Mongolia Day 3
No internet. In the middle of outer Mongolia. How did I get here and what is here? We all met at 4 AM for our 6:40 flight to Bayan-Olgii. Flew a prop on “Hunnu Airways”. We we switched from Atila Airways to Hunnu Airways. The Hunnu are a group of ethnic people in Mongolia and related to Atila the Hun. Three hour flight. During the course of the flight the stewardess served us a cheeseburger. I passed. Looked horrible. After she was finished serving everyone, she then picked up a baby who looked to be about 6 months old and proceeded to walk up and down the aisle with him. Imagine a stewardess in the US doing this. I was sitting next to Andy. Poor Andy. While flying there I was constantly looking out the window. The landscape reminded me of the Andes Mountains in Peru. There were mountains and most of them were covered with snow.
We finally arrived at Bayan-Olgii Airport. Very small terminal. The ground staff unloaded luggage from the plane and put them in wagons that were hooked up to a small motorized cart. The cart and wagons stopped at the terminal and we all had to get out and retrieve our luggage from the wagons. Have never seen this. The luggage was not delivered into the terminal. We all then got into three all terrain vehicles and took a short trip to a local coffee shop. Had a large cappuccino and enjoyed the rest. My body is aching from carrying around my luggage, camera gear, computer, iPad and all the accessories. We then went to a local market in Bayan-Olgii. Locals were selling all sorts of food, household items, clothing and there was a meat market area. Most of the locals would not allow me to take their pictures. The meat market vendors were selling horse sausage and there was all sorts of sheep carcasses outside the vendors shops. Women and men were cutting up meat with their hands. No plastic gloves. I was sort of disappointed with the market, I have always said that “you have not lived and experienced everything in life unless you walk through a market in Southeast Asia”. I have visited many of these markets and am always entertained by the items being sold and the people selling them.
A little bit about the people of this province. This is the westernmost province in Mongolia and borders Russia. The local people are Kazakh people. I thought that they were buddhist, but are muslim. Most of them are not religious, but there are some of them that are. They are nomads and live on the plains and mountains in their ger camps and stone structures. They speak the Kazakh language. It is not a dialect of Mongolian, but a language all its own. The population of Bayan-Olgii is about thirty thousand, but most of the Kazakh people live on the plains and mountains practicing their way of life. There were some mosques in town. An interesting side note. The round shape of the top of mosques come from the round shape of the ger tents. The muslims copied the ger tents of the Mongolian people in the design of their mosques. The provence was established in 1940 during the Communist reign.
After the market we drove to our final destination. How can I describe the landscape? Imagine being in Afghanistan. Most of us have seen pictures and or movies depicting Afghanistan. Nothing was growing. Only barren landscapes with ger camps, sheep herds and local Kazakh people herding their livestock by horseback. The horses are different here. Like a larger version of the kind of horses I saw in Iceland. This was the real reason why I wanted to visit Mongolia. To live amongst these kind of people for a short period of time and experience something that most of us can only imagine.
We finally stopped at one of the drivers homes. A restroom stop. The bathroom was located in a small stone structure. There was a wood plank crossing over a hole in the ground. Imagine going to the bathroom here. We then stopped for a photo shoot. I took lots of pictures of this so called barren landscape, but saw so much beauty where most would never see it.
We then arrived at our final destination. Our road there was over stone and dirt roads that were never paved. The three vehicles created lots of dust as we drove over them. What does our final destination look like? We are in a small village where a small group of Kazakh families live in their stone structure homes. These are their winter homes. Their summer homes are in Ger camps. There are four ger tents there. One for our dining and meeting, one for the men, one for the women and one for a couple that is with us. I am sharing a ger tent with Andy, Kevin and Kip. Kip is from Australia, but lives in Singapore. We each have our own cot and the tent is heated by a stove that is supplied with dry dung. We were served lunch. I have eaten lots of meat in my life, but I have never eaten meat like this. The taste exploded in your mouth. Fresh meat from their herds. Not market bought. They also cooked us vegetables and made us a delicious soup of meat and noodles.
It was now some rest time in our ger. Quite comfortable. At five we then had a photo shoot with a local Kazakh eagle hunter on horseback. Where do these people get the eagles? The men go up in the mountains and take baby female eagles from their nests and train them. Only females are used. They are larger and smarter than the males. They eagles live over twenty years and most if them live with the families in their homes. You could see the special relationship that the eagle hunter had with his eagle. It seemed that the eagle regarded the man as her husband and companion. We took lots of pictures of the eagle with the hunter and his horse. There were some scenes where the hunter put the eagle down on the ground and walked a distance away. He then called out to the eagle. The eagle immediately obeyed and flew to the hunters arm. A special and unique relationship. The hunter was constantly petting the eagle and talking to her. This eagle was two years old.
It was now time for dinner. We first witnessed the cooks making Mongolian pasta by hand and then they cooked it for us. A great taste and very unique.
It is just about time for me to go into my ger tent and rest. The herd of sheep came home by themselves at sunset and the stars are amazing. Might take some night photography tomorrow. We have lots of things planned tomorrow.
As I looked over the valley in front of our ger tents I knew that I had finally found the real Mongolia and why I have always wanted to come here.