe down but they didn’t pay any heed to that. We had breakfast and then went for a bath at the hot springs. The hot springs are about half a kilometre away from the camp and the water is brought through pipes, mixed with cold water and fed into large bathing pools. Since we were the only people in the camp, the owner let Krishnan and I, use the pool privately. We had to take a shower before sitting in the pool, but it was a cold shower ! Also there is no concept of a bucket and mug to take a shower, so if the shower is cold water, you just have no choice but to use it or not bathe.
After our hot water soak and breakfast, Nara, Krishnan and I walked to the town to see if the museum was open, but no luck with that. We noticed that many school children were eating ice cream and Krishnan wanted one too. We walked into a store and Nara bought us the local ice cream that was creamy and less sweeter than the branded ice creams. The lady at the shop complimented me for the sari I was wearing.
Amaraa came and picked us up at the town and we got back for lunch at the camp. The dumplings were out of this world and yes, perfect with the Tomato pickle. We got lassi here last night and in the lunch too. The older sister again insisted on pushing the small suitcase but her younger sister came a little after we had loaded the yoga mat. Krishnan went over and gave them both apples :)…. Very cute little girls.
We started from the camp after lunch at 2.15 pm and reached the White Lake around 5.30 and the Khorgo camp by 6.30. While the distance was just 90 kms, this was again a bone jarring ride.
The day was special because we spotted a lone wolf. I spotted him and initially thought it was a dog, but then Nara and Amaraa realised it was a wolf. Spotting a wolf is considered lucky in Mongolia and well we are lucky people because we could spend time in Mongolia, spotting the wolf just sealed the fact !!
Day 13, Sept 11 – Yak yoghurt …. The best yoghurt we have tasted ever
Woke up around 6 but we just kept lying in the bed. The wind was howling outside and it still is. The camp worker came at 7 to light the fire .. It’s nice and cosy. The logic is to use just a couple of logs so that the place doesnt become too hot. Last night they packed the logs in. This is a little smaller Ger than Jargalant but with more facilities. It’s even got a mirror – the first time we are seeing one in a Ger. Krishnan and I exchanged our dream stories – Krishnan managed to fight off Vodafone and unearth its scams and I explained about ShikshaDaan to Rajesh Duddu and fought off a street creep ! Last to last night, dad has spent a lot of time in Krishnan’s dream saying he is not gone but is at Cochin. Wonder why he never came in my dreams.
I have now learnt to light the fire with just a few burning embers.
The only thing I miss because of no internet connectivity is the immediate searches on Google if we wanted to know something. I want to know if Padmaja Naidu is still alive …
Today we explore the White Lake.
What an awesome day today has been. We washed some clothes after breakfast and decided to go to the White lake after lunch. Krishnan and I walked around the perimeter of the Khorgo camp and it’s a 1.5 kms stretch. The camp itself is set in a beautiful location. For breakfast we had amazing bread, a very nice soup and crepes. One crepe was filled with apples and tasted heavenly. We ate the other crepe with the peanut Maharashtrian chutney.
The best part was, for lunch we got Puris !! They were the size of our Gol Gappa puris but thoroughbred puris they were. We used the Dal Bukhara packet today and mixed with the rice. Nara liked it very much, and Amaraa also tasted the rice, but went for his non-veg item. We ended up wasting the soya side dish. I added chilli powder and salt to the mashed potatoes and they tasted great as a side dish to the dal and rice. We asked Nara to inform the restaurant folk to reduce our portion sizes because we don’t want to waste food.
Today we got Amaraa to have lemon juice as well. So Dr. Venkat is going everywhere we go :). He liked the taste and says he will try and have it everyday. Nice man. After lunch we got Krishnan’s swimming trunks, my tea and set off for the White lake. We got to the place which is about 9 kms from the camp and walked around to find a spot for Krishnan to swim. We got a small stretch and Amaraa was not so happy because he felt the water was deep. I stood on the shore to ensure that Krishnan didn’t stray too far into the lake and he had to be cautioned a couple of times :). He just swam for 10 to 15 minutes and then we walked around a bit more before making some Indian tea.
Krishnan and I decided to walk up to the small hill pass that has the Ovoo (Buddhist prayer flags). We set off and walked nearly 6 kms and the uphill was slow and tough, but we did it. On the way we stopped to take some pics of the Ovoo’s or Prayer mounds that have been made into the lake. Amma called while we were walking and we told her that we were having fun.
A drunk guy on a motorbike asked Krishnan for cigarettes and when Krishnan said he didn’t have any, he mumbled something and drove off. We got back to the camp and told Amaraa that we will teach him the exercises for the back. When we got into the car at the base of the hill pass, we noticed that the sun film had been peeled off, a very sweet gesture from Nara and Amaraa as we were unhappy that we couldn’t take clear pictures of the stunning countryside with the film on.
We changed clothes and taught Amaraa the back exercises and spoke about Dr. Bharat Inder Singh. I managed to do one round of Surya Namaskar and some of the yoga exercises in the open for the first time. The air is pure and the sun was shining, so it was the best opportunity. Amaraa got the exercise sequence in one go and he has promised to do them everyday.
We went to the restaurant to have some tea and they asked if we want to also have yoghurt. The yoghurt we ate is the best yoghurt we have eaten so far anywhere in the world. Nara thought it was Yak milk Yoghurt because it was so creamy. We also checked if they will teach me how to make bread on a stove. The bread that we have been eating everywhere in Mongolia is made on a stove and tastes great. So tomorrow is when I will learn how to do it !!! Thrilled to learn at last.
We also asked for rice in the lunch tomorrow so that we could eat it with the Puliyogare mix and the yoghurt. Already happy thinking of tomorrow’s lunch.
We will be going to the extinct volcano tomorrow pre-lunch. This will be the first volcano that we will be seeing. So many firsts in this trip already. Mongolia is growing on us.. The people are really nice, Chinggis Khan is truly great and not the plunderer that we had been led to believe, every nook and cranny is stunning and scenic, and the food is genuinely organic. Can’t ask for more. Another great day, well spent in Mongolia.
Day 14, Sept 12 – A volcano !
We are wide awake at this hour because we really had a nice nap for an hour to hour and a half after lunch. Today in the morning, we had breakfast with a Vada like fried stuff and amazing milk and rice. We also cut the Watermelon and Krishnan ate the watermelon instead of drinking it’s juice. A first for Krishnan !! And as I commented, the weather turned out to be warm and lovely, unlike the Mongolian cold weather :).
I didn’t eat the fried stuff, just gorged on the watermelon and had the milk and rice. Yes I did eat a slice of bread. We then left for the Volcano by 10. The car goes up to the base and then you trek up a couple of kilometers. Initially it’s a dirt path and then you have steps and finally a short dirt path brings you to the crater. This volcano last erupted 10000 years back and is extinct now. The crater is deep and people do walk down but it’s tough to do it. Nara and Amaraa walked around the rim, while Krishnan and I stayed in one side. I didn’t want to test my knee more than necessary. Same time next year I will get my knee back to normal :). We got some great pictures of the lake and the hill pass. A big group of school children came up.
We started to walk down as soon as Nara completed her walk around the rim and walking down is tougher ! The small rocks just roll and we slipped a couple of times but no damage. There was a lady selling blue berry juice at the foothills and we bought a bottle for 1000 MNT. We spotted a Russian van that’s the most popular vehicle to do the Mongolian terrain. We looked inside and around it. It’s got great clearance and loads of space. Just that there is place for five people in the middle with seats set opposite each other. We then decided to walk back to the camp and got quite close, but the stream was difficult to cross with no stones large enough to step on. So Amaraa came to our rescue and we just got into the car. Reached back at the camp around 1230.
