24 May 2018

Mongolia Trip

  1. One day you go out for a drink with this guy… May 24, 2018

    … and the next thing you know, you are waking up in Mongolia!!!

    How did that happen?

    The story goes back to last year. Roger was visiting Sharmila and me in Atlanta. I believe Sharmila had a party to go to that evening. Roger and I skipped the party and instead went to a local bar. You will be surprised what all topics he and I can discuss after the first glass of wine.

    I think we were talking about geography. Specifically, our knowledge of geography. Or lack, thereof. Especially in these days of social media where we get hyper-information about a small set of friends around us (what they are wearing, eating etc etc) but learn very little about the vast world that is out there. I was joking to Roger that I am pretty sure most of us in America cannot point to a country in Asia unless America attacks them!! Incidentally, I am hopeless when it comes to countries in Africa!

    Roger, thoughtfully, suggested that we should do something about it. First, Roger becomes very thoughtful after a glass of wine. Second, he tends to come up with a lot of suggestions when he is thoughtful.

    “Like what?”, I asked, half afraid that he would suggest America should launch a series of attacks on countries to increase our average level of IQ in geography. Thankfully, he had something far more benign in mind. “We should make an effort to learn more about other people,” he said.

    “I know what we will do. Let us visit a country nobody knows much about”, I blurted out. You think he is the only guy who can suggest stuff after some wine? Not a chance!

    Before even he could respond, I kept developing on the idea. I am always in love with my own ideas, that way 🙂 “Why don’t we come up with the name of a country that you and I know nothing much about? And then let’s visit that country”.

    Five furtive minutes of Google map search later – the two of us triumphantly agreed on a country. Mongolia, apparently. Because, between the two of us, all we could come up with is (*) Ghengis Khan (*) Gobi desert and (*) Ulanbaatar. That’s all we knew.

    Mongolia, it was to be! The second glass of wine was called in and we just kept on romanticizing about our trip to Mongolia as we sipped the wine.

    That night we let Shauna and Sharmila know that we will be headed towards Mongolia. I am not sure what their respective reactions were but I believe they uncannily were similar to “Whatever”. Sharmila’s specifically was “Have a glass of water and go to bed!”

    Next morning, I woke up first and started making coffee for Roger. He presently came in to the breakfast nook.

    “You know that we have agreed to go to Mongolia, right?”, I asked. Surmising, maybe he will blame the wine and opt out.

    Quite to the contrary he responded “I am very excited”!!

    And in the true Persian empire style of how laws were made, the motion was agreed to once while we had wine and once when we had not. The deal was done! In vino, veritas!!

    Well, that was the easy part. The more difficult part was figuring out how to go to Mongolia. Quickly, we realized that there was no Sheraton or Marriott in Mongolia. Actually, there is only one city that has any building that can be called a hotel. And that is if you can figure out how to reach there. No US flights go there. The one option we had – Korean – was extremely costly. The other option – Chinese – included taking an airlines that has been widely panned by its passengers.

    Many weeks of research later, we found a round about way to reach Mongolia…. thru a country that we could neither spell nor pronounce. Yes! We will fly into Mongolia from Kyrgyzstan. But to get there, we will go to Turkey first! Fun! Fun! Fun!

    Now that we had figured out how to get in and out of the country, the next question was – “then what?”. How do you make arrangements in Mongolia? That is when I remembered having met a lady at a friend’s place who did missionary work in Iraq and Mongolia. A few follow ups later, we got hold of somebody in Mongolia – Sara be her name – who agreed to help us!

    Slowly but surely, we started getting over the craziness of our idea and started becoming more confident of it. We started telling our friends and family that we will be heading to Mongolia!

    “Mongolia?? Why Mongolia???”, without fail, would be the question that we would be asked.
    “I do not know”, was my consistently truthful answer.
    “What is there in Mongolia?”, would be the inevitable follow up question.
    “I really do not know. But then again, I do not know what is not there either”

    And ever since, we have been counting the days!!…

    Today is the day!!!

    I just took a flight from Atlanta. And Roger, from Dallas. We are meeting in New York to start our international leg of the journey.

    Terribly excited, I must say. And somewhat wary of the craziness we two can lead each other to.

    Sure, there is high chance that we are going to be thrown off the camel’s back as we climb the sand dunes in the Gobi desert. These are Bactrian camels – they have two humps. That alone should be enough too confuse us.

    Sure, there is a high chance we will make fools of ourselves as we walk into a random tent of a nomadic family and declare ourselves guests. (by the way, that is exactly what we will be doing)

    Sure, we will be throwing up to high heavens with all the local food and water. Not to mention the local alcohol made by fermenting a mare’s milk. And you cannot refuse it when your host offers a bowl. Yuck!

    Sure, we will get to learn how to live without toilets. (“Carry as many wet wipes as you can”, was the advise we got from that missionary lady)

    Sure, we will freak out without any phone connection or Wifi connection. Or any electricity for that matter. (most of our stay, we won’t have much electric power).

    But then again, wasn’t that the whole idea of getting out of our comfort zone and go where most don’t go?

    Ready or not, Mongolia, here we come!!!

