Sunday, 2 October 2011

An arse kicking in Mongolia

Total mileage: 23,000m
Location: among millions of people somewhere in N China
Day: about 170? (We really stopped counting a while ago)

We’re in China and it’s a mad race. No time for morning Yoga, a chord on the guitar or the comfortable search for the suitable campsite. It’s a rush. Time is money, every minute has a price, every second counts. Just like millions around us, we’re running from one place to another, hardly taking the moment to stop and look when we’re finally there. But let’s stop it all for a moment, return back in time and talk about Mongolia.

6 days trekking

Mongolia is the only place on earth where one gets his arse completely kicked, bruised and beaten but somehow and after all learns that that was an excellent experience.

Why and how? Check it out.

Let’s begin with the most important: food.

On any standard Mongolian menu one would find the only following item, with no distinction between morning, lunch and dinner: an old threadbare piece of sheep well-boiled in greasy salty milk.

Hmm, no; not grilled barbequed or fried but simply – and plainly – boiled. Why boiled? Because there’s no other way one would be able to chew and swallow this poor dry animal that’s been fed dull grass for 3 months in a year and ice in the rest.

See, it starved
And why boiled in greasy salty milk? I’m not too sure but I do too wonder why it’s being taking over 2000 years for spices from China to cross through border control.  

So please mark Arse-Kick #1: canned food only.

On (hardly) a full stomach we’re now ready for some exploration. But when the only road in Mongolia is blocked by hundreds of pills of dirt (why?!?!), the only direction one has to follow is through millions of dirt paths zigzagging the land.

The first 200 km is fun; off road, feeling the landscape etc. The next 500 are bearable. But then bones start to detached, parts break and sanity fades. After 1000 km the brain is gone, the motivation’s dead, vehicle’s shrill and the only input accepted is: why on earth is the only perfectly driveable road is blocked?!?!

Mark again; arse-kick #2: off road only.

off road only

One should take any navigation aid; maps, compass, GPS and, if available – a few pigeons. Anything to avoid getting lost as the only creatures to ask around are grazing yaks, wild horses and camels. Seems unlikely, but it’s still a better option than attempting to communicate with the locals.

Oh, dear locals. Ask for direction and they’ll point to another. Purchase an item and they’ll quote for 10. Order rice, get mutton. Ask for water, get mare milk. Confirm it’s diesel, get 95. Have a perfect road, block it completely. I love you Mongolians, and not in the good way.

About half of the residency of this country is still traditional; migrate with the seasons, herd livestock and live in Gers. Once upon a time I’ve heard about their great hospitality and the warm treatment to visitors but since then they apparently figured out that it’s a lot easier (and profitable) to put their guests on camels for a photo to get some revenue.

Arse-kick #3: no communication and dollars only.

Enough with the asre kicking; now, to retain credibility, I need to tell why it was all so worth it.

Put it simply, the Mongolian landscape is the most dramatic, exciting and inspiring I have ever experienced.

Volcanic Canyon

Right there, in the heart of the desert mountains, a volcano erupted, painting the valley in black lava, creating lush forest and deep blue lake full of life and colours. Then rugged sharp hill tops, shaped by wind and ice through millions of years, clearing way only to a gushing stream of white water. And then the Gobi. Often bright, mostly dark, shades of red, yellow and brown. Intimidating and remote, timeless and vast – a beautiful desert.

In Mongolia one can sit under the stars, listen to the wind and feel the world turning, feel part of it all; part of the earth and the sky, part of the present and the past, part of the galaxy and the universe. Feel alive.

And this feeling is definitely worth it all. So eventually and after all, thank you Mongolia. 

Jen & Noam

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