Horse Poo

and cow poo, and yak poo. Living out on the Steppe, where there are no fences, are many horses, cows, yaks, sheep and goats. Now horses, cows and yaks in particular leave sizeable poos. Mongolia is generally a fairly dry country so these pads dry out very quickly and form a good source of fire fuel. When my favourite Mongolian family travels to the countryside and needs to make a fire to cook, fuel is collected. First thing collected is wood. The wood, however, must be laying on the ground to be used, otherwise it is left. Also collected is dried Poo. In the picture you can see Tseye, plastic bag in hand, collecting poo for the fire whilst the rest of us pitch tents (well, except Thomo who was taking the picture of course).

The poo works really well as a fuel, generating a lot of heat. A few twigs, some dried poo and a match and the fire is started. Add some river rocks in there, wait, then add the rocks to the pot along with meat, potatoes and carrots and hey presto, Khorkhog 🙂

Cave of the Yellow Dog

We like the cinema here. It is run by a Korean company and the entry fee is 3,000 tugrigs each (about US $2.50). Toss another 2,000 tugrigs down for popcorn and drink and the movies become an inexpensive night out.We had seen “The Tale of the Weeping Camel” so Tseye decided that we should see the “Cave of the Yellow Dog”. Byambasuren Davaa wrote the screenplay to this as well as directing the movie. It is set in the countryside of Mongolia and is based around a herder’s family. The family is a real family, rather than actors, and they give a wonderful idea of what is like for a herder and his family.

The story is set around the family’s eldest daughter. She comes back from school early in the summer (herder’s children are generally boarded away at school during teaching time, coming back to the family during the school holidays). When looking after the family’s flock of sheep and goats she finds a dog.

Her father is worried about the dog though as they do not know where the dog is from, just that the dog was found in a cave and is therefore more likely to have wolf exposure. The father worries about the dog bringing the family bad luck. Indeed, it seems this may be the case although in the end the dog proves his worth.

A recommended movie this, doubly so as it really does give a good idea of life in a herder’s family in Mongolia. Note that the photo attached to this is not from the movie, but is a genuine herder’s hut.

Mongolian Barbeque?? No, Khorkhog

The rocks, meat, potato and carrots are added to the pot

I have to admit, before coming to Mongolia I really had no idea of the style of cooking and food used in Mongolia. I mean, I had eaten Mongolian Lamb at the local Chinese Restaurant, I had eaten Shabu Shabu at other places and of course, I had heard of Mongolian barbeque, barbequing on hot rocks. Well, I have to say that generally the Mongolians are a patient people so will wait for lambs to grow up and become sheep (mutton), I have never seen anything resembling Shabu Shabu and the only barbeque I have seen in Mongolia is at BDs Mongolian Barbeque Restaurant which is, of course, an American chain. As a barbeque is an outside meal in Australia (and one cooked traditionally by men), I decided to recount the local equivalent. This is Khorkhog (pronounced like “horhog”) and is where river stones are heated in a fire and then added to the cooking pot along with mutton meat, potatoes (OK, so this is only a 500 year old traditional Mongolian Meal as potatoes of course were not known in this part of the world until only a few hundred years ago) and carrots.

The food is layered with a little water, hot rocks and salt and built to the top of the pot. The pot itself ideally should be airtight (and yes, I am wondering how traditional an airtight pot can be). In the case of my favourite Mongolian Family, a pressure cooker is used. The handles of the cooker are wrapped in wet rags to protect them from the later flames and heat. So, place some rocks from the fire, then meat, potato, carrots and a little salt. Add some more rocks and repeat the food layer. Keep doing this until the pot is full. Put the top back on and then place the pot back in the fire. Leave for about 30 minutes to an hour (no real rush here).

When the stuff in the pot is cooked, remove from fire, open carefully and serve. The liquid is put into a cup and passed around as a sort of really rich soup. The meat, potatoes and carrots are just so tasty. Eat with some pickles and wash down with ones favourite libation. Heaven.

