A night with a nomadic family in Mongolia

Mongolia was the first stop on our Trans-Siberian journey. A week’s stay would have been perfect, but we only had Three days and wanted to make the best of it. Of course, to experience a stay in a Ger with a real nomadic family was a must.

We made prior arrangements for a guide and transportation to take us to the Ger. We knew that there would be no bathroom facility, but to save time, we still decided to head straight to the place from the station even though we were desperate for a bath after the 25-hour train journey from Beijing.

It took only a little more than an hour to reach our destination and I must say that there is nothing like a drive across the sprawling Mongolian grasslands. The land of steppe and sky is simply breathtaking.

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Grazing Yaks

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived and at the time when preparations were underway to bring the herd home from the pasture. Our host was husband and wife, Altanghel and Tserma.  They have grown up children who live and work in the city.

After Ulzi, our very charming guide and translator made introductions, Tserma enthusiastically gestured us into their home.

My first impression of the Ger ? it was cozy. There were three beds on the east, north and west sides, a tiny stove on the centre, a small wash basin, shelving units, family photos and a low table close to the stove. Apart from the necessities, there were a few possessions, despite this, it was very homely.

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After we sat around the low table at the centre, Tserma served each one a bowl of Suutei tsai (mongolian milk tea), a plate of Aaruul (dried curds) with a strong, salty taste which I strangely liked and the sweets that we brought for them.

We shortly found out that we were not the only guests, our visit coincided with that of Altangel’s twin brother and wife.

 

A stay with a nomadic family means you take part in their normal activities. When it was time to feed the herd and milk the cows, my friend Choi and I helped feed the herd because we couldn’t manage it in the cow milking department.

It was a fine spring afternoon, and the temperature comfortably cool according to everyone except me. It was chilly by my standards that I had to run inside the Ger a few times to sit by the stove to keep warm.  This amused Tserma very much.

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Stoves are fuelled with dry cow dung and juniper

Then a family of three arrived. Ulzi explained that it is customary for friends and family to visit and when they do, they are welcomed by being invited for milk tea, a full meal or even a stay.  With Two gers and an out house (dug hole toilet), I wondered about sleeping arrangements if everyone were to spend the night.  I didn’t really care as long as my place was by the stove.

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The family was camped a few hundred meters from a river in a beautiful valley. The landscape was stunning. We walked around the area for a bit and wanted to walk  more but we had to head back before dark.

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Our home for the night

Dinner was a simple affair of soup and the mandatory bowl of vodka that was passed around while everyone exchanged stories. Only Ulzi spoke both English and Mongolian, so she had to do the translations but after a while that was no longer necessary. After bowls of vodka, the laughter and singing was enough. I was thankful I wasn’t made to sing.

It must have been the cold night temperature or the vodka because I was asleep in no time. The family of three left before dinner, still there were Eight of us to share one tiny space, but it was comfortable. Choi and I were given beds, Artangel did too as the master of the house, while the rest slept on the floor.

In the morning, Choi and I woke up before sunrise to explore more of the gorgeous landscape._BCL0576

_BCL0663By the time we were back, everyone was up, the beds made, the place tidy and Tserma already preparing breakfast of rice and meat. I decided to stick to bread and milk tea. To put it lightly, traditional Mongolian nomadic food is an acquired taste.

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This grain is what they also call rice
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Sleeping Artangel in the background while everybody else was having breakfast

I think our first night in Mongolia was well spent.  My brief time with a nomadic family made me realise a few things; That I can’t and will never milk a cow, That the stove is my favorite part of the Ger, Except for Tsuutei chai and Aaruul, I am not a fan of Nomadic Mongolian food but I am certainly a fan of Nomadic hospitality.

With our curiosity of Ger life enjoyably satisfied, it was time for Choi and I to move on to to the city. As for  Artangel and Tserma, it was time to move somewhere else for the summer.

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The ritual of tossing milk into the air or sprinkling it onto a person, animal, or object, as an offering to the spirits, a supplication, a blessing, or a protection.

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from swerve of shore

a travel and photography blog by aaron joel santos

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