Had lunch at 1 with Puliyogare and Thayir Satham. It felt good. We made some Puliyogare also for the camp owners. We then got trained on bread making !! – 1.5 kilos of refined flour, 14 gms of Yeast, 1.5 spoons of sugar, 0.5 spoons of salt, lukewarm water – mix it all into a soft consistency and just cover the dough, leaving it aside for a couple of hours. Once it doubles in size, grease a pan or several pans, knead the dough again and flatten it. Put it into the pan and let it raise for another 15 or 20 mins and just place the pan in an oven at low heat or put it on the gas stove at low heat.
We saw the dough getting prepared and then came off to sleep around 3. The owner’s son came and called us at about 530 to see the dough being put on fire. We then went and took bath. One thing to remember in Mongolia – if you want piping hot water to take bath, shift your bathing to the evening, because that’s when Mongolians take bath. The water is passably warm in the mornings but piping hot in the evening. We got to the restaurant and had tea while Amaraa and Nara had dinner. Then we all played “Uno” the card game.
Amaraa is in trouble with me because he kept making me pick more cards … I have to do the same to him tomorrow. It was a fun game and became more fun when the bread got baked and came out for us to eat – oh ! It was warm and fresh and tasted great with the butter that we had brought from Ar Davhar camp. We continued playing for some more time and then packed up. Tomorrow we have breakfast at 8.30 and leave around 9.30 to cover 250 kms. Nearly 200 kms of those roads are paved, so we should be ok. We reach the Tsenkher hot springs.
Krishnan and I walked around the Khorgo camp till it got dark and then walked inside the camp. The Mongolian night sky is a visual treat, the stars are just countless and because there is no pollution, it’s like a carpet of stars. Stunning. We walked till 10.15 pm and again completed 10 kms today. It feels good.
Now to complete my book, “Re-arming Hinduism” before we sleep. It’s a great book.
Well, I just re-lit the fire from the embers. Am getting to be a pro at this now. Ok, there’s a dog barking outside .. 11.20 pm
Day 15, Sept 13 – Drank Airag, missed Cafe Fairfield
Fanned the fire just now … The Duut resort is full of people and Amaraa had to come and light the fire. For the first time in 9 days we have so many people sharing the camp space and it feels cramped :).
All of last night at the Khorgo camp, the dog kept barking at a particular cow and the cow was also making strange noises. It appeared to be an animal face-off. Then we heard the drunk singer singing. I slept somewhat, not very well and then the cough started so we woke up by 6.30. Brushed our teeth and got dressed quickly, then went for a walk. We went for breakfast sharp at 8.30 am and got another type of awesome pancake with honey and a vegetable soup to die for. Went easy on the butter… We have been eating a lot of it lately. Said our thankyou’s to the camp owner, the pretty lady Borgilmagnai, who has shaven off her head. In Mongolia the head is shaven to give some relief to the skull – especially if someone has headaches, shaving the head off is the solution offered. As we walked out of the restaurant the cute dog was standing guard outside the restaurant. He has a limp in his back leg but is very sweet. He walked us to the Ger and just lied down to sleep some more.
We left Khorgo camp at 9.26 and were gifted with a volcanic pumice stone. I also got Belguutei’s Facebook name and have to add him. I was asked to post a picture of my bread when I make it back in India. We passed through Tariat a tiny town just after the volcano and then by 10 am we got onto the paved road. What a relief !! After driving for an hour or so, we reached the Chuluut river gorge and the whole road leading up to it is stunning with pine and other trees lining both sides of the road, some turning yellow and orange and the rest with green leaves. We got off the car and walked to the edge of the gorge … It’s stunning. The gorge extends up to 200 kms. Would be fascinating to walk along the rim someday.
We also went to the other side that has the tree with 100 branches and was considered sacred. It got burnt down because someone left a lit candle or incense stick and the whole tree just burnt down. Now it’s an Ovoo (pronounced as “Avva”) with blue prayer flags all over it. We saw a kite and a couple of magpies sitting on the burnt tree but they flew away as soon as we got near the tree.
We reached the town of Tsetserleg by 1245 or so and headed straight to Cafe Fairfield… It looked pretty from the outside and we took our iPad’s thinking we would get the wi-fi. Well, unfortunately, the cafe was closed and we later read on the Lonely Planet guide that Sundays they are closed :(. So we will miss the much acclaimed Cafe Fairfield. We then tried a couple of other places, finally settling in on Hotel U-Tsakhuir, another Lonely Planet recommendation. The vegetarian noodles were quite good. The portion sizes in Mongolia are huge … So we always order one plate for the two of us and anyway Nara ends up sharing some of her food as well since the portion size is too big for her alone. We got some chilli powder to add to the noodles and it made them taste better :).
We then walked to the Museum at Tsetserleg. It’s a must visit museum because it’s so well maintained. Got to see some fun stuff like the “kooja” (Tamil word, and Tamilians will know what we mean) and a lot of photographs of local heroes.
From the Museum we went to the super market looking for fruits and not one of the stores had any fruits that weren’t stale. Krishnan just bought the Mirinda Apple soft drink and we took off for the Tsenkher hot springs where we stay today and tomorrow. The paved road ended quickly and we got onto the dirt road.
Got some amazing pictures of horses by the side of a stream and then a short video of them crossing the dirt road. Magnificent animals horses are !! We stopped around 4.30 for Indian tea and then reached the Duut resorts by 5. For the first time the dashboard showed the outside temperature as 30 deg C. Ahhh welcome break from the cold days. We had tea around 6 pm and the lady who is the resort manager offered us Airag, the famed fermented mare’s milk. It tastes like “chaach” and is supposed to be great for health. I just had a few sips, but Krishnan drank the whole bowl. Apparently during summers, Mongolians just drink Airag and don’t eat anything for a couple of days. It’s supposed to be a cleanser and has high calcium content. Amaraa just finished off the jug :).
We also got some Yak yoghurt mixed with wild berries that we all ate enough except Amaraa who stuck to the Airag. We then went to take bath and I washed my hair finally today. Boiled the Reetha seeds on the Goyo Travels portable stove. The resort pumps in the hot water from the natural hot water spring and mixes it a bit with cold water, because otherwise the water is scalding hot. Krishnan met a monk who lives in Kushal Nagar, near Coorg, who speaks Hindi. So much fun.
I sat in the hot mineral rich water for about 20 minutes and then got back to the Ger. Dried my hair using the hair dryer since I found a point to plug it in. There is no phone connectivity here – digital detox is complete :). Will have to find a way to let Amma know tomorrow. I suddenly felt tired after soaking in the hot water and just wanted to lie down. Hopefully the sulphur fumes cure me of the nagging cold that I have picked up !!
Off to sleep now .. After reading a few more pages of Fahrenheit 451. It’s a fascinating book in the first few pages. I have to dedicate time to writing .. It has to be time kept aside everyday otherwise the writing won’t happen. For now, the fire has to be fanned again.
Day 16, Sept 14 – A Hindi speaking Mongolian Monk !