Tuul Gol Bridge

We had gone here once before. Unfortunately, the first time we came here, I did not have my digital camera with me. We were trying to decide where to go last Sunday and my favourite Mongolian family suggested coming back to here as I had mentioned wanting to photgraph the bridge. They also noted that as summer was rapidly departing, it would be better to do it now whilst the weather was still OK.

So, we went out there again and I managed to get stung by nettles (Khalgai) – as well as getting terribly drunk on vodka. Must suggest to famly that vodka is perhaps not the best drink for Thomo on picnics.

There is a picture of the bridge with this blog. Yes, it looks that dilapidated in real life. We have driven across the bridge twice and I have walked over it now – it is as rickety as it looks and the whole bridge shakes and wobbles when vehicles drive over it.

I will do a separate website, perhaps elsewhere in Thomo’s Hole Proper, devoted to the bridges of Mongolia. Having seen a couple now I shall keep photographing them.

Stinging Nettles

There I was, in shorts and thongs (flip flops for the English). Taking photographs of the bridge over the Tuul gol (Tuul River) outside of Ulaanbaatar when as chance would have it, I stepped through a small plant. Hmm, thinks Thomo, there is something hot and itchy on my left leg. I naturally then rubbed the left leg with the right leg. Damn, hot and itchy on both legs now. I photographed the plant, photographed the bridge and then came back to the car. I showed my favourite Mongolian Family the picture of the plant on the digital camera and they all laughed. Thomo had stumbled through a patch of stinging nettles. In Mongolian, these are called khalgai (thank you for that name Alimaa).

I can report, however, that standing in the cold, fast moving waters of the Tuul gol relieved the stinging feeling from my legs. Er, the beer helped as well 😉

The Praying Man

Near Terelj National Park is a rock formation known as the Praying Man. When driving from Ulaanbaatar to Terelj, if you are lucky you can make out the rocks that form the Praying Man. However, it is travelling from Terelj back to Ulaanbaatar that the praying man is most visible.There are many rock formations across Mongolia that look like other things, this is one of them.

Terelj National Park (Protected Area)

There is a lovely area about 50 minutes drive or so from Ulaanbaatar. Taking the South Road and heading south out of town and then turning off to Terelj. Once you enter the areas you travel past some lovely terrain, a mix of rocks, mountains, hills, valleys and all manner of stuff. Some of the rock formations make quite visible objects (look out for these described later here).

What is really nice in this area (and indeed, in many other areas of Mongolia) is how much like Mongolia this area does NOT look like. I mean, ask 10 people what they think Mongolia looks like and they’ll tell you “flat, desert, steppe, windy, no trees”. It is not surprising that those images abound as those flat featureless areas have a mystery in and off themselves and as such, they are what captures the imagination of people outside Mongolia … dreaming of Chinggis’ Hordes, white flag to the fore, riding across the Steppe to conquer most of the known world.

The truth about Mongolia is somewhat different. Yes, there are those flat steppe areas. Yes. the Gobi is a desert. And yes, the steppe and the desert cover a large area of the country. There are, however, also mountains, lakes, trees and such spread across the country as well. Mongolia is generally, flat in the south, mountainous in the north.

Tseye tells me where to go!!My favourite Mongolian family knows I really like trees (see an earlier blog here about Dancing Trees and Pretty Girls – in the June 2005 archives) so they tend to take me to places that are tree filled. Terelj is one such area. There are tourist camps in the Terelj area so visitors can stay there a couple of days. There is also a Korean restaurant, lots of gers (many selling Airag), horses, some camels and yaks, pretty much most things people want to see when they come to Mongolia. There is also a lovely park area.

We stopped there, we had lunch (salami, cheese, bread and beer) and then we had dinner (mutton, potatoes, carrots, er, and beer). Look closely at the pictures. Does this look like the Mongolia you imagine? Come have a look at the country.

