Camels, Lamas, and Snakes. Oh My!

Today started out like most others have on the Gobi trip.  We woke up as the sunlight started coming into our ger around 7.30.  I pulled the sleeping bag over my face to try and stay warm and get a little more sleep while Lynn got up and finished the blog post from yesterday.  Around 8 we packed up our stuff and joined the others for what has become the standard breakfast of dry bread, American cheese, sausage, and green tea.

While we loaded up the van I noticed there were a few men working around some trucks a little outside of camp.  I had noticed them the previous night as well only with a camel.  It turns out someone had bought that camel (for only $700) and they were up all night harvesting it.  Both of us were a bit too squeamish to go take a look, so we climbed into the van instead and drove off towards the mountains.

We barreled over the rough mountain roads for a bit before arriving at yet another rock that looked like a camel (I believe this is now the third we have seen).  This time it was Lynn’s turn to run up and pose for pictures.  As we explored around the rock a bit we kept finding money strewn about.  Nothing too large, just 100s and 20s, equivalent to about 10 cents and 1 cent respectively.  It turns out that there be gold in them thar mountains and to give thanks to the heavens for their find, prospectors leave offerings at the camel.  Though I would feel a little ripped off if I were in charge of such things and helped some prospector find thousands of dollars of gold and he or she only left me ten cents as thanks.

Lynn riding her petrified camel.
Lynn riding her petrified camel.

About 30 minutes later the van turned up a steep hill and made it most of the way before our tires started spinning out.  Otgoo pulled the van over and told us we would have to hike the rest of the way up, to what yet we didn’t know.  Doya led us about the mountain to discover petroglyphs scratched on shiny black rocks towards the top.  Lynn and I continued on to the peak to admire the view and encountered a snake on the path.  Both the snake and I jumped before he slithered away towards Lynn who got out of the way very, very quickly.  At the top, we fought the wind to stand up straight and take a few pictures before following the others back down.

Petroglyphs of ibex and gazelles.
Petroglyphs of ibex and gazelles.
As I called out below that I had found a snake, Doya replied that I should watch out because some are poisonous.  The snake and I kept a healthy distance from each other from then on.
As I called out below that I had found a snake, Doya replied that I should watch out because some are poisonous. The snake and I kept a healthy distance from each other from then on.
View from the top.
View from the top.
More view from the top, down the rest of the range.
More view from the top, down the rest of the range.

Back in the van we went, for another two hours of being bounced around in the back of the van, as Otgoo drove us all the way through the mountains and navigated across the front of another range (the West Beauty).  Looking out the windows you could see the landscape gradually changing from the sparsely vegetated gravel where we had camped to open grass prairie as we moved out of the center of the desert.  Otgoo, somehow able to discern one mountain valley from all of the others, turned up a dry creek bed and we made our way to a Buddhist temple located in the mountains.

The temple, we learned, was still being built by the Lama who started construction himself 27 years ago when he was only 13.  It was built on the location of a hideout where a Lama hid himself and his books from the Russian Buddhist persecution (and it sounds like massacre) of the 1930s. Ganchimeg told us that during this period all of the over 700 Buddhist temples in Mongolia were destroyed and many lamas and monks were murdered.

The temple at first appeared to be a very large ger, much larger than any we had seen so far, with a Buddha statue and futon couches around the outside of the room.  Apparently in such places it is perfectly acceptable to carry in a camp stove, prop it down in the center of the room and start cooking lunch, because that is exactly what we did.  While Doya boiled water for our ramen packets, Otgoo showed us all how to make dry bread, American cheese, and sardine sandwiches.  I did not partake, though Lynn gladly did.

Lynn's sardine and american cheese open-faced sandwich.
Lynn’s sardine and american cheese open-faced sandwich.

After lunch, we were led by the temple caretaker on a hike up the hill behind us to the rest of the temple.  Every time we came upon a new piece that I though was the final one, a new part would appear around a bend in the path.  There were five in total including a 4 ton statue that had to be horse carted up the hillside, a temple with the five strongest Buddha’s, and an ovoo at the top of the hill where we whispered a wish to bird seed and then scattered it into the wind while walking three times around the rock pile.  The view from all of it was really stunning.  I don’t really know how to describe it other than to say that it really seemed like the perfect setting in my mind when I imagine where a Buddhist temple should be – up in the nooks of some very rocky hills, views of the plains opening up beyond the mountains, and a very strong wind that kept the bells placed throughout the temple ringing themselves and the colorful ribbons to be fully flailed out.

