purple flowers on the mongolian steppe

Activities on the Mongolian Steppe

Today we prepared for our three day camping journey which included a little packing for the guests and a lot of packing for the staff.  The preparation coupled with the run-off election for which the nomads had to go in to town to vote made for a busy morning.

In the meantime, however, Thomas and Carroll’s sons offered different activities which included photography hikes, fishing, and runs up to mountain peaks.  I joined all three activities. 

Run to a Mountain Peak

The run to a distant ovoo where Ganbold buried his father didn’t look that far away.  Boy was I wrong!  We jogged for a while across the meadow and up a gradual incline past 3,000 year old graves marked with rocks in the form of a circle or a square.  Since I was the only one participating in this activity and was winded, I told Galen I needed to walk up the hill.  We scaled some rocks and eventually made it to the peak topped with the ovoo.

It has been tradition since the 16th century for nomads to lay the deceased on the mountain top to be eaten by scavengers such as eagles and wolves.  It is believed, that feeding the dead to wild animals will sustain the predators and protect the prey.  In addition, the body’s purpose is to nourish the Earth. 

This open-air offering or sky burial was banned during the communist times and with religious freedom restored, the nomads like Ganbold have since reinstated the practice.  We visited the ovoo where his father’s body was offered to the animals.  We weren’t there long, as in order for me to be back in time for the photography session, I had to finish the run/walk in 45 minutes.  I got my 10,000 steps by 8:30 in the morning.

Photo Session

For our photography session this morning, we snapped pictures of a few staff members who posed with the horses.  After capturing some images of the lovely ladies dressed in their formal wear, we visited Ganbold’s summer farm.  We watched his morning chores which included bringing the horses in from the river.  In Mongolia, the horses are watered in the morning and the evening.  We also watched  Ankhaa milk the yaks again and observed how the mares are rounded up and the foals tied up to prepare for milking.

The Tos Ritual Again!

Page and I ended up sticking around with Liam longer than the rest of the group in hopes for a few more shots of their dog, children toys on the steppe, and yak carts. As a result, we got invited into Ganbold and Ankhaa’s ger as Liam has a small gift for them (some chips and chocolate).  Because we were guests, the ritual began! 

We sat on the cot and waited as Ankhaa provided us milk tea and tos.  Oh my gosh, we felt so bad that she had to do this for us…breakfast was just around the corner.  At the same time, it was neat to experience, as this wasn’t a planned tourist activity.

Flying Fishing in Mongolia

After breakfast, a few of us went fly fishing with Galen in the aqua waters of the Tamir River flowed by our ger camp.  It was a good practice session for beginners, though the windy weather kept us from catching many fish.  I’m told, however, the waters where we are camping are spectacular for hooking Lenok and Graling, so I suppose I will try my hand again in the next few days.

galen fly fishing

Camping at Tolgin Butts

In the afternoon, we mounted our horses and set out on our journey beneath sunny skies.  We rode about nine miles in three hours to our first camp in Tolgin Butts.  Upon arrival, the trucks were there with our gear.  We dismounted, picked a tent and some sleeping pads and found some flat ground in the meadow that wasn’t peppered in yak poo (that was hard to do). 

Setting up the tent with Page, who hasn’t camped in forty years, was entertaining to say the least.  Fortunately, the staff gave us a hand, and we crammed into the three person, orange Marmot, that really sleeps two side by side and fits some gear at the bottom.

I provided Page with the few camping tips. 

  1. Put the head of your sleeping bag uphill.
  2. Get out your headlamp now while it’s light
  3. Sleep in the clothes you plan on wearing tomorrow or put them in your sleeping bag, so they will be warm in the morning 

Furthermore, those who know Page, knows she packs the kitchen sink.  As such I warned, “While you get ¾ of the hotel room and 2/3 of the ger, you only get ½ the tent!” 

Hiking in Tolgin Butts

After getting settled, we joined Galen and many other guests for a hike to an ovoo atop Tolgin Butts.  The hike followed the steep hillside with no trail.  I might add, none of the hikes I’ve done over the last few days have been on a trail.  We climbed up the grassy slope dotted in wildflowers, onions, and rhubarb until we reached the first false summit.  This ridge offered a sweeping view of the valleys around us, and some guests didn’t see it necessary to continue further.  I don’t blame them.  There were no switchbacks to follow.  We just clambered upward.

Soon we conquered the next short hilltop, before we finished with a surge through a patch of lovely pink fireweed to the summit.  As is custom, we rounded the ovoo three times before we relaxed and admired the panoramic views.  As a cool breeze kicked up, we headed down.  It was a bit of a scramble as we slid here or there on loose scree.  Overall, it was a great climb and a perfect way to spend the hour before our late dinner.

Silent, But Deadly

By the time we crawled in the tent, it was dark.  In close quarters, I thought it might be polite to warn Page that I needed to toot.  Oh my, the “silent but deadly” phrase held true to form!  Page started giggling so hard, she couldn’t stop.  Soon, I had stitches in my side and tears rolling down my cheeks. 

By the time we were done laughing, Page had already rolled uphill and taken over the tent.  I looked at her in dismay, “I’ve never seen anyone roll uphill in a tent before…move over!”  The laughing continued.  Fortunately, our tent was the furthest away from camp, as I’m certain anyone that could hear us was ready for us to shut it down.  What a wonderful action packed day on the Mongolian Steppe!  ETB

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