Entrance Charges for Foreigners

Yesterday we drove out to Terelj. Terelj is a protected area (I guess it is the equivalent of a National Park). There are Juulchin (tourist) camps and the usual horse and camel rides available. There is also some lovely quiet places, near the river and so on. As you approach Terelj, there is an entrance gate manned by government employees – at lease I guess that is who employs them. They collect an entrance fee for the park. The charge is 300 tugrig for a Mongolian or 3000 tugrig for a foreigner. This does, of course, annoy many foreigners, especially those that come from countries where we have been taught to protect the local environment and especially the environment within a National Park.

However, the twin charging scheme applies almost everywhere in Mongolia. At the Gandantegchinlen Khiid monastery with 25 meters high statue of Migjid Janraisig in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolians are let in for free but non Mongolians are charged $1.00. I believe that if you were a foreigner and are now a permanent resident in Mongolia, or citizen, you still have to pay the foreigner rate. That, I think, is a little unfair. I can accept the higher rate for bona fide foreign tourists and businessmen here temporarily over locals, if only because the minimum wage set by the government in Ulaanbaatar is currently $37 per month, whereas $37 is perhaps about the same amount a pair of tourists may have spent for dinner the last night. Charging locals 3,000 tugrigs would therefore be the equivalent of charging them a fair percentage of their monthly income.

Still, it is sometimes galling to have to pay the two fees, especially when it is my favourite Mongolian family taking me out. Yesterday we avoided the problem. As we approached the gate, I was asked to get something from the back of the vehicle. The fees were paid with the gatekeeper able to see the three Mongolians in the vehicle as well as my bottom. As we pulled off I was told to look forward so that the gatekeeper would not see me as we drove past.

Success, Thomo in for 300 tugrigs. Still, I guess the truly amazing part of this story is that Thomo must have a very Mongolian looking bottom 😉

Fences

Fences are a reasonably new phenomenon in Mongolia. Most of the country is unfenced and the herders live a nomadic lifestyle. Even near the Aimag Centres and the Soums and Bags there are no fences. However, this changes when you get into the Soums, Aimag Centres and such, with fences now enclosing parcels of land that Mongolians now own. The rest of the country is still unowned (I guess this means that the government owns it) and people and animals roam as they will.

The Soums and Aimag Centres are becoming more like everywhere else in the world now with property fenced.

The Hunter

It was while we were visiting Dadal in Khentii Aimag (the Dadal area is thought by the Mongolians to be the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan) that Thomo was feeling a little blue. We had been travelling for a few days, covering a fair bit of territory (by this time we had travelled south almost to the Chinese border and then north almost to the Russian Border). I had been away from showers, comfortable beds and what have you and I was missing contact with family and some friends (the ever faithful translator and Aide Confidante, Baggy, was at least with me and that eased some of the blues).

“Let’s go to the hunting museum!” was the call after we had visited Chinggis’ birthplace. Off we went then. I must admit, I had no idea what to expect. However, I met a truly wonderful man by the name of Zunduidorj. He was (or rather still is) a hunter. He is 86 years old and is a truly inspiring person to talk to. He has hunted bear, wolf, deer and such and he has examples in his museum (see behind the picture). However, he is not at all wanton in that hunting, killing enough to feed his family and provide food for the local Soum, or what was required from the government licenses.

He does, however, have a wonderful love and respect for the environment, the trees, the animals, the weather and the spirits. Talking with him was for me a most uplifting experience. He finished our visit with him by presenting me with a container he had made himself. It was full of dried milk (if you give a container to someone in Mongolia as a gift, it should not be empty when given). He also called a wolf for me (after making me promise I would not try to do this, record the sound or to copy it).

I promised him that if I returned to Khentii after being back in Australia I would bring him something for his museum, something related to Australian animals, perhaps some shark teeth or crocodile teeth.

I should finish with a note about promises in Mongolia. A promise should be kept. If, for example, you say “I promise to buy you dinner tomorrow” and you you do not buy dinner, then this is bad. You will lose respect from a Mongolian. Better to say “I will TRY and buy you dinner tomorrow” and make sure the word “try” is emphasised.

To the hunter, however, all I can say is that he is a truly remarkable man and if you travel to Mongolia and Khentii in particular, visit the museum. Leave him 5,000 tugrigs as well as a “gift” to help him get his book written and published.