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Mongolia Warrior Training

Five Great Holiday Activities You’ve Never Considered

Do you have a thirst for adventure and contempt for convention when you travel? If the thought of lounging around on a beach for two weeks fills you with revulsion, panic not: there are alternatives. Whether you want to sculpt your body, hone your intellect or nail a new skill, the world has much to offer those looking for new challenges when they travel. Check out these top activities for a break that breaks with travel convention.

Mongolia Warrior TrainingWarrior training in Mongolia

Yes, you too can become a fierce and majestic warrior, just like Genghis Khan, but with a mortgage, and better shoes. Fly to Ulaanbaatar for some grounding in Mongolian history before venturing into the grasslands, donning some traditional 13th century warrior garb, and learning the not-so-subtle art of war. Horseriding, bow and arrow training and battle tactics are some of the new skills you’ll learn, just perfect for asserting your authority in the office on your return home.

Learn ninja skills in Japan

Have the adventure of a lifetime in Akame, and learn some important life skills at its ninja training school. You’ll learn stealth, self-discipline and control, all while wielding super cool weapons like throwing stars and the katana sword. At just Y1,700 for a ninety minute session, your official ninja certification is one savvy investment.

Fishing in Dubai

Fishing in DubaiIn Dubai, fishing is one of the most popular activities, and it’s easy to see why. Escape the heat by skimming out over the Persian Gulf, command exquisite views of one of the most otherworldly skylines on the planet, and grill freshly-landed food. Fishing charters typically cater to groups as large as ten, and make for a challenging afternoon for all ability levels. If it’s your first time, just be warned, it’s easy to get hooked once you’ve landed your first catch!

Wine and painting in Tuscany

If you need to feed your inner artist, treat him or her to an adventure in Tuscany, land of heavenly sunsets, wine and staggering landscapes. When you’re not lathering paint onto canvas under the tuition of experienced artists, you can trawl medieval towns, hike, cycle, and seek inspiration at the bottom of a glass of heady Tuscan wine.

Yoga retreat, anywhere

Sometimes, we all need to take stock, detox, and reclaim our senses with a little concentrated personal time. What better way to get away from it all than a dedicated yoga vacation? Whether you choose to venture into the mountains of northern Thailand, onto a Goan beach or chill in Ibiza is up to you, but a yoga retreat is a serious treat for stress heads.

There’s adventure to be had in every corner of the world, it’s up to you to go and seek it out.

Images by Google Images and Guilhem Vellut, used under the Creative Commons license. 

Author Bio: Chris is a consultant to FishFishMe, an online resource that helps you find and book fishing trips all over the globe.

WSGT_UBI remember when stepping in a puddle became the greatest moment of my life.

It was a Tuesday in March. I was shuffling down ‘Tourist Street’ back to my office in Ulaanbaatar after lunch, savouring the apple and custard flavour of a Luna Blanca fruit smoothie. I was just outside the museum which housed my gallery, when my foot made a sound I hadn’t heard since arriving six months prior. There was a quiet ‘splash’ as it hit the ground, barely audible but loud enough to reach my ears. I stopped and looked down and a smile as big as the sky crossed my face.

There was water not ice; an unfrozen patch of pavement and drips from the drainpipe above.

I punched a mitten covered fist in the air in celebration.

It didn’t matter that it was seeping through the hole in the side of my boot where the stitching had come undone. It didn’t matter that my sock was now wet and my foot was freezing. It didn’t even matter that this would be short lived, that the temperature would plummet as soon as the sun went down and that this tiny precious puddle would freeze over and disappear as though it had never existed in the first place.

None of it mattered because right now, at this moment, it was above zero degrees!

*

During the long winter months Ulaanbaatar becomes the coldest capital city in the world. With temperatures as low as -40C it wasn’t surprising that such an inhospitable climate would have some kind of impact on my life. Before I left Australia I had prepared what I could, but thought only of the obvious like jackets, gloves and boots. Tried though I might, I couldn’t picture the reality of such a place. What did ‘eight months below zero’ actually mean?