12.25 pm, Restaurant, Duut Resort
We just got back after a long walk. Found horses, sheep, cows, yaks, yao’s (cross between a Yak and a cow), a couple of dogs and lots of squirrels. We woke up only by 7.45, did our exercises and took out the dry fruits to eat. That’s when we noticed that a mouse had nibbled at the pack of raisins and had nibbled at the paper covering the tomato pickle bottle. We had seen the mouse last night and forgot to keep away the food :). This is the first time that we saw a mouse in the Ger, and it’s probably because this camp is so full that they are assured of food.
This is the largest Ger that we have stayed in – 5 walls and really huge. Four single beds have been kept inside. Krishnan struggled in the Ger at the Khorgo camp since it was so small. His head hit the roof everywhere except near the fireplace and that was really uncomfortable. This Ger is fantastic from that perspective. We re-organized the nibbles inside the suitcase, safely out of reach from the mouse.
We reached the restaurant at 9 for our breakfast and saw the big group that had accompanied a monk sitting at 3 tables. Krishnan had met this monk yesterday as he entered the hot water pool and this monk is Mongolian who till a few days back was at the Kushal Nagar monastery in Coorg. He came over after his breakfast to our table and we got to know that he has been to India several times since 1998 and he likes the food and the monastery there. He has met the Dalai Lama countless times, in fact, he told us the name Dalai is Mongolian. He drank a couple of big bowls of Airag and offered to Krishnan and me too … We just took a sip and left it for others to drink up. He has eaten Parotta (as the South Indians call the Parantha), and has been all over India – Hubli, Bodh Gaya, Delhi, Dharamshala, Mcleodganj etc. He speaks a smattering of Hindi and it was nice to speak to him in Hindi in Mongolia. He is coming back to India in November and has promised to call and say “I am Jams, the Mongolian Monk”.
He chatted for a long time with us and left saying Namaste :).
We got awesome Yak Yoghurt and homemade bread and Urum (fresh butter) to eat in the breakfast. We used the peanut chutney to spread over the butter and ate the bread. Gave a slice to the resort manager to taste. We offered to the Mongolian monk as well, but they are not supposed to eat garlic so he refused. Now we will start lunch … No phone connectivity here. Wonder what happened.
Have the worst headache ever … I stayed longer in the hot water pool than I should have. The water was very hot and it was just Krishnan and I so it kept getting hotter and at one point when Krishnan got out, I realised I should have too because the headache had started. I got out and started feeling dizzy. Slowly took a shower and managed to reach the Ger. I felt ok after lying down for some time and we played “Uno” with Nara and Amaraa. This time we changed our seating positions in such a way that I could play and then Amaraa played. Between Nara and I we started giving him several cards so that he had to pick 4 or 2 more cards. So lots of fun. The resort manager gave us big bowls of yoghurt and I could eat just a little.
An American man was talking for a long time with the resort’s Filipino chef and his brother. His wife is Korean and she was in the shower room when I went to change.
Anyway, after lunch today we went looking for the nomadic family that stays close to the Duut Resort. We got there and were told the herdsman and his family had gone out. So we decided to come back tomorrow morning on our way to Kharakhorin. We got to play with two dogs… They are so cute and welcoming. We also got lots of pictures of horses at the stream. What magnificent animals they are. We got back and Nara took us to the source of the hot water spring. There are so many camps in this area because of the hot water springs and they have all laid pipelines from the spring. The smell of sulphur is strong and the water is at 79 deg C which is really hot. We walked back to the camp to take bath and soak in the pool while Nara took a longer route back to the camp.
The headache just wouldn’t go.
12 midnight –
Now the headache has centred on my forehead. It’s still not gone completely, inspite of a Combiflam tablet. Krishnan has just slept a little. I will try and sleep now.
Day 17, Sept 15 – First disappointment !
We had breakfast at 8.30 and since we were all packed, we left the Duut Resort by 9.25 am. Well, the Duut resort didn’t get our heart … The other resorts are just etched in our memory, but not the Duut resort. I can think of a couple of reasons – this is the first place which has been impersonal, business like. While the resort manager was sweet and full of energy, we didn’t even ask her name ! The food was the other reason. Breakfast was just bread mostly and again the heart was missing. Maybe we are spoilt by Nara Sr and the Khorgo Camp folk, but they were really wanting to cook a great meal everytime. Here it was just another meal for another customer. Also there were so many more guests here than those places, so not much of an interaction.
The American-Korean couple were in the restaurant for a long time as they were chatting with the Filipino chef and his brother who ran the kitchen in the camp. We got “Rava” “kanji” for breakfast and huge bowls … I couldn’t finish half of it. We managed to juice the half watermelon and it was great to get the fresh juice after a long time.
We left at 9.25 and stopped at the nomadic family that we had tried visiting yesterday. The whole family was in and the two dogs too ! The dogs came running to get petted. We got into the family’s ger and it was fascinating to see a TV, a nice dresser, a cupboard and a curtained kitchen. There was also a gas cylinder in blue instead of the red we get in India. Apparently all towns have places where you can get the gas cylinder refilled. We were offered “su te che”, dried curd and since we had mentioned earlier that we won’t have the Airag, they didn’t offer it. The dogs were asked to stay out of the Ger so they sat down just outside the door. We got to see a nice album that a tourist couple had sent them after their stay with them in June 2015. This family has three daughters who study in the town. In Mongolia education is very important and the children of the herdsmen study at the nearest town and stay in the dormitories or with their grandparents or if older, they all live in a Ger on their own.
We asked questions about how far they move when they do and apparently it was just 7 to 8 kms and they had a designated place where they put up the Ger. In a year this family moved just three times but some families move four times. Mostly they stay within a district (Aimag). We then went to see the Yaks being milked and I managed to touch a couple of Yak calves … They are so shy, they just move away, but while their mothers were being milked, they were tied inside a pen, so I managed to touch a couple. Their fur is so soft !! We then went to see the pine nuts that the family had collected over two days. A whole Ger was full of pine cones that had the nuts in them. Krishnan and I ate a couple of pine nuts and they taste nice.
We left around 10.30 from the family Ger towards Kharkhorin. We got onto the paved highway after about 50 kms of dirt road and then both Krishnan and I got a nice nap. We reached the Munkh Tourist camp by 12.30 and had our first disappointment of the trip. It was on the itinerary that we were to get an ensuite Ger at this place and we were given a regular one :(. A very pretty Ger, in fact the prettiest one that we have stayed in so far, with a sofa and a mirror etc, but we were so looking forward to having an ensuite bathroom. Nara didn’t have a great reason for the change in plans .. But we expressed our disappointment and hope it got communicated to Goyo and Tuul. Surprisingly, the data worked on Krishnan’s phone (Amar’s Mongolian SIM), so we downloaded the emails and checked with Mr. Pramod about ShikshaDaan’s meeting on the 11th with the CIT. We have been asked to submit the ITAT order and a letter which is happening now. Amma called and we spoke about some of the Hyd news.
After lunch we left to see the Erdene Zu monastery, which is the oldest and largest monastery in Mongolia. Just before the monastery there is a fantastic museum that has been created with the help of the Japanese govt. It was great to see the pottery kilns, the intact tomb of a Turkish nobleman and all the mud statues plus the gold coins they had unearthed from his tomb.