  2. You thought you did not know about Mongolia? May 24, 2018

    Try this…

    Roger and I are at the check in counter of Turkish Airlines who are taking us to Istanbul, then Bishkek and finally Ulanbaatar. Here is the conversation I had with the lady at the counter trying to check us in…

    “What is your final destination today?”
    “Ulan Baatar”
    “WHERE?”
    “Ulan Baatar”
    “Where is that?”
    “Mongolia, ma’m”
    “Do you have a visa?”
    “US Citizens do not need visa for 90 days, ma’m”.
    “Oh!”

    I turned back at Roger who had this “You-do-not-know-Ulan-Baatar?but-you-promised-to-take-us-there” look on his face.

    We finally cleared security, sat down with a glass of wine each and had a hearty laugh over the whole incident.

    It has certainly further lowered our expectations from Mongolia. Something tells me that is a good thing!!

  3. Second leg now – off to Istanbul May 25, 2018
  4. The third leg now – off to Kyrgyzstan May 25, 2018
  5. The fourth and last leg – ready to leave Bishkek for Ulan Baatar May 26, 2018
  6. View from the plane… 1 May 26, 2018

    Crossing over the mountains that separate Kyrgyzstan from Kazhakastan.

  7. View from the plane… 2 May 26, 2018

    We crossed over from Kazhakastan to China. And out of nowhere came this humongous city. Closely noticing it, we saw some interesting features. The whole city looked like lego blocks. There was no sign of any old structure that you would expect in this part of the world. Everything was very symmetrical, in right angles and the houses looked like they were built out of cookie cutters. But it was a humongous city.

    From Google Maps, it looks like the place is called Yining in Chinese and Gulja in Kazhak.

    Check it out – specially see it in a satellite map. You will see that in the middle of mountains and deserts, suddenly there is a huge city…

  8. View from the plane … 3 May 26, 2018

    We just entered Mongolia. Check out the desert with the long sand dunes and the road going thru..

  9. We have arrived!!! May 26, 2018
  10. The long road to Harhorin May 26, 2018
  11. It is like I never left India… May 26, 2018
  12. Cashmere goat May 26, 2018

    Apparently, this is the goat from whose hair cashmere is made…

  13. Check out how dry and windy it was… May 26, 2018

    … the vehicles were raising quite some dust in the wind…

  14. Saw quite a few of those small dust tornadoes… May 26, 2018

    I guess in Texas we called them Dirt Devils..

  15. Saw our first sand dune in Mongolia from up, close and personal… May 26, 2018
  16. Check out the Bactrian camel (two humped one) May 26, 2018

    My first in my life.

    Cute or what?

  17. The famous Mongol horses!! May 26, 2018

    There were scores and scores of them..

  18. Finally reached our destination village!! May 26, 2018

    Check out my abode for the night! The famous “ger” of the nomads (also called “yurt” by the Russians)

    Good night, then!!

  19. First sight in the morning… May 27, 2018

    Woke up in the middle of the night and had the experience of having to dress up and go out to the ger bathroom (which is a little walk away) in howling wind and cold conditions. Made the sleeping thereafter much easier.

    Finally woke up after sunrise and came out of the ger to this view… A big mountain in front of us and a ger village in its cradle…

  20. First stop of the day – Erdeene Zuu monastery May 27, 2018

    Only a fraction of the monastery remains after most of the buildings were destroyed during the time Mongolia was under the communist regime. What remains though, is still very beautiful. This is one of the few buildings remaining…

    This is in Harhorin in Orkhon valley. This was the place Chinggis Khan had originally established as the capital of the Mongol empire till his grandson Kublai Khan moved it to Peking. (Beijing)

  21. Dalai Lama’s abode in Erdenne Zuu monastery May 27, 2018

    This is being repaired – the orginial way – without using any nails!!

  22. My best part in the monastery? May 27, 2018

    Made a new friend at roughly the same IQ level as mine. She was totally cool with coming to me and even smiled at my antics!!

    I can’t wait for my friend to get a Facebook account now 🙂

  23. Another family we befriended… May 27, 2018
  24. Should I trust this guy? May 27, 2018

    Completely ignoring the photographer, this baby kept measuring me up whether I was trustworthy or not…

  25. Mother and the three girls from the family… May 27, 2018

    … all dressed up for the visit to the monastery…

  26. Offering respects at the monastery – local style… May 27, 2018

    … as the onlookers curiously watched on!!

  27. Two local kids decked up for their religious prayers… May 27, 2018
  28. Next stop – Harhorin museum May 27, 2018

    This was built recently and is a good refresher for learning history of the Mongol Empire.

    Also has a cafe with great Cafe Americano!!

  29. You thought only Roger can be silly? May 27, 2018

    Here is our tour guide – Sara – trying her best to imitate Roger’s face to break into Roger’s iPhone face recognition software!!!

  30. One last look at the monastery… May 27, 2018

    … this time from top of a mountain. You can see the 108 stupas bordering the wall along the monastery boundary…

  31. I kept wondering…. May 27, 2018

    … what did that one guy do to be thrown out of the village 🙂

  32. Our next goal was to see wild horses that are indigenous to Mongolia… May 27, 2018

    When it came to domesticated horses, they are everywhere… moving in great big herds. Here’s a part of the pack that was walking along the highway…

  33. Couple of those horses decided to amuse us … May 27, 2018

    … by running along with us by the highway…

  34. It took us quite some time… May 27, 2018

    … but finally we saw some wild horses in their natural habitat. We entered Hustai National Park after driving thru dirt for fifteen minutes.

    There was so much dust in the air that we were advised to go deeper into the mountains. We drove thru dirt again for quite some time. Could not find any horse in their regular places.