I hadn’t thought that I would spend six months of it indoors. I hadn’t expected a 20 minute walk to be the limit of time outside. How could I have known that the snow wouldn’t melt, that plants wouldn’t grow, what I breathed wasn’t clean or that I’d miss the sight of running water? I certainly didn’t think that the air would hurt my skin.

But it wasn’t all bad.

Unlike back home where time passed too quickly, I become hyper-aware and focused on every moment I was living. It wasn’t a conscious decision – I thought I lived quite mindfully already – but one which slipped unnoticed into my day to day life.

Each morning the icy air would fill my lungs and draw attention to each breath. It made my eyeballs ache and I noticed every blink. I had never before thought of the inside of my nose but began to now that my snot would freeze. Layers and layers of clothing affected my senses and the ground was slippery underfoot, so walking became a concentrated shuffle as I tried to stay upright and alert.

It struck me how strange it was that so much escaped my notice.

Pretty quickly, I learnt to place importance on the insignificant because everything else was just too overwhelming. Correctly pronouncing a colleagues name was a win, as was hailing a cab without too long a wait. I savoured the burn of the vodka in my throat and the muffled quiet of fresh snow, and could find God in a bottle of Sriracha when times got tough.

Thinking about the temperature on the other hand, or counting the days til winters end was a sure fire way to welcome depression.

Looking back on it now, there were more celebrations than not. The conditions were tough but I was appreciative and aware of every second of my life. It wasn’t always productive, and there were times that I wanted to cry or to scream and to punch the stupid weather in a place it hurt most, but it clarified something that I thought I understood.

Every moment is a monument and nothing matters but the present.

*

It would be another month before the weather came close to what my Aussie bones could call warm, but for a minute I had a one girl party on the street.

I danced a little in my fur lined boots.

I shuffled my feet and waggled my hips and waved my arms above my head.

The locals passing me by gave looks of disapproval but I didn’t care. Not a tiny bit.

IT WAS ABOVE ZERO DEGREES AND I HAD A PUDDLE TO STAND IN.

About the Author: Jessie Lumb is an artist and writer from Adelaide, Australia.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Me-gobi-sunset-edit-1The outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. An elongated, stout version of an early 90s style toyota mini-van stood courageously in front of me. Dark green in colour, and angry. This is no family vacation vehicle. It doesn’t know what the “school run” is. It has seen things that would make a lesser van turn and flee.

I climbed inside the musty interior of the Green Devil. Second hand pink and yellow car seats were bolted haphazardly to the floor. Engine vents were ready to belch fumes directly into the cabin. This was going to be Spartan. I was joined by six others, our driver and enough provisions to get us through any situation. It was D-Day.

I’m like any other budget adventure traveller, I have tales of discomfort. Of riding a 19 hour, hard seat night train in China or an over filled mini-bus with some girl vomiting metres from me. The air-con doesn’t work. A sweaty local, passed out, snoring in my ear.

I may love to travel but actually getting from A-to-B is not the glamorous, inspiring part. So why do I do it?

Surely it’s the destinations? Not the cramped local transport I put up with to get to them? I’d always felt like that. But Mongolia changed everything.

I’d scored a spot in a Russian military van. Although the name sounds daunting, these aren’t used for military purposes anymore. These relics of the Soviet Union now ferry tourists from one attraction to the next. The benefit of this cold war technology: it was built to endure.

Our invincible vehicle smashed through open countryside and mud at terrifying speeds. Leaping across the landscape like an overweight ballerina. There isn’t a wilderness driver in Mongolia who couldn’t crush any western rally driver. Ours is no exception.

Welcome to the frontier. The least densely populated, independent country in the world. In this wilderness it’s just us and the bumps. Always the relentless bumps, rattling my blood. Tire tracks lead endlessly into the distance, the only scar on this unworldly, epic landscape. Follow and hope.

As we cross each ridge I look for signs of civilisation. They never come. Just one or two “Gers” (Mongolian tents) and someone herding sheep on a motorbike.