Again understood Chinggis Khan’s legacy and what he really was like rather than just the plunderer that we think of him as. From the museum we went to the Monastery and it’s a huge one. The Buddha statues are stunning and really beautifully crafted. We saw several Thangkas. Interestingly they have a female goddess by the name “Shri Devi” who comes on a white horse and legend has it that she visits everyone’s house at a certain time during the year. But they have shown her as wearing a garland of skulls like our Durga or Kali Maa. Of course the Yama Dharma Raja is riding his favorite buffalo :). Lots of commonalities. The teaching monastery is next door and the main temple there was locked. Early morning they have the monks chanting here. This monastery was built by Chinggis Khan’s son. From the Monastery we went to the Turtle rock and got some amazing views of the entire town. The turtle rock is basically a huge rock which has been sculpted as a turtle and the thought is that they signified borders of someone’s estate as four of them have been found.
While coming down from the turtle rock we stopped at the stone phallus. This was apparently put by a senior monk from Erdene Zu monastery when he found out that monks were having physical relationships with women when they were forbidden. To shame them, he put the rock carving of a phallus so the whole town could see it. From there we went to three different super markets and couldn’t find fruits in any of them. Nara managed to transfer the money to her mother finally from one of the ATMs. We got back to the resort and as soon as we got off the car, we saw a full rainbow as it had rained a little further away. Don’t think, Krishnan and I have seen a full rainbow in a long long time. It was stunning as anything in Nature is.
We then went for a long walk and came for tea at 7 and ended up having a soup. We also decided to have soup everyday with Amaraa and Nara, otherwise they don’t end up eating any dinner. We noticed a big Chinese/Taiwanese group at dinner and the same American-Korean couple from Duut resort. We stayed for a short while and excused ourselves to go for another short walk. After that we went to the Ger and spent some time reading. I kept the door open for 10 minutes or so since the fire was strong and it was stuffy inside. When we tried to sleep we realised the bed was too small and the pillows were really flat, they weren’t pillows at all :(.
First disappointment and further disappointment … Hope it becomes better tomorrow.
Day 18, Sept 16 – Horses, horses everywhere …..
Am sitting comfortably inside our Ger and Krishnan has gone to take bath … And it starts to rain. It looks like a passing cloud and hopefully it will stop raining soon. We watched a Ger being dismantled today. Fascinating how the whole big Ger folds up within minutes and can be transported on a cart or in a van. This camp is folding up for this year as it’s the end of the tourist season.
Last night was not a night of good sleep for both of us at the Munkh resort. The bed was small and we couldn’t turn much and the pillows were non-existent, they just lost all their fluffiness as soon as you put your head on them. Krishnan managed to sleep for some time and then I slept for some time and we again woke up in the middle of the night since we heard strong winds blowing. Anyway we managed to get up in time to see a beautiful sunrise and got to breakfast by 8.30 am. The highlight of the breakfast was the greeting by this beautiful dog that ran up and was ready to lick my face and I petted him for some time. He kept me company till the restaurant … He tried licking Krishnan but since Krishnan didn’t respond to him, he came back to me. Oh, if only we could take him with us. What a sweet dog. He gave that welcome to everyone coming for breakfast and Amaraa was carrying a bag. He just shooed away the dog and Nara and I kept teasing him for it. At breakfast, for a long time we thought they were serving us just muesli but then they got us eggs and pancakes later. I didn’t like the pancakes today since they smelt strongly of eggs. So we just returned the plates and ate some bread. The bread was great.
As we were all packed, we quickly loaded the car and were off from the resort by 9.10 am. We first went to the monument on top of a hill that has three large mosaics of the three large kingdoms of Mongolia – the Hunnus, the Turkish and the great Mongol empire. Again we got some stunning pictures of the town. We got back on the road by 9.36 am.
The initial 45 kms or so were on paved roads and then at a T-junction we turned into a dirt road, to check out a small town super market for fruits. We got lucky and found bananas and oranges. We will pass by the same town on our way to South Gobi and we will pick up some more fruits and lemons then. We saw a school and got talking about the school system in Mongolia and Krishnan asked if the schools were co-ed. Nara had not even heard of boys only or girls only schools as all schools in Mongolia are co-ed. From the town till the Ger camp it was dirt road but we reached the camp by 12 noon. From the outside the camp looked more rustic than any of the others, but the Ger was really nice and toilets and showers are the most spacious we have seen till date.
We took rest for an hour and joined Amaraa and Nara for lunch at 1. We used up the Rajma masala and also some of the Puliyogare mix. Nice food again. They had mixed barley with rice and it tasted really nice. After lunch we started at 2.15 or so to go and see the Bronze Age deer stones and steeles. These are clearly burial stones and they are between 4 to 7000 years old. On the way, we stopped at a stunning viewpoint to see the Orkhon river valley and I got a couple of great Panoramic shots on Krishnan’s iPhone. We walked around the burial stones a bit and then got back to the camp. On the way back we saw a policeman for the first time dragging a guy out of the car…. We didn’t stop to check what was happening.
We got back to the Ger camp and saw they were dismantling the Gers as the camp will soon be shut for the year. The family lives in Ulaan Baatar. We also met another couple who are travelling with Goyo. We took a short video of the Ger getting dismantled and then went for a long walk. Got some amazing pictures of horses from close up. They were grazing and they look so graceful. After the walk I sat down to write my notes and Krishnan shaved and took a bath. It got a little cold so we got back to our Ger. There was no electricity in the Ger yet. We went for tea at 7.
We are turning nomadic ! We just got shifted from Ger no. 11 to 21 because that Ger’s electricity connection was cut off. All the Gers in that row had been dismantled and I was joking with Krishnan that we may wake up in the morning to find our Ger gone :). Well, It happened before we even started to sleep. The new Ger is even better insulated and it has electricity and the fire is lit. We had onion soup for dinner and we had to get it changed as it was not even warm, but once it was heated up, it tasted yum. We also had the lemon juice. Again Amaraa escaped, because he drank a lot of Airag. Nara and Amaraa went to the nomadic family near our camp and got some butter, yoghurt and Airag. The couple who have come in a Russian van are from the UK. They are photographers and are capturing the movement of the nomadic families. So they were in the Gobi and are moving back to Ulaan Bataar after spending a few days at the Orkhon valley. They are coming to India in Jan to photograph the Ardha Kumbh at Haridwar. Got me thinking that we need to go for one of the Maha Kumbh melas atleast, being Indians.
Nice day… Tomorrow we go to the monastery setup by Zanabazar at Tovkhon Khiid. Looking forward to it.
Day 19, Sept 18 – Inspired by Warren
Today is a special day … For some strange reason I started reading “Test of will” by Warren MacDonald yesterday. It’s an easy read and I am reading it for the nth time, so I nearly completed 50% of the book before sleeping.
We had probably the best bed, pillows and covers last night, in this trip so far, so we had a good night’s sleep. Breakfast was at 9 and then we left for the Tovkhon Khiid monastery at 10. It was a good one hour drive from our place and we saw vultures and lots of horses and managed to get some pictures. This area is also filled with volcanic stones and we crossed the Orkhon river at a particular point.
After reaching the foothills of the hill atop which the monastery was built, we started climbing. Last night when I spoke to Nara, she told me, the climb will be steep in some places, so I shouldn’t wear a sari. What she forgot to tell me is the entire 6 kms that you climb up is all uphill with not even a 10 meter patch that is even ground. 🙂
About less than half the distance on our way up, I told Krishnan, I don’t want to climb, this is too tough and after breakfast almost impossible. When we asked Nara she said nearly 1.6 to 2 kms was still left to climb. We stood there for some time and then I thought of Warren and his getting stuck under the boulder and then his climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro … The first double leg amputee to do it and said to myself, it would be a shame if I cannot even climb this with both my legs intact and just a troublesome knee. So I climbed all the way to the base of the monastery and the breakfast getting all digested helped as well. The views from the monastery was fantastic. We didn’t climb the last 100 odd meters because it was all steps made of stones and I didn’t want to risk hurting my knee.
