Visit to North West Mongolia
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 17/Jul/2010 12:10, 34 days ago
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The furthest West point of my trip was Uliastai in Zavkhan aimag/province. The family of a tour guide friend of mine live in and around Uliastai town and they invited me to visit for one week.I chose to fly from UB to Uliastai as the alternative was a 3 day drive - I knew I would have enough time bouncing around on Mongolian roads! I was picked up by the family I was staying with and taken to lunch at their mothers house. I had arrived on the final day of Naadam although unfortunately I missed the horse racing, I did manage to spend the afternoon watching the wrestling along with the prize giving for the other events. Countryside Naadam is a really intriguing experience as all the locals turn out in their best clothes and have a great party. It is very similar to a country fair at home, but with better dressed locals!!In the evening I was asked yet again to entertain the family with my Buuz making abilities. My skills have not improved much during the year and I fear my family at home may have to give up any hope of a Mongolian feast when I get home!In the morning I walked up to the top of the hill beside the families house where there was a row of stupa's, a couple of Ovoo's and some crazy animal statues! We met the only other foreigner in the town - it is always amazing the kinds of people you meet - this Polish guy was cycling around Mongolia for 45 days!!We then headed out to visit some more family in the countryside. It was a couple of hours drive away through some beautiful countryside, over hills and through valleys until we arrived at the gers beside the river in one of the valleys. The great grand father had just turned 90 so there were 5 branches of the family there celebrating.I was given a horse for the 3 days we stayed there and one of the cousins who spoke a little English showed me around. Yet again Mongolians didn't believe a foreigner could ride and so they had pulled the fattest horse from the herd but we soon came to an understanding that we both wanted to go fast.We had a short ride into one of the valleys and we climbed one of the hills and all the flowers and plants were pointed out to me, and I was expected to try eating most of them!! It is amazing how the Mongolians use everything available to them. The Gallop back was great fun - there were some great flat bits of ground to pick up some good speed.Unfortunately on my second day it absolutely poured. We thought it would be ok, but after 2 hours it started to absolutely pour with rain and we headed back. But the riding itself was still really great over rocky outcrops, through rivers, back and forth. Unfortunately when we got back it took over an hour to get the fire going so I huddled under my sleeping bag.Luckily we were invited to a Khorhog celebration in the next ger over. The khorhog was great, really tasty, until the vodka came out! The ger was packed out but I was still amazed that we managed to get through around 6 bottles of vodka. Of course in true Mongolian tradition the singing then started. I managed to only have to sing once which was a relief, but the rounds kept going for the rest of the group and then it became a singing competition in rounds, to see who could sing the loudest - it was a crazy experience!!Eventually the singing was over and, after inspecting the baby goats who were very cute, we headed back to the ger, where more food was cooked. I hid outside in my tent for a while to avoid any more food! It was then time for the volleyball tournament. Once all the horses have been turned loose the rope they are tied to, which is above head height, is used as a volleyball net! It got very competitive and they were all very tough on each other, but luckily my word was usually the decider!Luckily my last day was a beautiful day and that meant we were able to ride up to a view point where we could see the tallest mountain, Otgon Tenger. It was another lovely ride up a hill and over another, through herds of horses, sheep, goat and yak! and the views from the top of each hill were spectacular. We came back down the same valley we went up the day before and it was so beautiful in the sunshine! Unfortunately the day involved over 4 hours of trotting - every muscle in my body was aching by lunch time!Because it was a beautiful afternoon the women all did the washing in the river (which was icy cold!) and the children played pooh sticks and washed in the river.After another very competitive volleyball competition it was time to tie up the baby yak - they have to be tied up so that the Mums can be milked. I was asked to help, but noone warned me how wily the babies were! It was a hilarious process as 4 of us tried to herd babies away from their Mums and then tie them up. It took us quite a while!No-one had mentioned to me that the gers were being moved and so on my last morning in the countryside there was lots of banging and I rolled over back to sleep. When I did get up the gers that had been there the night before were on the back of trucks! I wish I had known as I would have liked to have seen the moving process. We did get to follow the trucks to the new camp site and then back to Uliastai!We then started the long 2 day drive to Murun where I was joining a horse riding trip. On the way we drove through lots of beautiful countryside which varied from hills, to valleys, to steppe to sand dunes!! As well as 2 beautiful lakes.We camped beside one lake and just as we were going to bed I heard the most awful screaming sound, as if someone was being murdered. After 10 minutes I stuck my head out of my tent and came face to face with two massive male yaks horns locked having a fight over a woman! It was absolutely terrifying and so we moved the tents behind the car to try and stop them running over us! For 3 hours they ran back and forth in front of the tents. A pretty sleepless night!Another beautiful days driving along more valleys, over crazy bridges and through herds of camels this time. At one point the roads turned pink!! We eventually arrived in Murun and I treated myself to a night in a hotel, with a fabulous shower and a double bed - such a treat.