That first 24 hours east of Ulaanbaatar is a movie location scout’s daydream. As I stare through the window, every mile brings a new stimulus. From the dusty, rundown city out to grasslands roamed by camels. High, rocky outcrops appear from nowhere and disappear as quickly. Then we arrive in sand dunes that would be more befitting a scene from Lawrence of Arabia.

Living in a landscape like this, it’s amazing that Mongolian poetry is so banal.

We visit a group of buddhist stupas on a hill. Six white, bell shaped pillars tapering to a sharp point skywards. The only permanent man-made structures we’ve seen in seven hours of off-road driving. As a giant red moon rises out of distant mountains, we camp down for the night.

The next day we head south to the Orkhon valley. Yet another landscape to absorb. Black Igneous rocks sprout from the ground unpredictably as our driver swerves to avoid them.

If we breakdown out here, there is no tow truck to rescue us, just the ingenuity of the driver and his finesse with sticky tape and elbow grease. Mongolian emergency maintenance.

We Saunter into the days’ main attraction. Finally, other people. The wide plain drops suddenly into a small valley revealing a gushing 30 metre waterfall – no water shortages here in Mongolia. After having much of the country to ourselves, it’s bizarre to be engulfed by nearly 100 tourists, mostly Mongolians, jostling to get selfies.

For all the hours of bumpy roads, this waterfall was nothing special. Maybe there was something else that made the trip worthwhile.

We return to our trusty vehicle, ready to be buffeted from side to side. Constant, nauseous movement. But as our van-come-roller-coaster traverses the wilds of Outer-Mongolia there is a realisation.

This truly uncomfortable mode of transport is not just a means to get between towns, cities, or tourist attractions. It’s not a Chinese night train, tolerated for the prize at the end of the tracks.

The van is Mongolia.

It’s wild, untamable, insane yet reassuringly robust. It has survived, never changing, part of a natural unity. When the Russians left, the vans stayed, like adopted children who have found their true family.

I’d never thought getting from A to B could be so exhilarating. Cocooned inside our dark green washing machine, the view through the tiny windows an ever changing landscape. The journey more inspiring than the destinations. I had discovered the essence of adventure travel.

It no longer mattered where we were going, just that we were going.

—————-

About the Author: Tom Williams blogs for the Five Dollar Traveller website. From riding a crocodile in Thailand to getting drunk and going clubbing with Muslims in Mongolia, Tom is living the dream… and then writing about it.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

1000 places we said go kissThank you to Mike and Luci of 1000 Places to Fight Before You Die for interviewing us for their incredible travel website, where they earned 2013 “Best Couple Travel Blog!” We loved our intro:

Meet George and Lisa of the couple travel blog: “We Said Go Travel.”  They are hands down, one of the deans of the couple travel blogging world.  In 2013, this dynamic duo penned a hilarious and candid travel memoir titled ”Traveling in Sin.”  The book outlines one of the most epic online hookups of all time.   Their wide-eyed adventures have taken them around the globe including adventures in French Polynesia, New Zealand and Mongolia.

George and Lisa were gracious enough to sit down with the Fighting Couple to answer a few questions.

Lisa and George of We Said Go Travel

We Said Go Kiss, Sun Temple, Konark, India
We Said Go Kiss, Sun Temple, Konark, India

 

1)Lisa, we hate to start off with this one, but it is the new year…  You are so BEAUTIFUL!  We read the article about your weight transformation.  Give us some pointers for eating and living healthy in the new year.  How do you make healthy choices when you travel? 

She Said: Thank you! George is a big help in making healthy choices. We eat regular meals and we do not snack while traveling. When we are going to spend all day on a bus, we prepare by finding foods to eat on the road so we are not tempting by ice cream and candy. I think the most important thing is to not get too hungry (or tired) because then it is harder to make good choices.

2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be?  (this person can be living, historical or mythical?.)

He Said: My friend, Dr. Jimmy because he makes me laugh, he is fun to be with and I know we would have a good time.

She Said:  Charles Darwin: I read a great book about his experiences, experiments and adventures in the Galapagos when I was young. I have always wanted to go and it would be incredible to travel and study science with him there!