    Started heading towards the river and as we went around the corner of a mounrain, we saw a majestic group of horses trotting along the mountain on the other side.

    They looked absolutely majestic. Spent about 45 minutes watching them and another smaller pack that came along.

    This picture was shot from about half a mile away across the valley…

  35. Couple of those wild horses charging up the hill… May 27, 2018
  36. Horsing around… May 27, 2018

    These three horses took turns to dive into the ground and roll over and over from side to side …

  37. Off to Gobi desert we fly…. May 27, 2018
  38. Speaking Mongol May 28, 2018

    Learning Mongol is not for the weak of the heart. First, there are lots of sounds they make thru there nose that sound guttural. Most of the time, when our guide Sara was talking to our driver Hurle, I could not figure out if Hurle was clearing out his throat or saying “Yes”. Turns out he was saying Yes all along. Which made Roger and I a little wary of clearing our throats not knowing what we might land up saying Yes to!!!

    Before we boarded our flight to Gobi, Sara threw a curveball at us. She showed us her boarding pass and asked

    “Can you say my name?”
    Me: “It starts with three consonants. I am out.
    Roger studied it up and down and asked “Is that where we are going today?”

    🙂

  39. Fooled by a mirage! May 29, 2018

    We got into our vehicle from Dalanzadgad airport and hit the road. It was hot. After picking up some water from a super market, we headed towards the desert. For the first couple of miles we were on paved road. I suddenly noticed some water on the road – complete with the reflections of the object nearby. I had barely finished asking Sara if there had been rains in the area recently, when all the water vanished from the road.

    Fooled by a mirage!!

  40. Getting off road May 29, 2018

    After a few miles of paved road, our driver suddenly got off the road and started driving on dirt road. And I am being very generous when I call it a road. Our camp for the night was nowhere visible – in fact we drove for over ten miles of sheer nothingness before we could spot some gers. The driver kept driving like he knew all the small pebbles and animals and carcasses (actually there is one if you carefully notice) around in the next hundred miles.

  41. Reached our camp! May 29, 2018

    This is going to be my ger for tonite!

  42. This is incredibly beautiful and scary at the same time May 29, 2018

    As far as the eye could go – and they went at least thirty to forty miles – there was nothing. Just nothing. And some more nothing.
    A huge vast nothingness.
    Almost eerie!

  43. Dirt roads are overrated!! May 29, 2018

    After lunch in our camp, we headed out for You Valley. We were to hike up the valley. The driver started on the dirt roads and then suddenly, in an inspired move, got off the dirt road and driving on just dirt. He knew what he was doing. All I was thinking was that if he is off from just a couple of degrees, we will be totally lost. But he did reach us to our destination!

  44. This makes little sense… May 29, 2018

    We are yet to see a tree in the whole day. Like I had mentioned we were in the middle of nothingness. In fact we were very curious what were all those horses and cows and sheep and goat grazing on. Whatever it is, it cannot be more than a quarter inch long.

    So, why a sign not to cut trees?

    Found out from Sara that the sign is to tell people not to cut junipers in the area. Apparently, junipers grow here.

    Which raises the inevitable question – do they make gin in Mongolia? 🙂

  45. Off we go hiking… May 29, 2018

    I left the cows to themselves and the cows left me to myself…
    This is Yol valley. One hikes up the valley which starts very wide and then becomes narrower and narrower till only two person can pass. Our goal is to reach the ice and go as far as we can…

  46. A few horses and a yak up the mountain side May 29, 2018
  47. Yak!! May 29, 2018

    First time I read about a yak was in second or third grade. And now seeing one in its natural habitat.

  48. The valley is starting to get narrower May 29, 2018
  49. That was a sheer, scraggy mountain side May 29, 2018
  50. As usual Roger entertaining Sara and me on our hike… May 29, 2018
  51. We reached the first area with ice May 29, 2018
  52. Going further up the valley – navigating thru breaks in the ice… May 29, 2018
  53. Somehow the Wisconsin guy cannot help but play with ice May 29, 2018
  54. Now, the return trip… May 29, 2018
  55. Watching the sunset… over a glass of wine May 29, 2018
  56. Dusk has fallen over the gers May 29, 2018
  57. Early morning outside our ger camp May 29, 2018

    Got up early in the morning. Mongolians folks – at least in the countryside (I am not sure about Ulan Baatar) like to sleep in late in the morning by our standards. Nobody was around. Which means none of the ten or so guests or six or so workers were out in the open. It was very very quiet. And cold! Temperatures fell rapidly at night.

    Went back in the ger, put on a couple of more layers and grabbed the camera to get a few shots of a pack of horses that were grazing near our get camp in the dawn.

  58. Sunrise in Mongolia May 29, 2018

    Because of the geographical position, the sun rises (and sets) considerably south of east (and west).

  59. Mare and her foal May 29, 2018

    Took quite a few pictures of the horses in the early morning. Liked the way the early morning orange rays from the sun defined the silhouette of this mare and her baby. The baby horse stayed within a foot of the mother the entire time. And was very suspicious of a strange looking person going around with an even stranger looking black object!

  60. Different kind of pit stop May 29, 2018

    There is absolutely no wifi and virtually no phone connection in the areas we have been for the last couple of days. Between Roger, Sara and the driver, we have two different phone companies covered and everybody is checking ever so often if anybody has some connection. The best we get in certain areas is an Edge connection (very poor data connection). But enough to do WhatsApp.