We walked down relatively easily and this was a personal triumph for me because in 2005 when we visited Bhutan, I was so unfit that I couldn’t climb to see a single monastery there. I had decided then to work on my fitness and managed to do well all these years. Just lost some momentum in 2013-14 due to work stress for the first time and my dislike for our place of stay. But in the last few months since leaving Aon, we have managed to restart our exercises to some extent. The troublesome knee had also healed completely till I hit the ground hard at the Hyderabad home, when I misjudged a step. But we have been walking a lot in Mongolia, it’s just made for walking and our fitness levels have improved even more.
We had a picnic lunch at 2 pm and made the Indian tea. The picnic lunch was really nice with the Mongolian samosas :). We then left from there to reach the camp. As we left the monastery, I noticed that Kokka, my cousin had called on my India phone and the Mongolia number as well. He usually has some news of someone unwell:) so I got a little concerned. Luckily saw Amma had sent a message just after his call that she is fine. I did call her and speak for a few minutes. On the way, just before crossing the Orkhon river we helped Nara and Amaraa to clear some plastic trash that was thrown around. We then stopped at the Petroglyphs, rock paintings of Ibex, deer and horses. I learnt that Ibex means wild goat, while I kept thinking all this while that it was a type of deer !!.
We walked back to the camp by 4.30 and I went to take a leisurely bath. I blow dried my hair in the cool breeze outside and the pleasant evening sun. Then Krishnan took bath as well and we both came back to our books. Krishnan had started John Grisham’s “A Confession” and I completed Warren MacDonald’s “Test of will”. We weren’t much tired.
Went for tea at 7 and then asked if we could play Table Tennis for a few minutes. I was probably playing it after 28 years as was Krishnan :). Both of us got back our rhythm after playing wildly for ten minutes or so where the ball didn’t even hit the table on the other side !! Then we played a few singles games and Amaraa won. Then we played five doubles games with the men on one side and the women on the other side. The first two games were won by Amaraa and Krishnan but the last three were won by us women !!! Wow, it felt nice.
We got back to the Ger, packed a little and started to read our respective books… What a fun day we had today and just goes to show we have more capacity than we assume.
Thanks Warren for being an inspiration !!
Day 20, Sept 18 – Driving all day !
Just got back from an hour of oil massage at the Secret of Ongi resort. This is my first experience of a massage outside India and it was a pleasant one. The place was clean and the masseur was well trained. The only challenge was she spoke very little English, just enough to give and take instructions.
We reached this place by 5.30 pm, stopping enroute at the Ongi monastery for 45 minutes. The monastery is all ruins as it was destroyed during the 1930s purge. Just at this place, 200 monks were killed. This monastery was built around 1739 and at its peak had a 1000 monks and several temples, stupas and dormitories spread over a huge area. It was the largest monastery in Southern Mongolia. The grandson of one of the students at this monastery lives here and he opened the newly reconstructed temple for us and the Ger museum, a really old man. As soon as we were done with the visit, he just locked things up and left.
Krishnan and I were impressed that he didn’t hang around looking for some money as a tip. This is something that we have come to love about Mongolia, people just don’t look for tips, the concept doesn’t seem to exist. Except at Ulan Bataar we didn’t find any beggars in the countryside. Everyone works really hard and there seems to be dignity of labor because we have seen resort owners and hostel owners cleaning up the toilets even. We need to transport that attitude to India.
We left from the Orkhon valley Ger camp at 9.09 after breakfast at 8. Also, another cultural nuance is, coffee and tea is drunk lukewarm, not piping hot. So Nara had to help to get the milk to be piping hot for coffee. I wasted a spoon of sugar and coffee powder, and a cup of milk because the coffee powder just wouldn’t mix and the coffee was lukewarm. :). It was a bright sunny morning but 0 degree and bitingly cold. We teased Amaraa as he took off at a high speed from “his place” as he has grown up here in the Orkhon valley. By 10, We reached the town where Amaraa’s brother lives, and where we had found some fruits the other day. We managed to buy some bananas and mandarin oranges again today. The lemons were still not fresh. We also tried to find an ATM to draw some Mongolian currency but none was open. So we owe Nara 20000 MNT.
We left from the town around 10.35 and stopped for lunch next at 1 pm. Amma called early in the morning to speak since she thought the phones might not work. Then I played the VKE1-E2 series of songs and it was great to relive the memories of those two cassettes. We remembered how we would record from one tape to the other and were wondering if those type of tape recorders and players were still available. Krishnan is now changing lyrics of Tamil songs as well, substituting words at will …. And I am having to correct him :):).
The picnic lunch of noodles and vegetable pickle was fantastic. It was so good that Krishnan ate some from my portion too and he usually doesn’t like noodles at all. We decided to stop later for the Indian tea and spent time taking a loo break and I spent the time collecting a particular coloured stone. Now Nisha will have to work on these stones to make it into a nice neck piece.
When we were very close to the monastery, Amma called again to stay she felt giddy a little while back and was planning to visit the doctor. Luckily my cousin Chellamma is in town and she is a doc. She told Amma to relax and not do too many things. That’s easier said than done with mom. Luckily the India number works in this resort. So we have been exchanging messages and she is fine.
This resort is very plush and really nice. It’s not as cold and in fact till evening we didn’t even need our jackets. Now it’s a bit cold but not very cold. For the first time in 14 days we won’t have fire in the Ger. Missing the fireplace already 🙂 and the whole process of lighting the fire. For an hour or so, we listened to Osho’s discourse on the Dhammapada and it’s a surprise that people dislike him … He is just so much fun and so tremendously meditative. Just hearing his voice makes one to calm down and of course for me he is very liberating. We had a light soup at 7 and I had my appointment for the massage at 8.30. We completed listening to the first chapter of CD No. 12 before going for my massage.
Feeling nice and drowsy. Just waiting for mom’s message after she had met with the doc. Am sure it’s nothing, but it’s always better she goes to a doc and gets herself checked especially since we aren’t around.
Day 21, Sept 19 – Lunch with dinosaurs and luxury atlast 🙂
We started from the Secret of Ongi resort at 9.12 am and just kept driving for 3 hours across the Gobi desert. We stopped for a loo break and snacks at 12. The Gobi is a very different kind of desert where there are shrubs so one would think that there is greenery, but it’s just the hardy shrubs that grow here and nothing else. No trees.
We reached the flaming cliffs of Bayanzag just in time for lunch. These look like the hills of Sedona, on the way to the Grand Canyon in the US.. The Earth is almost red and that’s how the name came about – they look like cliffs that are aflame. We had our lunch here. It was from this place that the American archaeological team had discovered 100 dinosaur fossils and they have all been taken to the Musuem of Natural history in New York. Mongolia has a huge concentration of dinosaur fossils.
After lunch we drove some more to reach the camp for the night – Three Camel Lodge which is a luxury property in the Gobi. We experienced the ensuite Ger for the first time and it is definitely more comfortable :). The person who owns this resort lives in the US and is an architect. He has built this place tastefully !