 READ THE FULL INTERVIEW

Thank you to Gemma Bowes from The Guardian Travel Section for including us in the article, “Backpacking: a guide to classic and new must-do experiences.”

We Said Go Travel recommended:

India: “Instead of Goa, Gokarna, further south, is the seaside region for quieter, lovelier sands, at Kudlee Beach, Om Beach, Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach.”

Mongolia: “Mongolia, including multi-day trips by van into the Gobi Desert, surprisingly full of delicate purple flowers (book with popular hostel theUB Guesthouse.”

Nepal: “Sarangkot, Pokhara, in Nepal offers parahawking, which is a new paragliding experience with birds of prey as guides. Trained vultures lead the tandem divers into thermals and land on backpackers’ arms to be fed, all while swooping through the sky.”

Samoa: “Seeing sunrise at Falealupo, Samoa in the South Pacific. Until 30 December 2011, it was all about going to the last place on the planet to see sunset. But then Samoa jumped over to the other side of the dateline, so the village is now one of the first to see the sunrise instead. Visitors can celebrate New Year’s Eve in Samoa, then fly one hour to American Samoa and do it again the next day, or go for a birthday to celebrate twice.”

WATCH: Parahawking in Nepal  from Scott Mason

Read the full article and see all the TOP TIPS for 2013 in The Guardian.

river-crossing-writing-contest

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Susan Fox from America. Thanks for your entry Susan!

In a country where 100km is a good day’s travel on the earth roads that serve most of Mongolia,  we had just learned from locals at Baruunbayan-Ulaan, a soum center where we had stopped to get petrol, that the heavy log and plank bridge we heading for in order to cross the Tsaatsyn Gol had been destroyed, a casualty of five days of rain in the Hangai Mountains followed by serious flooding downstream in the Gobi, where I was on a two-week camping trip in July of 2010, traveling in a Land Cruiser with Khatnaa, my driver/guide and Soyoloo, our cook. The closest intact bridge would require almost a two day detour north and then back south, which didn’t appeal to any of us. What to do.

Khatnaa decided that we would drive on west to the river and see what the situation was. Also at the petrol station were two very full Mitsubishi Delicata van’s worth of Mongol men and their families.

In one day that had incident enough to two, here’s my journal entry from July 15, which gives a certain immediacy to what followed:

“What an amazing day. Went south-west with Orog Nuur (Orog Lake) as our goal. Khatnaa knew there was the Taatsyn Gol (Tsaatsyn River) to cross, so stopped at a petrol station to ask about it. Also there were two van loads of Mongols from Togrog who were heading west to mine for gold. Usual Mongol socializing and information exchange ensued.

 

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A third van showed up and we all headed towards the river, which was flooded due to rains in the Hangai Mountains.

We got across one stream, but were stopped by a broad ribbon of streams and mud. The main channel was moving fast and pulsing with even more water.

Went back up to the bluff overlooking the river and had lunch, watching the three van loads of Mongols look for a way across and mess around in the water.

Went back down to the river. Khatnaa walked a long way to see if he could find a crossing point, but came back and told us that the last stream of water was the worst of all. So we were faced with going north 100 km to the closest bridge. Such is travel in Mongolia.

Suddenly, there was action with one of the vans. A bunch of guys had formed a line across one point of the main channel and the van charged into the water, started to stall, but the guys all got behind it and pushed it on through!

Well, if a van could make it, our big Land Cruiser certainly could and did, without even needing a push. We did end up with an extra passenger, a little eej (mother) who wasn’t about to miss her chance to ride in our big car.

We got out on the other side and I photographed the other two vans making the crossing. Then said our good-byes.

We followed one van up a soft sand slope. It promptly got stuck so we rolled back down and went around it and on up the hill.

The entire “adventure” of the river crossing was a perfect example of Mongol practicality, improvisational skills and good humor. No one at any point got angry, showed frustration or swore. When it looked like things had stalled out, the guys took a break and goofed around in the water. Or so it seemed. They were clearly having fun but they were, in retrospect, also searching for a crossing point.

