A welcomed retreat from the sweltering heat of Shanghai’s summer, a pleasant breeze provides a sense of cleansing renewal in the warm sun. I notice there are no road signs to be seen once I’ve left the capital; one must really know where she is going. The left turn into what I mistake for an open field is in truth a well traveled road that one must know is there. My driver is a nomad by birth who claims to have left that lifestyle behind and yet spends his days wandering around his country showing tourists all the beauty Mongolia has to offer. He knows these roads like an old friend and doesn’t seem fazed by the lack of road signs.
Despite my flight delay induced 4:30am arrival, I am unwilling to relinquish the lost time to sleep; I push through wanting to savor as much of my short trip as I can. My climb up what can only be described as the easy slope at the base of Bogd Khaan Mountain is steady but slow. I won’t reach the summit but I climb far enough to get a wonderful view of the valley below, which includes the remnants of the Manzushir Monastery. Once the largest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia it was brought to ruin in the late 1930s by invading communist troops. It is peaceful here and I can see why for hundreds of years monks made this their spot for quiet contemplation. A small temple that is more museum than anything else marks the land where more than 20 temples used to sit in a complex that housed more than 300 monks until its destruction.
The clouds threaten rain yet I welcome the thin blanket that causes the intensity of the sun to subside. An added bonus of the clouds is the spectacular sunsets they contribute to every night. We are making our way towards Terelj where we will stay the night with a nomadic family. Their home has been set up in its current location for a short time having relocated by the river for the summer. The surroundings are serene. I sit looking out on the river and enjoy the view occasionally altered with a horse or cow wandering through. From here we can horseback ride and kayak both affording a greater glimpse of the beautiful landscape.
My hosts are making Khorkhog, a traditional Mongolian dish, for dinner. Their kitchen is small so much of the preparation is done outside. They rest the large pot of mutton, potatoes, veggies, and herbs on a stool turned upside down. Removing river rocks from the hot fire, they add them to the pot and cover it. These stones will cook the dish from within the pot. The results are delicious.
My ger is simple and comfortable. Two twin size beds one for me and one for my friend and oft traveling companion Gabi. We have a small sink where I pour water into the holding tank and the gray water collects below the basin. I follow tradition – entering the ger to the left side and walking clockwise within, always exiting from the right side. We sleep with the door open, which allows the crisp night breeze in. I awake in the early morning as a cow who has been grazing in the field around us is entering our ger to check out what is going on inside. Giggling at the sight I shoo her away best I can thinking only afterwards that I should have taken a picture first. I’ve never slept some place where cows may enter your room should you leave the door open.
In the morning Naraa joins us for coffee overlooking the river. She and her husband were both raised nomads and their lifestyle is made easier in this modern day than it was when they were children. I notice for the first time the satellite dish that sits outside their ger. I ask if she thinks her two children will choose to remain nomads when they reach adulthood and her only response is a chuckle.