Dinner was just soup and the portion sizes are normal at this resort. The restaurant is beautiful and the whole resort sits on a volcanic hill. We went out for a long walk, late in the evening. Tomorrow is an early start since we need to go to the Valley of Lammergeiers to spot some wildlife.
Day 22, Sept 20 – Deep river gorge and untold fortune …
Am just reeling under the impact of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. He wrote it nearly six decades ago, but we are living in that world where books aren’t read and TV soaps have taken over our lives. I hope to write a book someday that will become the new bible of how to live in this world. Hmmm first the book about how to keep a marriage interesting and full of life and not just another tick box exercise in social living.
We reached the Gobi Discovery camp by 5.45 pm a full hour before we thought we would. This camp is very close to the singing sand dunes that we will visit tomorrow. They have electricity only between 8 pm to 11 pm, so we are charging our iPads while reading and working on it. We miss the 3 Camel Lodge !!! It was luxurious :). We woke up early today by about 6 am and were ready by 7.10 with all the luggage packed and ready to go. Two of the girls at the camp came and took the keys from us to load the luggage in the car as we had breakfast.
The breakfast was a buffet for the first time. We loved the bread-pizza and ate all of it with half a bottle of Tobasco. Then had some coffee.. The decoction is not strong and that makes all the difference, but the coffee smelt great. We left sharp at 8.15 am, the earliest we have started during the trip so far. Our first stop at 9.30 was at the Natural history museum. The museum is supposed to be open from 8 am but since the season is about to end, the museum manager came as soon as we parked the car and opened the museum.
It’s a fantastic museum which has won several awards because it has some really rare stuff like, bones, eggs and the skull of a dinosaur. Fascinating stuff… The femur bone of a small dinosaur is almost the size of the thigh of an adult human being. There are several stuffed animals and birds, the wolves, snow leopards, cats, lammergeiers, owls etc. It’s displayed beautifully and yes, you cannot touch any of the exhibits. Right at the end, you have a “complicated” fortune telling game. The ankle bones of the sheep and goats are used as dice and depending on whether you get a camel, horse, goat, sheep there is a number system and your fortune is told. Well, I rolled the dice and got a combination that they hadn’t predicted the future for – 2 goats, 1 camel and 1 horse. Basically the universe told me that I had untold fortune :):).
From the museum after a short drive, we were at the river gorge or the Yolyn Am. We walked for an hour almost one way with the thin stream flowing alongside. We tried spotting any Ibex, wild sheep or wild horses. The thing we saw the most everywhere were the tiny rabbit like animal called Pika. They are a busy lot at this time of the year carrying grass and leaves to their burrows in the ground in preparation of the long winter ahead. Managed to photograph many of them. We turned back after an hour of hiking and at 12 noon started down the scenic southern route that went through yet another canyon. Nara spotted some wild sheep on a mountain first, then we saw a family of Ibexes. It felt nice seeing them in the wild. We even managed to get a couple of pictures of one Ibex.
We stopped around 12.45 for a picnic lunch and we got a vegetable wrap, just the way we get them in India, a “roti” wrap. Amma’s tomato pickle came in handy and then Nara took out a local biscuit that looks like the big daddy of “Parle Glucose” biscuit, less sweeter, and very tasty. We ate some of that and started off again as we had a good distance to cover.
We got some great pictures of the narrowest passageway in the canyon and then we were out in the flat desert. Reached a town and had the unique experience of Amaraa calling the fuel pump attendant to come and fill the car :). Apparently that’s the only fuel pump in town and they usually have a huge queue during the tourist season but this being the fag end of the season, we were the only car.
We drove through the unique Gobi desert’s landscape with shrubs and small plants all over. As we reached the camp site, the sand dunes started. What’s unique is there are proper hills behind the sand dunes and then in the front there are these flat lands with shrubs, so you have a sandwich filling made up of sand dunes !! It’s almost as though God swept the sand into this strip of sand dunes :). They run for 110 kms and are 35 kms wide at the widest point. Fascinating.
We regaled Nara with stories of Rajeev Shukla, his unique gifts and the wonderful human being he is. Made tea about 60 kms before the camp with winds blowing every which way :).
We got the non-deep fried puris along with the soup during dinner and we asked if they could make them again during lunch tomorrow since we have the pindi chana pack still to go. We came by 8 pm to get the iPads charged as there are no plug points in the Ger. The electricity grid does not extend upto this area so they use a generator to bring in electricity and solar power for other charging needs.
Mom is fine. Managed to speak to her in the morning. Kokka as always denied, it was his birthday today, saying it was tomorrow :). Life is good.. How could one even think of burning books ??? Or become a non-reader ?
Day 23, Sept 21 – A gentle Bactrian camel, upset !
Caught the beautiful sunrise just now. Hopefully it’s a warm and pleasant day where we can do without the jackets. Krishnan just went to take bath. He did his morning exercise using the torch on the phone and as soon as we opened the door, we realised they had the generator on. :). We could have just switched on the light in the Ger. Also strangely enough, Unitell signal came up on my phone but was lost before I could send an SMS to Amma. Siru’s birthday today. Hope we find connectivity in some place for a few minutes so I could wish her.
Just got back from a long walk … And managed to upset a gentle camel. So after breakfast at 9 we left to visit a herder’s family. We watched the goats being milked and the funny way in which they tried to escape. The herder had seen Indian movies on TV and wanted to know if we have goat milk in India. They had two dogs which were super friendly and one of them wanted my colorful cap to play with. He settled for a nice massage 🙂
The herder’s grandson was really cute and kept playing hide and seek with us using his grandpa as his shield. This particular herder has won the award as the best herder of this province for a couple of years in a row. They have about 300 goats and soon they will shift to a place between the hills where the winds won’t blow as much and it would be relatively warmer.
We then went out to the camels and I tried getting on one of them first…. First I struggled to put my leg over and then when the camel stood up, I was sure I didn’t want to ride it for even a minute. Just clicked a couple of pics and I got off. It’s very uncomfortable because we have never ridden a camel before and just holding onto his hump hair is unthinkable. Krishnan tried convincing me, but he too got off as soon as the camel stood up with him on its back because he felt his leg was cramping. When Nara tried to get the camel to sit down to let Krishnan off, it got upset and told her in camel language “why are you making me stand up and sit down again and again”. Once Krishnan got off, it turned its face away and sat down chewing on something. It must have thought we were just fools :):):).
Mongolia is home to nearly 300,000 Bactrian camels and they have a very gentle temperament compared to the one hump camel. But well, we are Indians and we managed to irritate even the gentle camel.
For lunch today we took out the last packed food – “Pindi Chana” and got it heated. While opening the pack I dropped some on Nara :(. Dropping day today. They had made the vegetable rice for lunch and the Chana tasted great with it. Apparently they forgot to make the slightly fried flat bread which is nearly our Naan. But good lunch still :).
I tried calling Amma from the restaurant sitting near the window where the Unitell signal didn’t fade away, but I couldn’t speak to her much as she was unable to call back. But happy to know she is fine.
After lunch we went back to rest in the Ger for some time and left at 4 pm to go to the singing dunes. Krishnan and I managed to climb half way up, about 1.5 kms and then I stopped. It was the first time that we were climbing a sand dune and it’s bloody tough. Your leg just keeps sliding back and you keep losing ground :). Since it had drizzled a bit earlier in the day, in some places the sand was packed and you could walk easily. Amaraa and Nara climbed a little further and just turned back when we did. Nara cleared some more trash from the dunes. It’s sad that people throw plastic bottles everywhere :(.