The spot they found was one where the channel wasn’t too wide or deep and where they felt the bottom was solid enough for a vehicle to get across with a minimal chance of getting stuck.

Without winches, cables or even rope, they simply used the same solution they always do – push.”

In Mongolia when traveling, even when it’s bad it can be very good.

About the Author: Susan Fox: I am an oil painter who specializes in the animals, land, people and culture of Mongolia. I’ve traveled there seven times since 2005. You can see my work and learn more about the Land of Blue Skies at www.foxstudio.biz, which is also the home of my blog.

writing-contest-mongolia

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Susan Fox from America. Thanks for your entry Susan!

Our route now took us north, down out of the Khangai Mountains, where, for the last night of a two-week camping trip in the Mongolian countryside, we were going to pitch our tents at Ongii Nuur, a lake known for its birds. As we were driving along, I noticed a large ger encampment down and off to the left. I almost said something to to my Mongol driver/guide Khatnaa, but let it go. Then he had to slow down because a bunch of men and boys on horses were crossing the road. I told him about the gers. He made a right turn and followed the horsemen up the slope. And at the top found ourselves in the midst of over a hundred Mongols, many dressed to kill in fancy brocade del, sashes and boots.

Almost the only thing that I had hoped to encounter on the trip but had not was a local Naadam, a festival that always has a variety of traditional competitions and activities, including the Three Manly Sports of horse racing, wrestling and archery. Now it appeared that we had finally stumbled onto one on the last afternoon of the last day of the trip.

 

writing-contest-mongolia

 

We pulled up in an area on the hill where a lot of cars and trucks were parked. There were horses all over the place. Khatnaa got out, spoke with someone and came back with the news that the event was a family reunion. Stay or go? We’d inadvertently crashed a private party. I told Khatnaa that it was up to him to do what he thought best. He thought for a moment while I held my breath and then pulled into the middle of a long line of cars, where we tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. Over the next two to three hours I sat in the big silver Land Cruiser and took around five hundred photos of whatever crossed my field of vision. Our arrival had coincided with run-up to the horse race and we had gotten there just in time to watch all the preparations for it.

It seemed like over half the men and boys were on horseback, warming up the racehorses, chatting and just riding around the area the same way the rest of us would walk. The trainers stood out with their fancy del, sashes, hats and boots, along with their sweat scrapers tucked in to the back of their sash. Older men sat on the ground exchanging snuff bottles in the traditional greeting. Kids were happily running and riding all over the place. Everyone was clearly having a great time, as was I watching it all.

Our “cover” was blown when a young couple on a motorbike drove up and offered us fresh, hot khuushuur (fried mutton turnovers). No way we were going to pass on those. I stayed in the car until the first horses were approaching the finish line and then got out and joined the happy crowd.

Afterwards, shortly before we left, I was photographing a lovely black race horse who was being scraped down, as the sweat from the winning horses is thought to be very lucky and auspicious. A woman came up to me, took my arm, led me over to the horse and made a gesture for me to lay my palm on the sweat, which suddenly turned me from spectator to participant. It was a very kind and thoughtful thing for her to do since I was very obviously not a member of this very big family. I was never so glad that I knew how to say “thank you” in Mongolian.

All day it had been cloudy and humid, with some squalls of rain. By the time we were back on the road to Ogii Nuur, it had gotten really windy. Khatnaa and Soyoloo, the cook, managed to wrap a tarp around a picnic structure to provide  shelter from the wind to cook our dinner. At dusk, it died down enough to set up camp on the lakeshore. All three of us were all pretty tired.

The weather was much better the next morning and we got in some good birdwatching before it was time to leave.  Soon we were on tarmac, leaving behind for this trip the earth roads I love.

By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Ulaanbaatar, pulling into the hotel parking lot.  My goal had been to just go out into the deep countryside without a set itinerary and let Mongolia come to me. And it did.

