Karakoram and surrounds

We awoke before dawn to Grandma restocking our fire. I stuck my hand out and it was freezing outside. But the fire soon warmed the ger and we were toasty warm. Breakfast was simple fare of bread, biscotti and jam. But the best part was the homemade butter/cream. I don’t think I have ever had that before.  

We asked Baatar where the fresh cows milk had come from as we hadn’t seen any cows and he told us that the cows are normally here in the morning for milking because they keep the calves near the homestead and the mothers and the rest of the herd come back in the afternoon to feed the calves. However yesterday the granddaughters were in charge of keeping the mothers and calves separate and they got sidetracked playing so the mothers took the calves with them so therefore no need for the herd to come back. So no fresh milk this morning. Granddad needed to go out on his horse and find them and bring them back.

We then got to watch the goats and sheep slowly make their way out to the pastures. The camels had already taken off somewhere. We found out that a camels hump/s are their fat reserves and are effected by how healthy and fat they are. There was a mother with her calf who she was still feeding which is causing her to be not as fat as the others so her hump is not upright but saggy. 

We headed out soon after breakfast to check out one of the nomad spring camps. The nomads traditionally have four camps. One for summer which is just right out in the open air with no fixed structure other than gers, autumn camp which is closer to the mountain side to shelter from wind but now a lot of nomads don’t use this and go straight from summer to winter which is in the hills so they are sheltered from all sides. They then have a spring camp which is out on the plains again but usually have a structure for the sheep and goats to shelter from the wind. 

Our ger was a 4 walled ger which means they use 4 lattice like structures bent into a circle. The nomads central ger can be as many as nine. The gers are insulated with a layer of sheeps wool compacted into felt. In summer they only use one layer but in winter three. Also the floor in winter is insulated with felt but in summer just a layer of Lino. 

Their lives are hard. I have spent two days here in Autumn and cannot comprehend how hard winter must be. Waking in -20 degrees and walking out to a landscape covered in snow. Apparently the horses and camels can still find food but the sheep and goats cant so need to be fed stored hay. In saying that Batoor says that the horses at the end of the winter are in pretty bad shape. But summertime comes and they recover and the scenery would be beautiful out here. 

After the trip to the spring camp we headed to Karakoram. Which was supposedly the seat of Chiggis Khans empire but today there is nothing left. Near the site a Buddist temple was erected. It is a vast walled complex with temples inside. Again we managed to show up just as a ceremony was taking place. Like most of the places of worship all but three of the temples were destroyed in the religious purges and it didn’t fully open again until 1990’s. 

Lunch was had in one of the restaurants. Batoor has been ordering a selection of Mongolian fare for us to try and it has all been delicious. The meat has been tasty and the sauces very flavorsome though everything comes with rice and potatoes. 

We headed back to the ger camp and after a cup tea we were told we were going horseback riding. We were a little apprehensive as we had been told Mongolian horses are pretty spirited and considering these guys just this morning were happily roaming the country side with their herd we didn’t think they would be to happy having us on their backs. 

We were asked if we wanted to be lead or if we had enough experience to ride ourselves and I decided to ride myself. Tim’s horse wasn’t the most cooperative so he was lead by the nomad. It was really peaceful and beautiful riding the plains on sunset. The smells and rhythm of the horses were really quite therapeutic.

Unfortunately the ger camp had suddenly become filled with other tourists but by this stage it was seven o’clock and our dinner was waiting for us in the ger. A few games of cards later and a fully stocked fire and our eyes were shutting. We fell asleep to the sound of the explosive wind passing sheep and goats sleeping right outside our ger. 

The next day we didn’t have any plans so after a lazy get up and a walk around camp we headed back to Ulaan Baatar. This took most of the day with a stop for lunch at around 3pm we experienced first hand the horrible Ulaan Baatar traffic. It took us an hour and half to travel about 20kms! 

Once back we sorted out the next day’s plan to visit Terelj National Park with Sandro and Tamar, a Canadian couple we were staying at the guest house, we all headed out for a bite to eat at one of the budget Mongolian restaurants and then decided on a sneaky beer at one of the pubs. This one was a German ale house which was really rather nice. The weirdest thing about the place was that we were the only mixed gender table throughout the whole place. It was either groups of males or females. We asked Bataar the next day and he shrugged his shoulders and said that he and his wife never go out for a drink together either. It is either him staying at home with the kids and she goes out or he goes out with his friends. I get the sense there is still a little bit of a gender gap here. S

The herds leaving to forage for the day.

View from the ger camp into the little Goni.

Such a vast expanse of nothingness. You can see the different nomads herds as little black dot clusters on the plains behind Tim.

Just one of the homesteads we passed while driving. You couldn’t have posed him better really.

One the way we saw vultures hiving near a carcass of some description. I didn’t realise they were so big! They sure are ugly too.

The temple in Karakoram.

The walls of the temple. It was really an impressive space. Not really filled either but a lot of the temples had been destroyed in the religious purge and never rebuilt.

A herd of horses. 

We stopped off at the little Gobi just near the ger camp and climbed some of the dunes.

Our faithful steeds. We have decided that an hour of horseback riding is a perfect length of time. Any more after that and a certain body part hurts like there is no tomorrow!

View while riding.

A nomad bringing in his herd for the day.

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