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To the edge of the Gobi Desert – Khogno Khan
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Sun 23 Jun ’13 – day 43  It poured with rain during the night, so the heavy drumming on the roof of the ger woke me a few times, but I generally slept pretty well.  As this was such an easy ger camp to gain access too, there are much larger numbers of people around, so less peace and quiet.

Up at 06:30 hours, a hot shower, dressed and then packed; there was still a bit of wind driven rain at the start of week 7 of my trip.

Sat watching the eagles hunt and I was getting quite blasé about seeing the various large birds of prey.

Today was Ankhaa’s birthday, so 21 again.

The restaurant ger was full, so the most people we have had to stay with on this trip and I much prefer the small camps.  For breakfast I was offered an omelette instead of fried eggs, so yes please.

The girls collected our luggage and took it to the mini-bus and they have been the most welcoming group of staff of all the commercial gers that we have stayed at.  One of them dressed up as the 14th century Queen (it was a spectacular costume) as the girls gathered to say goodbye and as we drove off she gave the traditional blessing.

We drove through the town and passed the monastery before turning right and going up the hill to the Stone Turtle.  There were four of these carvings located around the boundaries of the ancient city and they acted as protectors, as turtles were considered symbols of eternity.  This was strange when you consider how far we were from the warm seas that are the turtle’s natural habitat, so how did the original inhabitants know that these creatures existed?

 

From the top of the hill the full size of the monastery was apparent and this filled just a small part of the ancient capital of Mongolia.  There were plans to carry out additional excavations to establish the full extent of the old city, but lack of funds had prevented this going ahead.

Near to the Stone Turtle was a Buddhist shrine where we paid our respects; this was also a horse shrine were the skulls of dead animals were placed in the belief that the horses will be resurrected in another life.

 

Down the hill a little way was a stone phallus called Kharkhorin Rock which legend says restrained the sexual impulses of the monks and ensured their good behaviour.  Nowadays young married women sit astride the rock and pray as they believe that this will help them conceive.

Back in the mini-bus we headed off along tracks alongside which a new road was being constructed; it was definitely needed as the vehicles were causing severe erosion.

The drive to the next ger was along some pretty rough roads and although this was a major highway, long stretches were being repaired, so we had to endure a considerable amount of bouncing around as we went off-road to make our way passed the repairs.  At one point we came across a toll booth where the monies collected were used to help maintain the roads – shades of Britain in the 18th century.

Almost all the way we saw eagles and buzzards hunting and a huge steppe eagle was sat in the middle of the road and only flew away when we got very close.

The landscape was a lot different to what we had seen before, as the mountains rising out of the steppe had very jagged peaks.  This was obviously quite a fertile area as there was a large number of gers in a relatively small area, a greater concentration than we had seen before.

We were driving along the northern edge of the Gobi Desert and this was made apparent when we went over a crest and there in front of just was a long line of sand dunes.  As we turned off the road there were a number of youngsters selling rides on their two humped Bactrian camels, a type indigenous to Mongolia; we drove passed and to the base of the dunes, but some of the children followed us to try and get us to ride their animals.

Walking up the dunes was very wearing on the legs, but the effort was well worth it once we had got to the top as the views were tremendous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the mini-bus and it was just a short drive to the ger camp which towards the top of a south facing slope and so from the steps in front of the restaurant ger the view across the Khogno Khan Nature Reserve was spectacular.  Except for a few isolated nomad gers there is was nothing between here and the desert itself and then nothing at all in the Gobi, a barren wilderness.

Lunch was followed by a siesta, or whatever the Mongolian word for it is.  I had an hour’s snooze and then updated my diary.

At 16:00 hours we set off in the mini-bus for the short drive to see how the local nomads look after their animals.

Just as we arrived a torrential downpour started and we were invited into the family ger by a lady who we learned was matriarch of an extended family.  She lived here while her four sons and one daughter lived in gers across the valley.  We were given the traditional welcome of tea and biscuits while the ladies answered our questions; mother, daughter, daughter-in-law and five children, 4 girls and a baby boy, who just sat and looked at us.  The family were obviously very religious as they had a Buddhist shrine at the rear of the ger.

In the ger was a blow-up globe, similar to the one Michael Palin took with him when he went ‘Round the World in 80 Days’, so we explained where we lived but there was no real reaction.

When the rain stopped Chris, David and Nes had a go at riding the camels while I took photographs.

 

 

 

 

After the camel riding the ladies herded the goats into a pen, tied them up and milked them, this is ladies work we were told.  Ankhaa said that the family had only just started milking the goats and this was done once a day, whereas the cows were milked twice a day – just like everywhere else in the world.

Back at the ger camp we had a drink of tea, water in my case, before a shower and change.  The heavens opened again for about 15 minutes and it was an impressive sight watching the weather front move across the valley.

Dinner was not bad and afterwards Ankhaa and Wednesday introduced us to the game of Shagai which is played with ankle bones of a sheep or goat and the four sides represent a horse, camel, sheep or goat.  The Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia page 219 gives a great description of how the game is played.

There was a party of elderly Americans sharing the camp with us and their male tour leader spoke to them if they were children – Nes said that if he had addressed her like that, a smack in the kisser would have been the result.

This was the second case of MCP we had encountered today because when we arrived the camp manager, the son of the owner, met us and then watched as one of the female staff struggled to pull the cart with our luggage on.  It was only when we all gave her a hand that he condescended to give a hand; definitely a plonker with a poor attitude.

There were tremendous views across the plain as the sun set.

A few days ago when we were saying how quiet and peaceful it was, Nes remarked that she had not even seen an aircraft contrail, but this afternoon I both heard and saw an aircraft heading towards UB.

Another good day and so to bed.