One Hump or Two?

Kendo scolded me for being slack and not updating my blog so frequently seeing as I was in Jeddah rather than Ulaanbaatar. He then asked about the camels. Which ones were nicer (actually, I think he may have been curious about which ones were cuter but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt there).Without a doubt, Kendo, the Mongolian camels (well, really they are Bactrian camels) are, in my generally not-so-humble opinion, a superior camel to the dromedary. Both styles of camel will carry a rider. Both types of camel have a fairly gentle disposition most of the time – there are exceptions to this but I shall save that for a later blog post. Both types of camel exhibit a colour range (that is, they are not all the same colour) and both types of camel have something of the exotic in them.

One thing I like about the Bactrian is that you can tell when it is running on empty as its humps droop.

Remember as a kid, growing up in Australia and drawing pictures on pieces of butcher’s paper from the butcher’s shop for your grandmother? Even though there was a large herd of dromedaries in Australia, when we drew a camel for Nan, we always drew it with two humps. I guess even then, 45 years ago, I must have known I was going to end up in Mongolia. I can remember as a kid thinking that I’d like to see Ulan Bator (as it was spelled then) but again, more on that in another blog later.

And Wal, Kendo lost your email address when his PC went belly-up a while back.

And Kendo, I have been updating a Blogger blog – just seeing how it feels compared to Microsoft’s Live Spaces. It’s at Thomo’s Blogger Hole. Truth is, a blog containing the features of both Blogger and Live Spaces would be wonderful.

Apology to the Northern Hemisphere

Whilst we all know now that Australia is on the top of the world (see the article in Thomo’s Hole), one of the proofs I presented in that article for the Northern Hemisphere being on the bottom of the globe was the following:

When someone walks outside at night and looks up, they see stars. In the northern hemisphere, they see, for example, the North Star. You do not see terribly many stars, just a few million or so (well, a few million if you happen to have particularly good eye sight). Therefore, stars are an astronomical sign of up. When you are in the Southern Hemisphere in say Australia, South Africa or Argentina and you walk outside and look up, you also see stars. The difference here is that you see a few hundred million and you do not need terribly good eyes to see them all. There are more stars in the sky. In this case, if stars indicate up, then more stars must indicate more up. More up must be higher than up, therefore the Southern Hemisphere is higher than the Northern Hemisphere and therefore must be o­n top of the World. Australia is o­n the top and Norway is o­n the bottom.

So, why the apology? Well, when I was out on the Gobi recently I was there at night and there is almost no ambient light on the Gobi at night. I had a chance to have a good look up, to see the Big Dipper (Doloon Burkhan in Mongolian – which means “Big Spoon”), Venus and Mars and a number of stars. What struck me was that there were many more stars than I had noticed before in the northern hemisphere’s sky.

So, I must apologise for the reference above to “a few million”. There are many, many more. Mind you, there are still way more visible in the Southern Hemisphere sky so the proofs still stand. 🙂

Driving in Mongolia at Night

Or more to the point, driving in the countryside at night – and in our case, the Gobi.

In the headlights, everything appears the same colour so the track that you are driving on disappears into the surrounding terrain. At times you have to stop and look carefully to see where the road goes.

Driving at night in the Mongolian countryside where there is no asphalt road (which is most of the country) is really quite dangerous. I can see why most locals stop and camp for the night rather than keep pressing on.

Mind you, those yellow eyes reflecting back at you from the dark are a bit spooky too – so I guess in the Gobi I saw my first wild wolves, er, in the dark.

More tales and entries from the Gobi Trip coming up soon, along with some photographs.

Marmot

Is illegal to hunt at the moment in Mongolia. It is also illegal to eat it I guess, and to cook it.

Today I had some. I’ll describe the preparation of the meat later. However the eating of it was interesting. The flesh is quite tender although the skin is fairly chewy, sort of like roast pork when the crackling has not gone hard properly.

In appearance the meat and skin (cooked) was quite dark but I guess that may have something to do with the cooking. My Mongolian friend described the taste of Marmot as special, a reminder of childhood days spent with grandparents in the countryside.

The taste itself? It was a little gamey in flavour – kind of a stronger taste than mutton although much more tender. The skin was similar in taste to pork. All the meat tasted of the wood used to cook the meal but as I mentioned, more on the cooking in a later blog entry.

Would I eat marmot again? Yes – especially if it was legal.

And my apologies to the Marmot Hole – sorry guys.

Er and will Marmot take over from Cheeseburgers as Thomo’s favourite food? No. Not unless someone invents a Marmotburger 🙂

Ulaanbaatar Then and Now – Part 3

Scott Notes in 2000: Due to the length of my stay in UB the client was kind enough to show me some apartments that I might consider moving into. The first few were in so much disrepair that I was resigned to stay in the Hotel for the remainder of my time here.  However they eventually showed me one that I agreed to as it was more spacious than the hotel room, and was certainly a lot cleaner than the others I had seen. So I moved on Saturday.