    Headed out about an hour back from our camp to go to the Hongor Sand Dune. It is about a three and a half hour rough ride on some really tough terrain. About an hour into bouncing along the hard surface, suddenly we heard the familiar “ding” sound on a couple of phones (notifying messages have been received).

    Everybody yelled “There is connection”. I have no idea why at that spot we got some connection. We were surrounded by nothingness. Not even electric poles. And that had been the case for the last one hour. How did we manage to get connection in that area? Heaven knows!

    We immediately pulled over (which is very easy since you do not have to watch out other traffic 🙂 ) and started checking out phones.

    I am used to pit stops for bathroom and for food. Now I know that internet is the other basic necessity for which we need pit stops!!

    It was in incredible experience watching four of us outside our vehicle pecking on our phones in the middle of nowhere!

  61. Gazelles May 29, 2018

    Saw a bunch of gazelles in the distance. They are very skittish. We were not even within a quarter mile of them but they hightailed it immediately. Th picture is not great – I had to take it quickly from inside the car.

  62. Antelopes May 29, 2018

    Next we spotted antelopes. Actually our driver spotted them. He has incredible eyes. These antelopes were a little more brave than the gazelles. They let us come a little closer and then ran away. I learnt something from the driver. I asked him (translated thru Sara) how he recognizes a gazelle from an antelope. Apparently, you look at the tail color. A white one means a gazelle. A black one means an antelope.

  63. We wanted adventure. We got adventure! May 29, 2018

    We had a flat in the middle of nowhere. We were back on the road in 20 minutes but it gave Roger and myself a good chance to be out there to realize once again what vast nothingness and eerie silence is all about. We spotted some local insects, some really big flies, a yellow butterfly and a heard of camel about half a mile away.

    I took the picture to keep for my memories a sense of the vastness.

  64. The meditating cow? May 30, 2018

    As the tire was being changed, I strained my eyes on the mountains behind us and I thought I saw an animal on the top of it. Trained my 300X zoom lens and took a shot. Magnified it and realized it only a cow.

    Here is the thing though. There was one solitary cow. The whole time. It was just off the top of the mountain. And it did not budge one single foot from where he was. I took quite a few pictures to see what it was up to. It had only two poses – it was either looking towards us. Or it was looking towards the top. The whole twenty minutes or so that we were there!!

    Strange!

  65. Camels in the wild! May 30, 2018

    We finally caught up to the pack of camels that we had seen before. Most of them were completely unperturbed by us. A couple just curiously looked on…

  66. Ibex !! May 30, 2018

    Since yesterday, we had all been looking for an Ibex. We found none up and down Yol valley. Our driver – who is the best spotter among us all – was trying his best. He slowed down once we reached some big mountains and kept constantly scanning the mountains. Like I said, he is an incredible spotter. Suddenly he said something in Mongol and stopped the car.

    We all got out and looked where he was pointing. Indeed, there was an Ibex on top of the mountains. Then two more came along. Got a good shot of them even though they were very far because of the position. Against the mountainside, they would be difficult to spot. But against the sky, they were easy to capture.

  67. First glimpse of Hongor Sand Dunes May 30, 2018

    We reached a high spot and could see the Hongor Sand Dunes for the first time. The road below was endless and it eventually would take us to our camp for the night but the dunes were impressive to watch.

  68. Third night in the countryside. Third ger for me! May 30, 2018
  69. Hongor Sand Dunes May 30, 2018

    After taking a little rest, we headed towards the Sand Dunes. No lens can do justice to the sense of awe you get from the sheer magnitude of this pile of sand. I understand it runs 180 km in length (more than 110 miles) and varies in height from 320 feet to 990 feet (about 30 stories tall to 100 stories tall)

    I am still a little confused about how a very long and huge sand dune gets formed with no other sand dunes around it. I will need to find this out.

  70. The ship of the desert is ready!! May 30, 2018

    First time ever for me on a two humped camel.

  71. Roger and I are off on our camels to the base of the sand dune May 30, 2018
  72. View from up there… May 30, 2018

    We got to the area where the sand dune was the highest in the area. And started climbing it. At first it was easy. Then it became difficult. And then it kept on getting very difficult. It was incredibly steep. The sand was giving in so much that with every step we were progressing no more than six to nine inches. Roger and I set a particular set of bush as our target. We took a lot of breaks. Finally reached the spot. I was running out of breath quickly. Had to lay down and rest it out for some time.

    The views were spectacular from there. Took a shot from where we were sitting. You can see our vehicle way down there. Also look at the surface to our left to realize how vertically we were climbing…

  73. I miss my motorcycle!!! May 30, 2018
  74. If this is not adventure, I do not know what is… May 30, 2018

    … and this is just to go to the city (Dalanzadgad) to avail of certain city facilities like fixing tires and getting internet connection!! 🙂

  75. Reminds me of another day… another place.. May 30, 2018

    I used to cary my brother too in my bike with ice cream in hand!!!

    (Two brothers returning from school in Dalanzadgad)

  76. That was a BIG dust devil!! May 30, 2018

    Locally called “Hui”, this is like a huge sand tornado…

  77. I have a working hypothesis… May 30, 2018

    Originally the Mongols were very tall people.
    Centuries of banging their heads against those ger doors later… 🙂 🙂

  78. And he thought he can one up on me… May 30, 2018

    Roger: “Sara, How do you say Shutup in Mongol”
    Sara: “To who?”

