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Mongolia special: "Mushroom search" in the desert Gobi

Wild horses in the veldt, mutton milk-tea with salt and a wrestling match with the heirs of Dschingis Khan: Mongolia, especially in July during the Naadam feast is a great adventure trip.

camel shepherd in the Desert Gobi with gleaning editor
Picture by T. Micke

"So if we do not find any wood, then we could go ahead burn camel shit..." – At the beginning of our four days tent – and jeep tour through the deserts and veldts of Southern Mongolia everybody was still laughing about the shallow joke. Nobody could even think that already at the second day we would be fanning out at dinner and gratefully appreciate every sun-dried cow pat, horse or Bactrian camel turd we would find like with the joy of mushroom searchers during the find of chanterelle nests. Nights in the Desert Gobi and down the slopes of the Altai-mountains can really be icy. It is hard to make a bonfire with temperatures scarcely over zero, if apart from a few knobs of veldt bushes far and wide there is no wood to be found. Anyway through spicy smoke camel muck we were able to produce a very fine blaze aside from taking comfort from a guaranteed mosquito free zone.

Visit in a Mongolian yurt (called Ger). Light comes through the tent vent
Picture by T. Micke

Still very traditional living herdsmen-nomads are taking advantage of this knowledge. They represent 40 percent of the 2.5 million Mongols in a land which is four and a half times as big as Germany. Part of this old wisdom is that the searching Mongol has already invented milk powder and soup cubes a hundred years ago, in order to easier transport his provision when relocating. One of the newest wisdoms is that even in the biggest solitude it is possible to run a Satellite-TV in the yurt, when recharging a car battery via wind wheel as current source.

The yurt itself is much bigger inside as it seems from the outside: Like a sun shade only on two cardinal struts (do not touch by all means, that brings misfortune!) it is tight, there is a lot of light coming in from a closable hatch above. And because every yurt is being aligned in a Southern direction, through the shadow their Ger, which is actually the more accurate name for the Mongolian yurt, nomads can read the time. The whole Ger is covered with carpets. In the center there is an oven, which in this particular case is being heated with goat dung. The stovepipe is being removed during cold times. Left of the door there is a vanity, along the right side wires are bent where slit meat provisions hang drying.

Even in simple Mognolian villages sexy short skirts appear on a girl's agenda as well
Picture by T. Micke

How much you wonder as a tourist in the Moscow affected city Ulan Bator concerning the western style of city Mongols, about the unusual self-confident figure-accentuating and very sexy appearance of young women and the despite only a few cars chronic chaotic traffic: Five kilometers outside of the city this has an end. The main road to the South leading to the Chinese border town Hohhot suddenly transforms into a broad sand runway with free route choice with hazardous potholes. Import high heels make space for traditional heavy herdsmen leather boots (even if nobody rides a horse, but takes the motorcycle) and the oblique mix of high-rise buildings and yurt colonies disappears like a Fata Morgana on the glimmering horizon of the veldt. Desert lilies and small kinds of orchids bloom here. Every few meters a lizard whizzes into the hole and the Mongolian gerbils come out of their holes in the dawn.

Wild Horses in the Mongolian Steppe
Picture by T. Micke

When having a look at the breathtaking sight of wild horses herds every visitor falls silent: With their wind-combed mane they radiate so much vigor and liberty, that one starts to understand why on every second village square not a horseman but a simple horse monument stands with a holy blue scarf around its neck.

It almost happened that equestrian nation number 1's unique national animal the small stocky "Takhi" – known as Przewalski-horse in our circle of latitude- had gone walkabout: The animals have been pushed back by free-ranging domestic horses. People like the Viennese zoological garden Sch÷nbrunn's Helmut Pechlaner, a dedicated animal welfarist, we owe that the nearly extirpated horse race from the last exemplar in European zoos was coddled up again and nowadays can be once again found in the Mongolian Steppe.

Ear candy: Traditional Mongolian Horse Head-Violin
Picture by T. Micke

When planning a trip to the Naadam Feast in Ulan-Bator Mongolia at the beginning of July, where one is able to catch sight of wrestlers, archers and circus riders to experience a glimpse of the grand tradition of a former global power, one should allow some extra time to spend a few days in the desert to see the unforgettable starry sky and paradisiacal untouched boondocks. Admittedly only if one has brought enough food provisions from home or can call oneself to very adaptable, because pseudo dishes like the Mongolian stew or Mongolian mixed grill do not even exist here and unfortunately are inventions of migrating Chinese, which want to stand out in the crowd of inflating Chinese restaurants in this country. Fat mutton is an indispensable part of every true Mongolian dish. Aside they serve aplenty of – guess what – mutton stuffed dumplings, as it is right and proper for nomadic people, traditionally nourished by milk and meat.

Funeral feast: If food provision runs out in the desert, one has to be inventive...
Picture by T. Micke

Naturally one can get every kind of food in Ulan Bator – all that a western heart can desire. For everybody who is done eating exotics, one of the taverns is to be recommended, called Khan-brew or Dschingis-brew, not only attracting many guests with naturally cloudy barley-and wheat-juice but also European solid meals.

Happy to try out's may be recommended: a visit in a nomadic family yurt. One quencher of fermented horse mare-milk or traditional milk tea with salt and decent mutton flavor as a welcoming are supposedly a great culinary adventure, the simple but warm hospitality are an unforgettable remembrance.

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© A report by Tobias Micke (05-06-05) – Contact