Once we got back to the Ger, I started the Nora Roberts novel “Whiskey Beach” and it’s all consuming as is the “Seventh Secret” for Krishnan. We got back to the restaurant to have tea and soup at 7 pm and then charge our respective iPads. Since the Gobi Discovery 2 camp is not on the grid they use a generator between 8 to 11 pm to help the guests charge their devices. We changed the wires for Krishnan’s iPad otherwise it was really not charging quickly enough. It did better after changing the wires.
Tomorrow we leave early after breakfast at 7.30 and stop by at the Petroglyphs on our way to the next camp at Bayanzag area. The trip is winding down …. What an amazing set of memories we have created and have seen some stunning locations.
Day 24, Sept 22 – Left side tap is for hot water … Finally.
Just had bath and the water was piping hot and guess what, it came from turning the tap to the left !! Ok in Mongolia, the hot water sign is on the left everywhere, but it flows from the right. In every camp that we have stayed, that’s been the way. In fact even here, Krishnan told me the hot water is coming from the right and I kept waiting for it, then shifted to the left and it worked.
We are at the Gobi Discovery tour camp, part of the Gobi Discovery camp group. While the Gers are large and the food is excellent, they need to make some changes in the bathrooms. There is no place to hang up your clothes when you get in to take a shower and it just makes things a little complicated if many men or women need to take bath at the same time. I wonder how they manage during full season. Right now, because the season is ending, we are the only guests in the entire camp, so it’s easy. Also in their Gobi Discovery 2 camp that we came from in the morning, there is no electricity in the morning and there was one guest at 6 am brushing her teeth in the dark. They may want to get just the bathroom lights connected to a generator for the mornings, since the Sun comes up late.
Krishnan woke up at 5.30 as he had to use the toilet. The beans in the dinner yesterday weren’t fully cooked. So they upset his stomach. I was reading late into the night … Well, it’s an interesting book, so it’s difficult to sleep quickly. But I also woke up early since we had to leave by 8. We did manage to leave by 8.15 am and then drove non-stop till we reached the Petroglyphs at 1. While it was all dirt road, it wasn’t too bumpy till we reached closer to the Petroglyphs. The last 10 odd kilometers were tough as we went over stony patches. At one place, the car hit a rock, but thank goodness, nothing happened.
We didn’t climb the steep mountain to see the petroglyphs because I was unsure of getting down safely with my knee not getting strained. We had lunch right there and boy, it was windy. The singing dunes didn’t sing, but the wind sang !!! The tomato pickle is just sufficient for one more round which we will eat tomorrow. The dumplings were great as was the bread. I have to try making the bread as soon as I get back to Gurgaon.
We reached the Gobi Discovery tour camp by 3.30 or so and just took rest. Krishnan slept for sometime but my book kept me from sleeping :). The winds were blowing so hard when we got off the car that we nearly were getting pushed back when we tried to walk against the wind to get into the Ger. I have recorded the sound on the iPad from inside the Ger. We just had tea at 7 pm and then took bath quickly as the water had been heated. There was no electricity for a few hours and then it got restored. The restaurant at this camp is beautiful and entirely made of wood. The big beams apparently come from Russia.
I managed to complete the book finally by 10 pm and we again start early tomorrow. Wonder why the ensuite Ger didn’t happen today, have to check with Goyo. Guess we just got spoilt with the ensuite Ger at 3 Camel Lodge. It doesn’t look like this camp has any ensuite Ger.
Day 25, Sept 23 – Planted a green legacy
We left from the Gobi discovery tour camp at 7.55 am, the earliest start ever and by 8.40 am we got onto the paved road. It was smooth sailing from then on. We just stopped for a stretch break once at around 11 and reached Byamba’s place by 1245.
Goyo’s mom, Byamba has been planting trees since the age of 25 … For forty years. She is so dedicated to her work, and it’s work that’s making a huge difference to the country. She is making sure that desertification doesn’t spread in the Gobi and plants that thrive here are planted over large areas.
We first had lunch at 1 and it was delicious food with vegetable rice and a great vegetable soup. We rested for some time and then went out at 3.30 pm to see Byamba’s work. It’s a huge area that Byamba is planting trees over and she is also overseeing the plants and trees being planted over a much larger area. The town is trying to keep this area as a garden area so that no grazing happens and the trees get enough space and water to grow. It’s of course private plots which people have chosen to grow trees in. We also planted a tree each and hopefully they grow into trees that can keep the chain moving ahead.
We are staying at Byamba’s house and what a warm and welcoming family they are. Krishnan has become fast friends with Urna’s son and that little boy is just so cute. We went to the market in the afternoon to buy some chocolates for him and his sister. I used the ATM for the first time in Mongolia to draw some local currency. Khan Bank ATMs are everywhere !
I also gave Byamba the soap nuts (Reetha) and Fenugreek seeds (Methi) and we need to get her in touch with the lady who preserves seeds in Uttaranchal. Also have to share details about the greening of Rajasthan using drip irrigation, check dams and other methods. This area receives about 50 mm of rainfall. Wonder if rain water harvesting will work.
I made some Indian tea for everyone in the evening and we went through the family album and shared some of our pictures. Then I made some Tamarind rice which Urna loved but Byamba doesn’t eat any spice. We also shared the article that was written by Odbayar on Gogo news website about our celebrating our 25th anniversary in Mongolia. Beautiful note and lovely pictures.
It’s a great conclusion to the trip … Meeting Byamba and Goyo’s family, planting trees, eating a delicious meal, going through family albums … Just great. I have begun to miss green chillies and spicy coconut chutney. Let’s see if “Namaste” tomorrow serves any South Indian food, atleast green chillies would do. 🙂
Day 26, Sept 24 – A typical Mongolian day
Nara kept saying that you have four seasons in a Mongolian day and we got to experience it today. We left from Byamba’s place by 8.20 after a great breakfast and several photographs. I took out the second new sari that I had brought along and everyone liked it very much. We will be stopping enroute at Bekh Gazryn Chullu, the granite formations that are smaller than the other one, Ikh Gazryn Chullu. It’s about 60 kms from Mandal Gobi and then another 40 kms before we would reach the paved roads. We were hoping to get to Namaste by 2 pm. It was cold when we stared but also the Sun was out and it felt like it would be a warm day. Nara then told us that it was snowing in Ulan Bataar. Hmmmm, that will be interesting !
We reached the granite formations by 10 and they are stunning …. Just a huge area that looks like the temple ruins of Cambodia. I got off at one place and realised there was a cold breeze blowing ! The temperature reading on the dashboard said 0 degree and kept jumping between -1 and 0. We found a Petroglyph and decided to get out of the car to photograph and Krishnan and I were shivering. The breeze was unbelievably cold and it felt as though they went inside our jackets and woollen caps. We took out the green and yellow caps that we wanted to gift to Nara and Amaraa and gave it to them. Even they felt cold, the breeze was icy.
We then stopped at a temple and the breeze seemed to let up a bit, but as we started walking towards the temple entrance, once again the icy cold wind picked up. We just hurried back into the car and decided not to get off till we reached UB. One of the ways to get to the paved road was broken so we had to backtrack a little and take a circuitous route to reach the paved road. At one point I asked Nara if we were lost :):) but ofcourse we weren’t. We got onto the paved road around 1230 and then stopped at 1 pm at a roadside shop to buy some snacks as we were still a couple of hours away from UB.