    Roger looking at me yells “TOWHO”
    Me (calmly): “I think the proper word depends upon whether you are addressing somebody formally or informally. She wants to know who are you addressing when you want to say Shutup”.

    Roger (muttering under his breath): “I can’t get a break, can I”

    And this is reason #152 why it is so much fun to travel with this guy…

  79. Fourth night in countryside of Mongolia. Fourth ger I will be experiencing… May 31, 2018

    Many of you have asked for pics of inside the ger. Here is my best attempt…
    Our guide let us know that orange is one of the two sacred colors of Buddhism (yellow being the other one) and you can see the preponderance of the orange color in the very ornate design inside the ger.

  80. That be my friend, Roger. May 31, 2018

    Roger “Antics” Whitney !!

  81. Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs May 31, 2018

    The sunset lit up the cliffs. And today was not the best day. The sun was a little hazy because of clouds in the horizon. I can only imagine what it looks like on a bright sunset day…

  82. Check out the car climbing up the cliff… May 31, 2018
  83. Another take of the Flaming Cliffs during sunset May 31, 2018
  84. Watching the Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs as the sun goes down May 31, 2018
  85. This one is for Sharmila and Shauna … from Gobi with Love May 31, 2018

    (also known as “How Frustration can be turned into Fun”)

    After watching sunset in the Flaming Cliffs, we headed back to our ger camp. On the drive back, we noticed the moon coming up with its full glory. Must be a full moon night in the desolate landscape of Mongolia. We asked the driver to stop the car and got out to take photographs. The moon is very difficult to take pictures of. I even put my camera on the car hood with a rock to stabilize the angle. No luck.

    Finally, took the camera in my hand and rested my arms on the car to see if I could get a good shot. All I got was a criss cross pattern in the sky. The shutter was open for multiple seconds and obviously my hand was shaking.

    Since I could not get the better of the moon, out of sheer frustration, decided to convert the criss cross into English alphabets. So, I focused at and shot the moon. Moment the shutter opened, I moved the camera in the pattern of “R”. And sure enough, I had written Roger’s and my name in the sky with the moon!

    This was fun! All four of us were laughing our heads off.

    We then went on to writing “S” for Sharmila and Shauna.

    And upon relentless insistence of Roger, I drew a heart sign too!

    Putting them in a collage was sheer brilliance from me 🙂

    You will be amazed how silly the two of us can get when together.

    Especially if you hand us a pen worth a thousand bucks 🙂

  86. Desert Run!! May 31, 2018

    Run in 21st country!!
    6K run in the vast nothingness. Winds were howling but the sun was pleasant. Running into the wind was exhausting. Had to come back to the ger camp once to refill water.

    You might notice me running with my head down. First off, every time I lifted my head, the scenery was not changing much. But more to the point… there was horse poop, camel poop, cow poop, sheep poop, the-guy-who-never-quite-made-it-to-the-outside-toilets poop all over….

  87. You get an idea how remote these places are… May 31, 2018

    … when you realize that the airport does not have a printer. The hand write the boarding passes!!

  88. One of the best parts of our trip! May 31, 2018

    It was last day in the Gobi desert for us. As we headed for the city where our prop plane was to pick us up and take us to Ulan Baatar, we told our driver that we wanted to visit a nomadic family. He let us know that his cousin is a nomad and lived not too far from Dalanzadgad.

    We told him that we were wanted to visit them. By now you know the routine. He suddenly got off the paved road and kept driving on dirt with single minded determination. We, of course, had no clue where we were going. After some time, we did see a solitary ger in the horizon.

    And that is where we got to see a nomad’s life – up, close and personal!!

  89. Meet our host! May 31, 2018

    This is our driver’s cousin. He owns three hundred heads (of cattle) and lives in this ger. They move their location as the grass gets over for the cattle to graze in. He said it takes about an hour for three people to take down a ger and pack up. We had absolutely no ability to talk to each other but we managed thru translations (by our guide) to learn quite a few things.

  90. The kitchen! May 31, 2018

    The first thing I noticed as I entered the ger was the kitchen area. Basically a part of the ger on the right side was dedicated to be the “kitchen”. There were two big drums of water, a few basic utensils and a small gas burner with a small propane tank. The gas burner is used in summer. For winter, there is a small fire place near the middle of the ger which is lit up to keep warm as well as cook.

    Moment we entered, the lady of the house put a vessel on the gas burner and started making stuff for us to eat.

  91. Modern technology in the ger! May 31, 2018

    Since the family keeps moving and they are in the middle of the desert, there is no power supply. However, modern technology has made some part of their lives easier. Thanks to solar panels that they carry with them, they have a TV and a refrigerator!

    Check out the Russian gun and some of the horse stuff on the wall.

  92. Wider view of the ger May 31, 2018

    The size of a ger is apparently measured in “curtains”. A curtain is what is used to cover the side (round) wall of the ger. This was a one and a half curtain ger. Which is considered a big ger.

    Notice also that there are no cots. Apparently, they do have cots. But this family is sleeping on the floor because they have just moved in.

    Something interesting happened in the middle of all this. The lady, who was cooking got up, went to the door, opened it, looked out in the horizon and said something. The gentleman, immediately got up, put on a shirt and headed out.