About the Author: Susan Fox: I am an oil painter who specializes in the animals, land, people and culture of Mongolia. I’ve traveled there seven times since 2005. You can see my work and learn more about the Land of Blue Skies at www.foxstudio.biz, which is also the home of my blog.

 

 

camel-milking-writing-contest

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Susan Fox from America. Thanks for your entry Susan!

In July of 2010, on a two-week camping trip deep into the Mongolian countryside, we knew that our next destination, Orog Nuur, a remote Gobi lake once visited by Roy Chapman Andrews, was 2/3 full, which was the good news, and that we couldn’t get to it by the main road that ran along the north side because the log and plank bridge, the only way across the river which flowed into it from the north, had been destroyed by flooding from heavy storm run-off coming out of the Hangai mountains, which was the bad news. But we had also been told that there was a local road on the south side of the lake.

Khatnaa, my driver/guide, spotted a herder’s ger, the only one we’d seen for hours, and drove over to it. I usually just stayed in the car while he asked directions, but his time he gestured me to get out and said “Let’s visit.”

We ended up spending over two hours with Batsuuri and his family, who own 40 camels and over 300 sheep and goats.

 

camel-milking-writing-contest

 

Entering their large, comfortable ger, the first thing I noticed was two boys sitting on the floor watching “Star Wars:The Phantom Menace” on a small flat screen tv. Batsuuri was relaxing on the floor and Javhlan, his wife, was just starting to make suutai tsai (milk tea). I’d drunk a fair amount of it by this time, but had never seen it made before, so I watched with great interest.

A bowl of small squares of fried bread and sugar cubes was placed in front of us. The movie ended and the two boys, both Mongol but one with blond hair (it turned out that he was a cousin from Ulaanbaatar spending the summer in the countryside), started playing with a bunch of nails they had pulled out of a bag. I watched them happily amuse themselves for over half an hour, arranging the nails in various patterns and then using a closely lined up row of them as a tiny hammered dulcimer.

At one point a wrestling competition came on the tv and I knew that we were going to be staying for awhile because Khatnaa was a BIG wrestling fan.

Javhlan asked if we would like to try camel milk airag. We all said yes. It was delicious of course. She also made a meal of rice with meat in it and we joined the family for dinner.

A special visit became even more so when Javhlan showed us how she milks the camels, seven of whom had calves. There was definitely a trick to it, since it involved standing on one leg with the bucket balanced in the crook of the other while her head was pushed into the camel’s side.

Once the milking was over it was time to leave, but it turned out that there was more than one road around the lake. Batsuuri led us part of the way on his motorbike. Khatnaa provided petrol from a jerry can he had in the car.  Once we were on the correct road, we waved goodbye and soon could see Orog Nuur in the distance.

We found a track down to the lakeshore, parked, got out, and Khatnaa announced that we had arrived at “bird heaven”. Indeed.  The shoreline had dozens of birds from one end to the other. The lake edge had even more mosquitos. I observed that it looked like we had also arrived at “mosquito heaven”, which Khatnaa thought was pretty funny. But we sure weren’t going to be able to camp there. So we moved about a hundred yards away to be out of the worst of it, put on insect repellent and set up camp.

After dinner, the mosquitos were still really annoying. We had no netting so, as usual, Mongol ingenuity rode to the rescue. Khatnaa went out and gathered a small bag of animal dung which he piled up and set smoking with a small blowtorch. We put our chairs in its path. Problem solved. Until the breeze kept changing direction. Soyoloo, the cook, came up with a brilliant solution. She turned a metal flat-bottomed bowl upside down. Khatnaa got a small dung fire going on it, which meant that instead of moving our chairs to stay in the smoke, we simply moved the smoke. We dubbed it our “nomadic dung fire”.

We sat until dark in the comforting silence of the Gobi, watching a lightning storm across the lake from us, a spectacular sunset to the west, listening to the Javhlan CD I’d brought from UB and finishing off the last of a bottle of Chinggis Gold vodka. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

About the Author: Susan Fox: I am an oil painter who specializes in the animals, land, people and culture of Mongolia. I’ve traveled there seven times since 2005. You can see my work and learn more about the Land of Blue Skies at www.foxstudio.biz, which is also the home of my blog.

mongolian-writing-contest

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Susan Fox from America. Thanks for your entry Susan!