A few kilometres from that stop we encountered some rain and very soon it snowed.. Not heavy but enough to cover large areas on both sides with a thin layer of snow. Nara’s mom was right !! It was snowing. Closer to UB there were several diversions as roads were being repaired and we hit the road that leads to Zaisan memorial around 3. It took us another 30 to 40 minutes to reach Namaste and luckily the temperature in UB was a pleasant 12 degrees. Not just luckily, but like Krishnan predicted :).
The food was fantastic at Namaste. Not a single South Indian dish was on offer but the North Indian dishes that we ate were near authentic and very well made, just non-spicy. No, they didn’t have green chillies either. But great ambience and a great meal to end the tour. We reached Zaya’s guest house by 5.30 and since no one was around we got Amaraa and Nara to help us with the bags. We used the elevator to get to the 4th floor and then walked down a floor. Anand had left information with the girl who was on the shift about giving us room number 1. We kept the bags inside the door and just Amaraa managed to go out of the door and some twenty or thirty young students walked in. We later got to know they were from a college in Singapore. We managed to finally say goodbye to our friends Nara and Amaraa, they are family now !
Saw Amma over Skype after almost 45 days and also managed to connect with Padma and Mami. Felt good. Missed Nara and Amaraa as we made Indian tea and pinged Nara to tell her that :). Love Whatsapp.
Tomorrow we plan to see the Zanabazar museum and the dinosaur museum. Hopefully it doesn’t snow :).
Day 27, Sept 25 – Molahu Kozhambu and Saaru for lunch
The smile on Krishnan’s face as he tasted the Kimchi based Korean spicy dish at Luna Blanca said it all – this was almost the Indian sambar :). Once I tasted it I found to be more like the Telugu Saaru without the lentils and very tasty. I ordered the Malaysian dish that was named Spicy and it turned out to closely resemble the Molahu (pepper) sambar. We polished off both the plates without leaving a grain of rice or vegetable behind !
We woke up a tad bit late and had breakfast immediately. When we looked out, it was bright and sunny, so we started off toward the Zanabazaar museum. We located it easily enough and its worth a visit. We particularly liked the “Appliqué” thankhas, just stunning art. It took us nearly an hour to look around. Then we looked for an ATM to draw some local currency. The first one we went to didn’t dispense the cash. Then we went to an ATM that was inside a bank and got the local currency.
We felt hungry as soon as we saw Luna Blanca :), so decided to have an early lunch and then go to the dinosaur museum. Lunch was awesome as I started this note with. The credit card didn’t work at Luna Blanca, and luckily (Ok, Krishnan’s forethought) we had cash !! From there we walked towards the Freedom square looking out for the Dinosaur museum. There was some sort of fair going on at the freedom square. We first went to the left of the Freedom square when you are facing it. Neither of us registered Lenin’s bust staring at us from the building’s roof. We walked into a lane and came out near the Loving Hut restaurant that Daria had brought us on Sept 1st. Krishnan wanted to go into the super market to ask about the museum … I felt they wouldn’t have anyone who spoke English there. While we were about to turn back, Krishnan on an impulse asked the man who was coming in the opposite direction where the museum was. He didn’t speak English, but pointed out the building to us. It was on the lane to the right of Freedom Square when you stand facing it and as soon as we walked around to the other side we found it.
The entrance fee is 2000 MNT per person and some extra if you want to take pictures. The museum is a tiny one but fascinating as it has the fossils, eggs and bones of creatures that roamed the earth 70 million years back. We are pygmies in front of these huge dinosaurs and the way we are killing Mother Earth, I could almost see a future generation of “living” beings peering at our remains and wondering why all of us were clutching at a plastic bottle of something fizzy !!! 😦
From the dinosaur museum we came to our favourite store – the State Departmental store and bought some supplies. Then got back to Zaya. We relaxed for sometime and then I made Puliyogare for Anand and Amar. Both were out and Krishnan called Anand once the rice was ready. He came by, tasted it and loved it :). We went out for a walk around 8 pm to complete the quota of 10 kms. We decided to walk towards the right on Peace Avenue rather than go left first. A few 100 meters down that way, a young Mongolian man spoke to us in Hindi !!! In Delhi if a stranger spoke to me in Tamil, I would probably hesitate to respond but the Mongolian people are so friendly and the streets are so safe that we immediately got talking. His name is Uka and he has studied BBA at the Punjab Technical college in Delhi. He stayed at Mukherjee Nagar and spoke Hindi really well. He insisted that we sit on a park bench and talk for ten minutes and we were more than happy to do that.
We got back to Zaya and slept well.
Day 28-29, Sept 26 and 27
The last two days in Ulan Bataar were spent enjoying the hum of silence which we know would be missing in India. On 26th, I made my signature vegetable biriyani with the Thai Jasmine rice that we had bought at the State departmental store and it was a big hit. Poor Anand had to listen to a lot of “gyan” about India in return for the Biriyani and we apologised to him :). I did get carried away. Well, India has such a rich history and is so fascinating that it’s difficult to explain it in brief. We spent nearly three hours at the state departmental store and bought a jacket for me that was on sale. We saw several camping stuff like the portable toilet and the Korean stove that Goyo travels had used during the trip, We didn’t buy it because we aren’t sure if we will get the gas canisters that are needed for these stoves.
The next day, on 27th, we first went to the state department store to get some additional supplies and then we went to Goyo travels’ office to leave the jacket and yoga mat for Amaraa and the “kajal” for Nara but they were closed. Olly had told us that they were working on Sunday, but looks like they managed to complete everything on Fri/Sat and didn’t come in, on Sunday. We will leave it at Zaya’s and let Olly and Nara know, so they can pick it up from there. I made Amma’s favourite potato “subzi” (curry) and a guest was around from Cypress. She also tasted some of the food and liked it. We got the Mongolian rotis (they are made with Maida and not deep fried but a little oil is used on a pan) from the State Department store and ate the subzi with it. Later in the evening I made lots of Puliyogare and Curd rice, left some for Anand and Amar and packed the rest for our plane trip back home.
Day 30, Sept 28, Bayarlala Mongolia (pronounced as “byertla” which means “Thank you”) and “Dudhyonam” for the Chinese Hanuman.
We wrote out a note for Anand and Amar thinking Anand wouldn’t come to the guesthouse before we left for the airport but he just managed to get in. We got a selfie with him 🙂 and started out for the airport. Beautiful day and we really don’t feel like leaving Mongolia.
At the airport, we met the driver who had come with another group at the Gobi Discovery 2 camp. He had walked around without a shirt when the day was really cold. He remembered us and we said hello. We then met three American ladies who were travelling the world while their husbands played golf :). As they were coming to India next year, we spent some time giving our suggestions for places to see.
3 pm at the Beijing airport
Well, they took away our curd rice during the security check !! All because it had yoghurt and the rice was all mashed up. They offered to allow us to eat all of it and they wanted to keep one of our passports while we ate it up :(:(. We just chose to throw it away… It was so nicely made with “Tapar” (pronounced as “Tarag”, means yoghurt)… Hope it reached some Chinese Hanuman. It’s Hanuman’s favourite food.
We had the hot chocolate at Costa but it was lukewarm so didn’t taste as awesome as the last time. We walked around the airport to get enough exercise and then stretched out a bit at gate E36 which had the recliners. I have nearly completed the fifth book “To kill a mockingbird”.
Flight has been announced. Delhi, here we come.