    We were explained that some of the camels had gone too far out. So, he went out to herd them back near to the ger.

    That is the life of a nomad! Imagine having to do this in hot summers and cold winters!!

  93. Check out the hacksaw! May 31, 2018

    I guess everybody has customs and beliefs. Even after surviving such a hard life, the nomads believe in keeping a hacksaw near the ger door to keep the evil spirits away!!

    Also note how bright the inside walls and door look with that orange color!

  94. Picking up animal poop… May 31, 2018

    … to be dried and used as fuel to keep warm and cook food.

  95. Trying out the Russian gun May 31, 2018

    Our guide trying out the relic of a Russian gun that the nomad owns!

  96. Drinking camel’s milk! First time ever in my life!!! May 31, 2018

    The lady offered us some camel’s milk after we settled down. She had warmed it up and put salt in it for us to drink. Apparently, in Mongolian culture, you always accept the bowl with your right hand with your left hand touching the right elbow. And you always drink a sip. They do not mind if you do not go further than that. But it is not cool to say No when offered something to eat.

    Taking no chances of offending them, I finished off the whole bowl!!

  97. Then came tea! May 31, 2018

    But this is no ordinary tea. Nothing that you have ever drunk. And absolutely not for the weak of the heart or the stomach.

    This tea was made using butter first and then camel’s milk. Then they pour a type of rice in it. After that, the tea is added. And then finally, they put in…. are you ready for this? … camel meat!!

    Yes, we had tea from a bowl using a tea to scoop up the camel’s meat (which was very very hard) and rice from it!!

    Wow!

  98. Mongolian Vodka! May 31, 2018

    The Russians who are next door to Mongolia and had political power over Mongolia for some time has certainly had their effect on this country. You will see a lot of old Russian vehicles in the desert areas – they look boxy and have no air conditioning. You saw the gun a few posts back.

    And also vodka!!

    Our host – if you recollect who had gone out to shepherd in the camels – eventually came back and started pouring a clear liquid with some small ingredients – I could not figure out what they were – for us. It is called the Mongolian vodka. Made from wheat, it has a very bland taste to it.

    The custom is to pour it in a bowl and give it to a guest. The guest sips whatever amount they want and then they give the bowl back to the host. The host fills it back and passes to the next guest. And this is continued till every guest has had three chances!!

    I drank up a bit. Figured it would wash off that camel meat from the tea before well!!

  99. Hormug, anybody? May 31, 2018

    The final drink of the day was something called “hormug”. We had heard about “airag” which is an alcohol made from mare’s milk. But were disappointed to find out that this is not the season for it. We need to come about three months later to taste it.

    Not to worry! The host had the version made from camel’s milk ready for us! I guess this is the season for alcohol made from camel’s milk.

    Hormug is made by first making yogurt from camel’s milk and then fermenting it.

    It had virtually no nose, a distinctly sour (like that of sour cream) palate and a very strong earthy finish to it.

  100. Roger and his cycle!! May 31, 2018

    Roger found a bicycle lying by the ger. I suspect the kids of the ger (who were in school) use it. The chain was off. No problems.

    Roger tinkered around with it, fixed it and then off he went for a ride in the desert!!

  101. Absolutely the very best part of my trip! May 31, 2018

    I got to motorbike!

    In the Gobi desert, no less!!

    I asked our host if I could try out the motorcycle he used for shepherding the cattle. He immediately jumped to it, cleaned up the seat and invited me in.

    As many of you know, motorbiking is one of my latest passions. But to get to ride a off-road bike in the king-of-all-off-roads – Gobi desert… I head never even dreamt of it!

    Took the bike for a ride in the dry, arid, vast nothingness.

    Apparently, I kept going straight for so long that Roger wondered (I heard that in the video he took of me and showed me later) “Does he know how to take a turn”? Not sure what he was worried of? It was not like I was going to run into a tree or something 🙂

    Best experience ever for me!! This ranks way up there with running the original marathon in Greece on the route of Phidipiddes!

  102. Saying good bye to our nomadic hosts! May 31, 2018

    We had a great time with our gracious hosts. Learnt a lot of things about their lives. And what a tough life they lead. To give you a rough idea, the lady has to get up early in the morning to milk the cattle. Amongst camels alone, she has to milk 30 of them. Morning and evening!

    They do all this shepherding, milking and all that – thru intensely high temperatures and intensely low temperatures, sometimes with howling winds. With no holidays. Every single day of the week.

    One thing I noticed is that every ger has a car (I guess there is no other way to get supplies from the city). And that they all send their young kids to schools (which is often many, many miles away).

    This is a very hard place to live in.

    But I would be lying if I did not tell you how much this place has charmed me.

  103. Finished off one more of those Mongol traditions!! Jun 1, 2018

    We are back in the city of Ulan Baatar. Went out of the city to check out a few places often visited by tourists. One of the common activities apparently is to have an eagle or vulture perch on your hand!

  104. A behemoth of a statue Jun 1, 2018

    Went out to check outhe humongous statue of Chinggis Khan near Tuul river east of Ulanbaatar. It is an imposing structure of about 130 feet of stainless steel.

  105. Be afraid of the new Mongols! Be very afraid!! Jun 1, 2018

    Apparently, these days they are showing up unannounced in sunglasses and Skechers shoes 🙂

  106. Final sight seeing stop in Mongolia Jun 1, 2018

    Our last place to visit was Terelj National Park. With a very different landscape from Ulanbaatar area, it offer quite some greenery and a lot of rock formation. The most curious one we visited is called the Turtle Rock. You can see why.