The ovoo (hill shrine) at the very top.  There are hundreds of blue ribbons tied to the column coming out of the rock pile.
The ovoo (hill shrine) at the very top. There are hundreds of blue ribbons tied to the column coming out of the rock pile.
The temple buried in the nooks of the mountains.  A pretty good hiding spot if you ask me.
The temple buried in the nooks of the mountains. A pretty good hiding spot if you ask me.

We made our way back down the hill and reluctantly said goodbye to the views while we climbed back into the van for another bracing ride across the Gobi.  We arrived in a small town about an hour later where Doya lives in the summer.  We made a nice tour through the small town of no more than 2000 people before arriving at Doya’s summer house.  Located on a dusty, dead-end road (though to be fair they are all dusty) it was part of a row of identical duplexes that had all been built by the community in 1988.  They featured a wooden entryway, very nice large windows, poured concrete walls, no plumbing, and an outhouse out back.  A duo of pigs ate trash out of an overturned barrel across the street to truly set the scene.

Doya's house and our trusty van.
Doya’s house and our trusty van.

We had tea inside before Lynn and I decided to go for a walk and see the town a little bit.  The wind from earlier had not died down and so we bundled up and headed out.  Immediately we were greeted in English by two very friendly children who were eager to shake hands, introduce themselves, and show us a drawing the younger one had made.  It was not very good, but we said it was anyway and continued on.

On our walk we talked about how we both thought it was interesting the various technologies that make their way into developing countries versus the ones that aren’t as widespread.  As an example, at dinner last night, all of the Mongolians were on their phones, checking Facebook and the like (in the middle of the desert without a town for an hour in any direction) while the house we are in tonight doesn’t have running water.  It was just an interesting contrast. We explored what there was of the town before getting tired of dust blowing into our eyes and headed back.

Shortly after returning to Doya’s, we all loaded up in the van and set off to help her pick vegetables for dinner out of her garden.  We arrived at what I would more closely call a farm than a garden on the outside of town, were each handed a box or pale and told to start picking the red tomatoes.  I asked if there was a task for a red-green colorblind person and that clearly amused everyone, but I wasn’t given an answer.  I spent the next hour doing my best to pick red tomatoes, which were very few and far between, or at least orange ones failing that.  Lynn stopped my bucket every once in a while and pulled out the green ones.

This is by far the biggest "garden" I have ever seen.
This is by far the biggest “garden” I have ever seen.
Lynn enjoying a juicy yellow tomato.
Lynn enjoying a juicy yellow tomato.

Having filled up three boxes, two pales, and three grocery bags of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, and carrots we headed back to the house for dinner.  While we were out, a relative of Doya had come over and made mutton tsuivan for us.  She also cut up some of the tomatoes and cucumbers we had just brought back in, mixed them with a very, very generous helping of mayonnaise, explained that this is how the Russians serve it, and set it on the table.  All of the food was very good and very filling.  Doya has made it a habit of insisting that I always eat more food at every meal.  In fact it is probably safe to say that my day is spent either eating or being told by Doya that I need to eat more.  I managed to stave off the attack this time as everyone else was full as well so they provided some nice ground cover.

Fresh vegetables, finally!  Mongolians have possibly the most unhealthy diet I have ever seen.
Fresh vegetables, finally! Mongolians have possibly the most unhealthy diet I have ever seen.

As Lynn likes to say “tummies full” we headed off to bed to get some sleep for tomorrow, where no doubt we will need well rested muscles to brace ourselves against the bumping and crashing of a long car ride across the Gobi.

Daily Walking Mileage : 3 sad miles

Fun Facts:

  • Camel’s have giant feet that spread even bigger when they step so they can stay on top of the sand.
  • Mongolia has no coins in their currency.  Everything, down to the equivalent of pennies are paper money.
  • The last time the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia, China closed their mutual border.  This was a huge problem since most of the food Mongolia eats comes from China.  It was only reopened when Mongolia (which is 50% Buddhist) promised to never allow the Dalai Lama to visit again.

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