Thomo Notes in 2005: There are many apartment buildings in many of the districts of Ulaanbaatar now. Some are old, having been build back in the Communist times, others are newer. In fact, the apartment I live in is on the 11th floor of a building and has been up for about 18 months now. Out my windows I can see many more apartment buildings being built. Ulaanbaatar still also has a large ger district, where the traditional homes (gers) are built. These are not connected to water and such – water having to be carried in from a water station. They do, however, provide a living area for those unable to afford a newer apartment.

Scott Notes in 2000: The apartment has a bedroom, a lounge, small kitchen, bathroom & toilet and costs AUD 650 per month. Today (Sunday) I am wondering if I made the right decision. The lounge is next to useless as the TV does not have cable. The bedroom is large and has plenty of space and a TV with cable. So I have set up my working area in the bedroom. The kitchen is OK, the stove hotplates & Fridge work. However the cupboards, cookware & utensil leave a lot to be desired. But at least I can now cook something and have a cold drink. The hot water isn’t working at the moment, found out late yesterday that the apartment block’s hot water system is under repair at the moment & should be fixed within next few days – great! Just hope it doesn’t break down when it starts to get cold. The electrical wiring is suspect as I have already had a few light jolts when turning a switch on/off.

Thomo Notes in 2005: No Hot Water? See A Shower, my Kingdom for a Shower in my blog. Ulaanbaatar has the largest Central Heating System in the world, with pretty much all the hot water used in Ulaanbaatar coming from central boilers that service many, many buildings. These boilers provide the hot water for both showering and washing as well as for central heating. An apartment can be rented in Ulaanbaatar for from US $200 a month to $2000 a month, depending on the quality that is needed. My two bedroom apartment, with furniture, in a building with a lift (two actually) that is left running 24×7, with security, costs US $750 per month  and the landlady pays every bill for the apartment except telephone usage. Electrical wiring still leaves a little to be desired in UB, with a combination of old electrical implementations along with power surges and blackouts causing some more problems. There is no standard power point plug in Mongolia with US, European and Australian (Chinese) plugs common. Powerboards that take all plug types are therefore common.

However, one positive thing is that the infrastructure is improving, slowly by slowly.

Scott Notes in 2000: The phone number is 555555 (country & area code is 9761) however if you wish to call me do so between the hours 9am to 10am or around 8:30 pm. I cannot give an office number as I am actually working at three different sites and, like everything else in UB, telephones are a scarce resource & expensive. An advisor to one of the Banks here told me that she came across a country branch manager who actually locked the telephone in the safe.

Thomo Notes in 2005: Indeed, there are no public phones in Mongolia either. There are small single phone operators. Since Scott has been here the phone system has improved. There are now two mobile phone operators and even Mongolia Telecom has been making some small improvement. Country code is still 976 and Ulaanbaatar phone numbers are prefixed with a 11 these days. There are also satellite phones connecting the remoter regions with Ulaanbaatar but the transmission delay whilst passing to and from the satellite is a little frustrating. A third mobile phone operator will commence business later this year.

Scott Notes in 2000: So far I have not had much time to look around UB or the surrounding country, something that I intend to do when I get a chance. However I shall only be able to do so on Sundays as it is a 6 day, 8:30 to 6 working day week. I did go to the supermarket yesterday to stock up the pantry & fridge in the apartment. Although the cost of living is suppose to be cheap here, the cost of supermarket goods are not. For example 1 small packet of Kellogs Just Right cost AUD 6.50. At the same time there is not very much variety of items to choose from. At least I could buy some cans of Heineken at a reasonable price.

Shop in Erlian, Inner Mongolia - click for closer look
A shop front in Erlian with its sign in 4 written scripts - old Mongolian, English, Chinese and Cyrillic

Thomo Notes in 2005: I have had lots of time to look around after six months here and that including all of the summer. Almost every weekend I went to the countryside with my favourite Mongolian family. I had to travel as well with work so I have visited 9 Aimags (provinces or states) of the country so far. Look in the Photo Section of this blog under the Mongolian Landscapes folder for some pictures. As far as supermarkets go, there are many “corner stores” in and around the apartments. They tend to be called supermarkets, along with the larger ones elsewhere. There are a couple in town that stock western produce as well so this position has changed over the years.

Scott Notes in 2000: That’s all from now from your man in Outer Mongolia.

Thomo Notes in 2005: And for those unaware, there is an Outer and an Inner Mongolia. Outer Mongolia is, indeed, Mongolia, where I am sitting at the moment. Inner Mongolia, where the native population is ethnically Mongolian, is in China and is one of those special regions the Chinese have a fondness for. I have visited Erlian in that region. One thing I can say positively for that region is that is maintains to some extent, the use of the old Mongolian script. Mongolia itself uses a Cyrillic script. See the picture at right of a shop sign from Erlian.