As usual, I had no idea where we were going on that particular day in July 2010, but that’s half the fun of traveling in the Mongolian countryside. We ended up that night at what I now think of as the “Valley of the Yaks”, located adjacent to Khuisiin Naiman Nuur National Park in the Hangai Mountains. As we drove into the valley along the base of a steep slope, a large herd of yaks appeared above us, came galloping down a narrow path and ran across the road all around us. I suspected that I was going to like this place. A lot.

 

mongolian-writing-contest

 

Two chilly-looking but lovely streams flowed down either side of the wide shallow valley, running over reddish-grey rocks through lush grass dotted with wildflowers and surrounded by the green mountains of a Mongolian summer. Mongol herder’s white gers with their traditional orange doors sat scattered picturesquely about in their summer pasturing land. Large furry yaks in a variety of colors, along with horses, sheep and cashmere goats, freely wandered about, grazing under the blue, blue sky. Black-eared kites cruised overhead, looking for inattentive steppe squirrels. And, best of all, there was no visitor infrastructure of any kind, no other campers and other than the occasional animal sound, blessedly quiet.

We drove to what I thought was the end of the road, which left the valley floor and continued straight up to the top of a steep slope, where there was, as on most high spots, an ovoo, this one made of a pile of rocks festooned with khadag, the blue offering scarves. Getting out and looking over the top, I noticed two things right away: A drop-dead gorgeous mountain lake nestled in the mountains, one of eight in the park (“naim” means “eight” in Mongolian”) and that the road continued down, and I do mean *down*, the other side at about a 45 degree angle. I was told that almost no one, not even Mongols in 4-wheel drive SUVs, is crazy enough to drive it even though it is the only road in the park that provides access by car to any of the lakes. The only other way to get to them is to walk or ride a horse. We climbed up a steep adjacent slope for an even better view, joining quite a few local Mongol day-trippers. Even though nothing in particular was going on, there was a festive feeling in the air.

 

writing-contest-mongolian

 

I took my lake photos and close-ups of some of the wild flowers that carpeted the ground; pale yellow alpine poppies, deep purple bellflowers and fuzzy white fleeceflowers, then it was back down the hill to find a campsite. We saw some Mongol guys who were sitting and chatting by the side of the road. As we passed by, one of them, who had obviously noticed that I was a westerner, yelled “I love you!” Almost without thinking, I yelled back “Bi mongol durtei!”, “I like Mongolia!”. Khatnaa, my driver/guide, and Soyoloo, the cook, thought this was hilarious, burst out laughing and high-fived me.

Khatnaa then decided that I needed to learn another Mongol sentence: “Bi argaliin udad dortei” which means “I like dung smoke.”, a reference to our battle with mosquitos a few days earlier at a remote lake in the Gobi when a small pile of smoking dung was the only thing that let us sit out in comfort in the evening. And I ended up having to repeat it at just about every ger we visited after that. All in good fun, of course, and it definitely made me a hit with the herders, showing off my Mongolian sentence.

Back in the valley, the time had come to find a place to camp for the night. I looked longingly at a pretty spot right down next to the stream, a location that most of us would picked in America. But up on higher ground was a dirt ring where someone had set up a ger. That’s the area that Khatnaa wisely picked.

After dinner, we sat and chatted in the warm evening air as the sun went down. Suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, the wind kicked up and shortly thereafter it started to rain. Hard. Bedtime. And the realization the next morning that if that lovely stream had come up much at all, I could have gotten very wet indeed.

As is usually the case, the next morning was clear, sunny and warm. Soyoloo and I took turns washing each other’s hair down by the river, then it was off to the next place that I probably wouldn’t want to leave.

About the Author: Susan Fox is an oil painter who specializes in the animals, land, people and culture of Mongolia. She has traveled there seven times since 2005. See her work and learn more about the Land of Blue Skies at www.foxstudio.biz,  the home of her blog.