    This thing is huge. About eight story tall, it is mostly granite in composition.

  107. Celebrating Mother’s and Children’s day Jun 1, 2018

    Today is Mother’s and Children’s day in Mongolia. Which is a public holiday and the whole city was in festive mood. We ourselves celebrated this day by taking our wonderful guide Sara and her whole family out for dinner at their place of choice – an Indian restaurant!!!

    Her husband Batnasan is somewhat of a local celebrity. He is famous for his paintings. I showed him Sharmila’s paintings. He had painted two water paintings for Roger and me and gifted us. Wonderful person. We could not understand each other’s language but I had a great time with him.

    We also enjoyed meeting her sons Galbadrakh and Amartaivan (who I hope to run in some American university one day when he fulfills his dream of studying in America) and her very quiet daughter Hanna.

    The best was undoubtedly the youngest child – Johnny who kept us entertained the whole evening with his impeccable English (surprising for a kid who goes to a Mongol medium school – he learns all his English from Youtube and TV) and his knowledge of Periodic Tables and Geographical facts.

    One of the best ways we could have signed off our stay in Mongolia…

    Now, let’s hope tomorrow morning all flights are on time and all that…

  108. We may be ready to leave Mongolia… Jun 2, 2018

    … but Mongolia is not quite ready to leave us! Ulanbaatar is having weather issues. Our plane is stuck in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We are delayed for at least 12 hours as of now…

    Having seen how the nomads live in the desert, we are convinced this is no big deal.

    Turkish Airlines is taking good care of us so far. This is in the bus where they are taking us to the hotel they have arranged to put us up in…

  109. You decide who between us is crazier… Jun 2, 2018

    Roger, for not knowing what to do with the BIG hotel room they gave the passengers who are stuck in Ulanbaatar…

    Or

    Me, for thinking about how to take weird pictures.

    Here is Roger who cannot decide whether to enjoy the living area or the dining area or just cool off in his bed….

    He almost went downstairs to request the hotel concierge if they can delay the flight further…

  110. Flashback: Dad and son dressed up in warrior dress Jun 2, 2018

    (not the shoes though)

  111. Flashback: That is the Trans Siberian Rail line! Jun 2, 2018

    While in school, we had learnt about the Trans Siberian rail line that went from Vladivostok on the eastern end of Russia to Moscow. During our travels, we met a gentleman who has done that trip! In fact, we also met a young lady who is doing the segment from Beijing to Moscow. She is just hopping out in the big cities for a few days each, enjoying the landscape and people there and then jumping back on….

    Never thought I will actually see that Trans Siberian Rail line!

    Roger Whitney, are you thinking what I am thinking? Could we be just crazy enough to…? 🙂

  112. Flashback: That was an impressive number of cars… Jun 2, 2018

    It was Mongolia’s Mother’s and Children’s day. June 1st. Everybody gets out of the city to vacation in the mountains and by the river for a couple of days. They simply camp out. As unbelievable as it sounds, there was over 10 km (6 miles) of bumper to bumper cars on the road, plodding along lightly. We were glad we were headed back into the city!!

  113. Flashback: That was one mean looking beak… Jun 2, 2018
  114. Flashback: One more look at that motorbike ride… Jun 2, 2018
  115. Flashback: With apologies to Henry Ford… Jun 2, 2018

    In the Gobi, you can have your car in any color as long as it is beige!!! It doesn’t matter what you start with. You will always end with that beige color…

  116. Flashback: Tires as a fence!! Jun 2, 2018

    In Mongolia, we saw this often… a series of tires seemingly half buried in the ground. See the picture. There were some cases where we saw about 50 of these lined up like in the picture.

    From the folks here, found out that they demarcate their property boundary in this fashion. Instead of putting a fence, this is how they draw the boundary line. I guess old tires must be very readily available with all that wear and tear on dirt roads.

    Have you ever seen anything like this anywhere?

  117. Flashback: I am still in awe of the scale of the size of the sand dune Jun 2, 2018

    Check out the size of the climbers to get a rough idea…

  118. Flashback: The baby camels were very cute! Jun 2, 2018

    Not sure what this one had done to early a red flag!!

  119. Flashback: Is it just me? Jun 2, 2018

    Or do those camels look like a bunch of ostriches to you too? The head, the way they look, the legs.. everything says “ostrich”

  120. Flashback: A young Mongol kid Jun 2, 2018

    She was effortlessly climbing up the cliffs in Bayanzag while I was deathly afraid of slipping and falling…

  121. Ulanbaatar road sign Jun 2, 2018

    Something tells me this guy went down the staircase reluctantly 🙂

  122. Grand celebrations of Mothers’ and Children’s Day Jun 2, 2018

    The central square of the city was filled up with a lot of kids and their parents all decked up for the day long festivities. Saw a few ladies walking around with some kind of medal on them.

    Found out from our guide Sara that the country honors 555 women every year with a medal. You know what you need to do to earn a medal? If you bear 4 kids, you get the lower level medal and if you have 5 or more kids you get the higher level medal!

    I understand the root of this goes back to 1950s and 60s where the country had very few people and they needed the population to grow…

  123. Flashback: The incredible balancing act of the Ibexes Jun 2, 2018

    It is amazing to realize how these kind of mountain goats (this is a female Ibex) effortlessly move around on very tight ledges of sheer cliffs. Literally a couple of inches of displacement and it is sure to fall to its death. But it never does….

