I’ve been nominated by some fellow bloggers, Tony and Margie with Back Roads and Other Stories as well as Jyothi with Travel Explore Enjoy, to post one favorite travel picture a day for ten days without explanation, then to nominate someone else to participate. That’s 10 days, 10 travel pictures, and 10 nominations. It is my understanding that the idea behind the challenge is to expose audiences to new bloggers and vice versa. I’m always up for helping fellow bloggers, so I have accepted the challenge.
That said, my rule following self is going to follow Tony and Margie’s lead and break a handful of them. First, while a picture paints a 1,000 words, I’m incapable of posting a photo without some explanation. Sometimes the story makes the image that much more special. Second, though not specified, I think the intent is to post 10 days in a row. I’ll be lucky if I post 10 weeks in a row. Finally, I sometimes might post a series of photos.
I’m finally getting to Travel Photo Challenge Day 2. Today I’m including a series of photos taken in Mongolia, a trip I would have never taken if it weren’t for my friend Page who invited me. I almost still didn’t go because I already had many trips planned for the year and the best time to visit Mongolia is during Naadam in July when I stay home to hike in Colorado. After all, I suffer through the winter in order to enjoy the summer and fall in CO.
After giving it some thought, however, I changed my mind. I realized it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me as I have few friends that would be interested in riding horses across the Mongolian Steppe, especially for the National Geographic price tag! I’m so thankful for Page inviting me, because this trip to Mongolia was one of my favorites.
It is hard to say exactly what made the Mongolia trip one of my favorites. But not only did it include some of my favorite activities such as horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and camping, but also it afforded us the opportunity to learn about the Mongolian culture that is really fascinating.
Ulaanbaatar and Religious Offerings
Our two-week trip to Mongolia began in Ulaanbaatar. Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital in the world and the second most polluted city in the world during the winter when residents burn coal to stay warm.
Fortunately, we visited in the summer and were greeted upon our arrival with a blue khata (or scarf). Blue is important to the Mongolians as it represents the sky which brings rain necessary to grow the grass for their herds.
The blue khata is regularly offered at the few Buddhist and Shaman monasteries which survived underground during communism and have been revived over the last 30 years. It is also offered at ovoo’s, a shrine of sticks in a teepee shape usually found on mountain tops around the Mongolian Steppe. It is tradition to circle the ovoo three times before offering gifts.
Greeting A Guest
The traditions of the Mongolian’s are plentiful and deep. Being nomadic, they never turn away a stranger, as they never know when they might need help. As a result, guests are treated like royalty.
Guests enter the ger without stepping on the threshold and circle around the center posts, which are considered sacred, to the back in a clockwise direction. Riding helmets must not be set upside down or on the ground and legs should never be crossed.
Once the guests are seated, the hosts pour vodka in a shot glass which the guest accepts with the right hand. Then visitors stick their right ring finger into the glass and flick vodka up, back, and down before sipping from the glass and returning it to the host. The same ritual takes place with the next guest and the same glass! The same process then takes place with fermented mare’s milk.
After the drinking session, the host serves the visitors milk tea and tos. Tos is similar to a raw cake batter. Flour, sugar, yak milk, and butter is mixed together and served in bowls. The kids get the leftovers, so they love having visitors.
It is also quite possible, that if the host has a snuff bottle, he will pass it around for everyone to take a sniff. The snuff bottle is the most prized possession of the nomad aside from his horse, of which most have many. For as important as the horse is to the nomads, I’m surprised they do not give them names. Instead, they have 56 words for brown!
While we visited Mongolia, we participated in all the above rituals as we met the hardworking nomads. The women spent most the day milking yaks, goats, and mares, while the men handled their horses. We also attended two Naadams. Naadams are festivals held by every township that coincide with Mongolia’s Independence Day in mid-July.
The festivals’ main events include archery, wrestling, and horse races. They also feature games like you’d find at a state fair in the USA. While it is fun to watch giant men wrestle in bikini bottoms and open chested jackets, the big draw are the horse races which cross 20+ kilometers of the Mongolian Steppe.
The races are grouped by the age of the horse, and the five-year-old horse race is the most important. The horses are raced by 8-13 year old children whose outfits range from shoeless to capes to bike helmets, and some of them don’t even ride in a saddle.
The winner, both horse and rider, is revered. In fact, spectators rush to wipe the sweat off the winning horse as it is considered good luck. Then there is the award ceremony where cash, medals and prizes are doled out to the top five while fermented mare’s milk is flicked and shared!
Getting the opportunity to participate in all these Mongolian customs was truly remarkable. I’m so thankful for this travel experience and sometimes wonder with COVID, how many of the customs remain. I’m certain no one in the United States is dipping a ring finger into vodka and milk and then sharing the glass.
Anyway, having not traveled for nine months now, I miss learning about other cultures. I’m certain Kim, who I met on the trip, feels the same way. She travels extensively and writes thoughtful blogs at Camino Milagro. As result, I’m nominating her for the travel photo challenge. May the Mongolians and their customs survive so that they may be shared with others soon. In the meantime, these are some of my favorite photos from Mongolia. ETB
Check out the photographic note cards and key chains at my shop. Each card has a travel story associated with it. 20% of proceeds are donated to charity.