Another Water Spot of Chinggis’

Baggy adds some stones and a prayer to the ovoo at the Chinggis Monument in Dadal

I did not mention it earlier but when we were doing our four Aimag, 2,500 kilometre, 4 1/2 day off road jaunt around the Khan Bank branches earlier this year, one of the places we stopped at was in Khentii Aimag and it was the soum of Dadal. Dadal is famous for being the area that Chinggis Khaan was supposed to have been born in. It is a really beautiful area full of trees, mountains, valleys and fresh mountain streams.Near the soum of Dadal is a spring that issues forth from the side of a hill. The water from this spring is clear and cold and really quite refreshing. The spring is famous in the area for being the spring that Chinggis drank at. Local legend has it that the water now has a curative effect, being particularly good for your stomach. I must admit to having felt worse for wear before drinking the water and feeling a lot better later that day.

Baggy gets me some water from the stream that appears from the mountain at this point

I must also report that Baggy, my ever faithful translator and aide confidante, found the opposite to be the case, and his condition deteriorated during the day. Mind you, Baggy always maintains that whatever bad happens to me happens to him two days later.

Confluence of the Selenge and Orkhon Rivers

The Selenge and Orkhon rivers join in northern Mongolia
A view of the joined river, on the edge of Russia with a local train passing through

Selenge murun and Orkhon gol (the Selenge and Orkhon rivers).The rivers join up a few kilometres from the border then flow into Russia, into Siberia. The countryside around this area is quite superb – mountains, rolling hills, forests and open areas all combine to form a spectacular piece of countryside.

We were fortunate to be able to get so close to the border, thank you for organising that Puujee.

Chinggis Khaan’s Water Spot and Camp

The monument to Chinggis - the blue scarves are a Buddhist sign of good fortune and general blessing

In Selenge Aimag, between Sukhbaatar and the soum Altanbulag is a monument to Chinggis Khaan. It is near a spring that issues from the ground. It was in this area that Chinggis along with 60,000 troops camped whilst he searched for his favourite wiife. She had apparently been kidnapped by a rival.

Whisting over the spring to generate ripples

The monument, along with most of the others through the country to Chinggis, is revered by the Mongolians. The spring nearby issues forth from the ground with clear, cool water. It is said that whistling over the spring causes the water to ripple on the surface. You can see Tseye trying this. As to whether the water rippled from the whistling or not, well, Tseye whistled, I watched but if you want to know, then travel to Selenge, visit the spring and whistle over the water and watch what happens.

The Tale of the Four Mountains, Umnugobi Aimag

In Umnugobi Aimag, there are four mountains. King Mountain (Noyon uul), Queen Mountain (Khatan uul), Prince Mountain (Khuu uul) and a mountain named after the member of court that assists the King, his servant, and organises the King’s domain. In Mongolian this person is known as the Tushmel and so that mountain is called Tushmel uul. Noyon uul is near Noyon Soum in that Aimag. One day, a long time ago, the mountains were close. Noyon uul and Khatan uul then argued and fought. They argued so hard that Noyon uul decided to move to the east whilst Khatan uul moved to the west. As part of this argument, Khatan uul, the Queen Mountain, kicked a rock mirror at Noyon uul, the King Mountain. Noyon uul kicked a table in his anger.

So now in Noyon Soum we find Khatan uul to the north west and Noyon uul to the south east. In front of Khatan uul is a mountain range that looks like a line of soldiers, protecting the queen. Khuu uul and I are behind Noyon uul, with the table rock between them and Noyon uul.

The mirror rock that the Queen Mountain threw was of a dark polished stone, When you looked on one side of it, you could see Khatan uul reflected in it. Look in the other side and you could see Noyon uul reflected in it. It was a beautiful rock.

In 1932 the Russians came into this area and shot the Mirror Rock. No one is quite sure why, other than it was perhaps because the rock was beautiful. The result of this vandalism was that now the rock is destroyed.

Noyon uul was so named as the rocks on the top of this mountain resemble the type of cap that the old rulers of Mongolia wore. Visitors can still travel to Noyon uul, Khatan uul, Khuu uul and Tushmel uul and see the remains of the mirror rock.

Umnugobi Aimag is the southern most Aimag in Mongolia and borders with China. It is fairly easy to reach from Ulaanbaatar.

Airag

Airag is fermented horse’s milk. It is a favoured drink amongst Mongolians during the summer months. Whenever we drive out of town now we check the quality of the Airag at the local herder’s ger.

Mind you, there is some custom involved in the drinking of Airag. The most interesting thing relates to the first drink of Airag of the season. Now, it should be noted that Airag is served in a large tumbler type glass or big bowl and it is usual to finish the whole glass in one go. So, you down a glass of Airag and wait. If after a period of time you feel like urinating (Number One’s) then you are OK. If, however, it is Number Two’s that strike and in a, shall we say, fairly wet manner, then you are not ready for drinking Airag this season.

I did Number One’s.

Now, “how does it taste?” I hear you ask. Well, let me put it this way. You know how horses have a particularly, well, horsey smell, and how everything related to horses ends up smelling the same way? Airag is no different. It tastes of horse smell. Having said that, it is a fairly smooth drop (it is only fermented milk after all) and flows down really rather easily. After downing a glass of Airag you are left with a creamy taste in the mouth.

It is fun watching the family empty every container in the car so that they can collect some more Airag.

If you are travelling Mongolia, make sure you try the Airag … but do remember to stop after the first drink to see whether you will be struck with Number One’s or Number Two’s 🙂