Orkhon Valley, Mongolia

Mongolian gers in the countryside

Continuation from the first South Gobi, Mongolia post.

We continued driving from South Gobi to Orkhon Valley and then to Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. As we travelled north, the landscape changed to lush green fields with rolling hills and blue sky. It looked like the default Windows XP wallpaper.

We would visit random gers in the middle of nowhere and the families would greet Choka with friendly smiles. Choka seemed to know almost everyone, and if he didn’t, they’d soon become friends.

At each ger they would offer us salty milk tea, some Mongolian cookies and sometimes other home-made dairy products (Mongolian yoghurt, butter). At one ger, a woman offered us horse milk. I couldn’t help but grimace when I tasted it – it had a strong milky/alcoholic taste. We learned that drinking too much horse milk can actually get you drunk.

It was the first time I’ve ‘roughed’ it out on a trip. By that, I mean no electricity, mattresses (not all beds had mattresses), showers and toilets. It was challenging at first but over time I got used to it.

We got to experience another way of life – one that was much simpler. Families would get up at the crack of dawn, completed chores and then slept as the sun went down. The children are also extremely hard working. We met a girl, ten years of age, and she collected fire wood, took care of her baby sister and tended to the horses.

At Orkhon Valley, we were watching the family milk the horses when suddenly yaks started charging towards us. We asked Zaya, our guide, whether we should be worried but she stated that yaks are generally quite timid. As we continued to observe, the yaks halted a metre in front of us and started chowing down on the horse faeces lying on the ground. I’ve never seen an animal so excited to eat excrement.

Many of the Buddhist temples were destroyed as a result of previous communist rule, however some have been restored. On one of the days we hiked to a Buddhist temple high up in the mountains. Along the way we met a Mongolian monk that invited us to his ger and offered us salty milk tea. As I looked around his living quarters, I pondered about the modesty and simplicity of some people’s lives.

As I reflect on the trip, I’m always drawn to this one simple memory. Each night we would sit by our doorway at the ger and watch the sunset. The family dog would lie outside our entrance and slowly fall asleep to the warmth of our fire. For that one moment, the world is silent and perfect.

Mongolian horses

Mongolian gers

Mongolian landscape

Mongolian hawk

sunset over gers in Orkhon Valley

Orkhon waterfall

Orkhon Valley

Sheep in countryside Mongolia

Mongolian horses and yaks

The yaks on the right are feeding on horse faeces.

Karakorum

One of the many temples inside Karakorum, the old capital of Mongolia.

Stupas at Karakorum, ancient capital of Mongolia

The stupas that line the city walls of Karakorum.

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