Day 2 of our 3-day tour of Central Mongolia
Camels, Sand dunes, Ancient city and a large penis - all in a day's travel!
We both didn’t sleep well in the Ger, not because of the temperature, it was surprisingly cosy, but the beds were like concrete.
The space of these Gers is great. I fantasised about getting one as we’ve always fancied owning a piece of woodland and could live in one as a temporary living space. Wouldn’t that be fun? We wonder how the Ger would cope with British wet climate though. It may get freezing in Mongolia, often to -45 degrees, but it’s very dry here.
Before breakfast (a plate of buttermilk cheesy goo on biscuits!), we had a ride on Sunduc and Tsing’s two-humped camels. I chose the small Blonde camel with a lovely temperament; it looked as if it was smiling. Tim rode the big camel and Sofiane had the naughty one who kept stopping to eat.
After leading the camels and then giving the reins to Tim, Sunduc became the chief photographer, running around the dunes taking stacks of photos!
I discovered that “Camel” in Mongolian is “Temee”, which sounds remarkably like Timmy. This amused me immensely. When we stayed with our friends Eve and Natalia in Nicaragua, I made out that Tim loved being called Timmy. He doesn’t.
As well as Sunduc’s camels, he has goats, sheep and horses. Usually, Nomads in the Gobi Desert have camels for transport, but Sunduc has an entrepreneur spirit, realising that he could add to his income by having tourist like us staying and giving us a camel ride experience.
After saying a fond farewell, we climbed in the car for a short journey to Elsen Tasarkhai, literally meaning "an isolated torn-off piece of sand". It’s in the Khögnö Khan National Park, also known as the Little Gobi Desert, as its natural features are similar to the real one (I thought that’s where we were going. Oh well, the little one will do!). We enjoyed searching for animal tracks and found tiny rodent footprints and wolf prints which suddenly disappeared down a slope. Perhaps it skidded on its bottom.
After a one hour journey, we arrived in Karakorum, founded by Genghis Khan in 1220 and the first capital of the Mongol empire, the largest in all human history. The place is now more like a small outback town with not much of this ancient history in sight. Most are buried, and archaeologists have a small window in summer to unearth its treasures.
We visited Karakorum museum which had some excellent exhibits of artefacts discovered here from Stone Age and Mongolian Empire times, including part of a road, underfloor heating and a half-excavated kiln sunk into the museum floor. Despite the museum’s small size, it was well-laid-out; however, we were reprimanded for taking photos. It cost an extra 20,000 mnt each if we wanted the pleasure of capturing pictures.
The highlight for me was a short film showing details of a 6th-century burial tomb that was accidentally found by local Nomads while digging a toilet trench. The video walked us through the three chambers, showing paintings of a dragon and a tiger on the walls to the tomb of a Turkic nobleman. Exhibited were his bones, coins, jewellery and rows of small pottery statues.
Tim is reading ‘Wolf of the Plains’ by Conn Iggulden; it’s about the epic story of Genghis Khan and his warrior sons. I overheard Tim having a debate with one of the other visitors. He noticed that one of the signs said that Genghis Khan was the first son, however in the book, Tim read that Genghis Khan was the second son. The other visitor noted that he was the first son of the second wife. I could tell that Tim was itching to google, but sadly - no Wi-Fi.
Opposite the museum was Erdene Zuu (Jewel Temple), a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is probably the earliest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia built in 1585. Sadly, most of it was destroyed by Stalin, but thankfully three temples and the external wall with stupas were saved and turned into a museum to prove to international dignitaries that the communist regime allowed freedom of religion!
The monastery became a place of worship again in 1990 and is now active. We quietly visited two newer temples and watched young monks chanting. Women were walking around handing out sweets to the monks and later, the brothers put on some weird hats, like the mane of horses, with the older monk leading the chants wearing a silk yellow peaked hat. Sadly no photos allowed.
We jumped back into the car for a short drive up a hill for our guide Bolt to show us a significant rock. He shared that a family member couldn’t get pregnant so came and sat on the rock. Two years later, she had a baby.
The rock was carved on the order of the Supreme Head of Mongolian Buddhism when he visited the Erdene Zuu Monastery hundreds of years ago, The Abbot of the Monastery asked the Supreme Head for help as young monks were disobeying the Buddhist discipline by womanising and seducing local women. The Supreme Head instructed him to craft a stone resembling a penis and place it in the valley similar in shape to a vagina. We wondered how this stopped monks misbehaving, but have since read that it was a reminder to the monks to remain celibate and if they failed, they were castrated.
Just like Bolt’s family member, many people now visit and pray at the penis stone for a fertility blessing and return after the birth to give thanks, even if it’s a few years later!
It was time to get to our second Ger in a small camp. No open-air toilet, we had the luxury of a small hut with a deep hole and a wooden plank to stand and squat over. I was very concerned that my glasses would drop off! Now that would have been a story!
#mongoliancamelride #livinginayurt #mongolia #MongolianNomads #LittleGobiDesert #ElsenTasarkhai #KhögnöKhanNationalPark #Karakorum #GenghisKhan #AncientCityOfKarakorum #KarakorumMuseum #ErdeneZuu #PenisStone