 

gachen-lama-khiid-writing contest

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Susan Fox from America. Thanks for your entry Susan!

While our original intent had been to spend two nights at Orog Nuur, a remote lake in the Gobi, a combination of heat, mosquitos and, unlike the previous afternoon, very few birds to see, we decided that we would travel on north.

After having lunch on the north side of the lake, where we saw some avocets and demoiselle cranes, my driver/guide Khatnaa worked his sturdy silver Land Cruiser through very thick vegetation on a brutally rough “local” earth road to get to the main route to Bogd, a soum center, where we re-filled our water containers from the local well.

Then it was up and away from the Gobi to the Hangai Mountains, a part of Mongolia that I had not been to before my two-week camping trip in July 2010.

 

gachen-lama-khiid-writing contest

 

We stopped for the night a short way off the road, after having passed through three changes in vegetation as we went up in elevation. It was cold and windy, quite a change from our previous warm and mosquito-enhanced campsite by the lake.

The next morning we drove into Bayanhongor, an aimag center which is quite a substantial town. We trekked around town buying petrol, eggs, bread and meat. It was an energetic, busy place which had nice paved streets in the central area and a brand-new two-story shopping center sheathed in bright silver metal. There was a large well-stocked supermarket on the first floor. The second floor had just started to be occupied by small local businesses in spaces that ranged from the size of a small booth to a few hundred square feet, so it was very quiet and clean. And quite a contrast to more the commonly seen container market that was our next stop, which was noisy, crowded and dusty, but lots more interesting.

Stopping at a traffic control booth on the way out of town we found that the road Khatnaa wanted to take had been washed out by recent flooding. Consultations with some of the locals ensued and an alternate route was suggested, which led directly north up the valley of the Tuyn Gol, which I found was dotted with white gers and yaks, looking like a wonderful place to spend a Mongolian summer.

We traveled on a very nice earth road to the soum center of Erdenesogt, home to the Gachen Lama Monastery, neither of which I had ever heard of, much less knew anything about.  The soum center was typical, except for the lovely setting above the river. The monastery was anything but.

The main temple is one of the most exquisitely beautiful buildings I have ever seen. It has a typical Asian roofline and was probably designed by artisans from Tibet or Nepal. The enchanting open fretwork on the second level gives the building a light, airy feeling. Every vertical surface is a riot of multi-colored carvings of animals, gods, guardians and plants. There are peacocks, elephants, lotus flowers and auspicious symbols in faded blues, greens, pinks, whites and golds.

And what makes it almost unbearably poignant is that it is the sole surviving structure, other than the entry gate, that is left on the site from the destruction of the monasteries which took place all over Mongolia in the late 1930s, when the communist government took a Stalinist turn for a few sad, violent years. There were originally ten temples.

But today the monastery is alive again and was bustling with activity the afternoon we visited in anticipation of a visit the next day by a prominent Tibetan Rimpoche (teacher), who was going to preside over the dedication of two new statues that were to be installed in the new temple next door which was built in 1990, making it also a 20th anniversary celebration.

The old temple was filled with people, many of them elderly women wearing beautiful brocade del. Upon entering, we found that they were preparing hundreds and hundreds of printed Buddhist sutras which were to be placed in the statues. There was a real assembly line going. Some monks were rolling the small strips of paper up very tightly. These were handed to the women who then wrapped them in sewing thread. After a few minutes of watching, Soyoloo, our cook, reached down, picked up three of the rolled sutras and handed one each to Khatnaa and I, keeping one for herself. Then she got us each of spool of thread. Suddenly we weren’t onlookers anymore, but participants, truly a gift. We each conscientiously wrapped our sutra and added it to the growing stack. Amazing to think that I’ve left a little bit of me in such a special place.

About the Author: Susan Fox— I am an oil painter who specializes in the animals, land, people and culture of Mongolia. I’ve traveled there seven times since 2005. You can see my work and learn more about the Land of Blue Skies at www.foxstudio.biz, which is also the home of my blog.