  124. Flashback: Dusk in the desert… Jun 2, 2018
  125. Flashback: Yol Valley. The sky color was mesmerizing… Jun 2, 2018
  126. A mystery from Mongolia Jun 2, 2018

    As you drive thru the vast lands of Mongolia, you are bound to be struck by an oddity – and that is how their electricity distribution poles look. Without exception, they have a concrete lower portion and then a longer wooden portion that seems to be held together by some ropes or something. For the life of me, I have not been able to understand why. Nobody seems to know why.

    On the internet, there are some theories that this is driven by the fact that the frozen ground (during extreme cold weathers) can crack the wood. Which raises the question – why not make the whole thing with concrete then?

    I have not been able to solve this yet…

  127. Flashback: The sacred Ovoo in Mongolia Jun 2, 2018

    As you travel through Mongolia, you are bound to see a lot of Ovoos. These are basically some hap hazard piles of stones with some colorful pieces of cloth often attached to them. This particular one that we saw had a lot of cattle skulls lined up on one side.

    I understand these are sacred to Mongolians and are pretty common in China too. In Mongolia you will often find them on top of hills, in the middle of desert and pretty much anywhere. Some are small and humble and some are big and elaborate.

    Active ceremonies would include spreading rice or milk etc around these Ovoos.

    Never knew of them. Learnt another new thing.

  128. Ulanbaatar city Jun 3, 2018

    You see those mean looking clouds? They were the reason why we got delayed by over 13 hours!!!

  129. Blank Boarding Card Jun 3, 2018

    I think we are going the wrong way here… First we had printed boarding cards. Then, at Dalanzadgad we went to hand written boarding cards. Now, at Bishkek, we have absolutely blank boarding cards. It is not even an unfilled card. It is a completely blank card with the name of the airport.

    Pretty strange experience. At Bishkek, transit passengers like us are given a blank card and we have to show that to get back on our plane. Funny part is that at the gate, they take the card and check our passport. Not sure what they were matching our names in the passport to!!!

  130. Sunrise over Aral Sea Jun 3, 2018

    (This lake has over 1000 islands but no outflow)

  131. This friend of mine, Roger, I tell you…. Jun 3, 2018

    To get the context of this post, I have to assume you have read a previous post titled “And he thought he can one up on me” from May 30th.

    We were sitting by the Bayanzag cliffs. We had already downed a couple of glasses of wine. So, I may or may not have been talking too much…

    Roger, took one long sip from his glass and yelled “WHO-TO”. For a second, I was wondering “what the heck? Is he trying to experiment with echoes in the cliff?”

    Then I realized the faux pas he had made with “To Who” before trying to understand how to say “shut up”. (And this is where the context of the previous event helps).

    In a few seconds, both Sara and I realized what was going on…

    After I had picked myself up from the ground, I asked – “Did you mean, To Who?”.

    Anguished by his self inflicted defeat one more time, Roger sheepishly asked “I can’t even recall my mistakes correctly, can I?”

    No. You can’t, Roger Whitney.

    And that is a good thing about you!!! 🙂

  132. My crazy friend Roger… in business class… Jun 3, 2018

    One of the rules Roger had laid down when I was looking for tickets to Mongolia was that for all the down to earth living we were going to have in Mongolia, we have to travel business class to and from there.

    This is also Roger’s first international trip in business class. It is fair to say he is suitably impressed. Some of his observations enroute are hilarious..

    Sitting next to me on our flight from Istanbul and Bishkek, he looked up to me in between chomping down his smoked salmon and red wine and gave his verdict:

    “I think Business Class means never having to worry about starving”!!

    Touché!

  133. There was one last box left to be checked in Mongolia… Jun 4, 2018

    We had all the normal goals that you would set for yourself if you were to go to Mongolia – you know the gers, the nomads, the camels, the sand dunes and all that. We did all that and more.

    We had another goal for ourselves. Not something you would normally think of. But then again, we are talking about Roger and myself. If it is not quirky, it is not us.

    We had a goal of buying a fountain pen from Mongolia!! Both Roger and I write with fountain pens and share a common love for collecting fountain pens.

    Calligraphy was originally invented in China and the Mongols had their own variation in their scripts (I am talking about 2000 years back). In fact, we got all our family members’ names written in the old Mongol style in wall hangings that we are bringing back home.

    While in USA, after a lot of research, we had found out one shop that claimed to carry fountain pens in Ulanbaatar. You can guess the rest…

    We are proud owners of two identical fountain pens from Mongolia!!

    Disclaimer: While the pens were bought from Mongolia to add to our libraries, they are not actually made in Mongolia. Nobody makes fountain pens in Mongolia. These are of Turkish origin. So, our bragging rights is “we got them from Mongolia” 🙂

  134. Every journey begins with a strong partner… Jun 4, 2018

    Signing off on our crazy and yet immensely satisfying Mongolian tour with a shout out for Roger…

    Thank you Roger for giving me the courage to stay crazy.
    The strength to set uncommon goals.
    And the partnership as we achieve those goals.

    This picture for ever will enshrine in my mind that craziness, uncommon goals and the partnership …

    And thank you Sharmila and Shauna for tolerating all that craziness…

    And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we bow out of our Mongolian chapter.