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Mongolian Yak Herding

semi-overcast -3 °C
View Through Siberia to China and Beyond on Hawkson's travel map.

Ulaanbaatar has long been on James’s bucket list so it was a little disappointing to discover that it’s a bit of a dump. However, all is not lost. The guidebooks are unanimous that the highlight of any Mongolian odyssey is the jeep safari deep into the Gobi to dine with locals in a traditional ger, (yurt); to ride the Przewalski horses across the wide-open steppes; to round up the yaks; and to watch the eagles soaring in the perpetually blue sky. So we have booked an all inclusive tour - although it specifically excludes the cost of rescue if we break down in the desert!

It is snowing this morning but the sight of a safari jeep with authentically costumed driver in the parking lot cheers us. “He’s early,” we say as we wolf down breakfast, but by the time we get our coats on he’s gone and our man turns out to be a couple of guys in jeans and leather jackets with an old beat-up Nissan Sunny. Dodge the guide, (Dodge really is our guide’s name and this is not a game invented by us because we’re disgruntled that we didn’t get the costumed guy with a jeep), learned English in Delhi so we have to re-translate – this could be fun?
First stop – the nearest gas station for a fill, but, to be fair, they only had three days to prepare for this trip. Then to a supermarket for bottled water – ditto. Finally we’re off – to the call of the wild.

The road falls apart completely at the city’s edge, (though we hardly notice the difference), and the desert should stretch endlessly ahead of us – but it isn’t as deserted as you might expect. Real deserts don’t have gated estates of Canadian-built monster homes and belching smokestacks of smelters and factories. Real deserts don’t have gas stations every five hundred metres – although our nameless driver, (christened Dodgee by us), drives through the forecourt of every one to escape the rotten road. And then, our first eagle…
O.K. So he’s tethered to a post by the roadside so his owner can fleece tourists for a photo – but he is one handsome bird.
Next stop – an ancient looking Buddhist monastery on a hill… a very high hill. The rusted-out cable car stopped working years ago, (if it ever did), so we have to climb: past the Tibetan flags and the junkyard of broken machinery and old water barrels…
…across a scary suspension bridge…
Up, up and up we climb…to a crumbling monastery with faded frescos built in 1998. (and that’s not a typo).

Now to meet the locals…

This ger looks authentic enough, positively archaic, but is that a satellite dish? And did we spot a new Toyota in the driveway? And where is the traditionally garbed yak farmer and his rotund wife? Dodge and Dodgee usher us in, but what’s this…
This ger has all mod cons: enormous fridge, chest freezer, washing machine, rice cooker, microwave, and a giant flat screen T.V. that loudly pumps out Mongolian soaps throughout our visit.
Our host is the least traditional Mongolian we are ever likely to meet, but she serves a nice lamb stew from an iron pot on a traditional looking stove…
But no smoke – maybe it’s actually the latest induction stove. Nothing would surprise us here anymore. Her cellphone rings: our mounts are at the door…
At last - what we’ve been waiting for - and as we saddle up we picture ourselves galloping across the endless steppes to round up the herd. But there’s only one yak and he doesn’t feel like being herded anywhere…
There is also a rare wild Bactrian camel - definitely not for herding…
So we trot gingerly around the outside toilet a couple of times (and quickly discover why Mongolians build their outhouses as far away from the ger as possible)…
… until Sheila decides that this yak herding thing is about as exhilarating as riding a donkey on the beach in Brighton when she was three and we call it a day. Dodge and Dodgee seem relieved that it is over and we race back to the city in time to hit rush hour. After two hours in a traffic jam we get back to our hotel to find the heating has broken down again… no wonder the Mongolians lost their empire.

Posted by Hawkson 18:17 Archived in Mongolia

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Have really enjoyed your travels so far. Mongolia sounds "fascinating".

by Peggi/ Buddi

LOL, this is hilarious, comic at its best!!Love it.looking forward to your next adventure. G

by gottfried

Very funny! And I love the photos of you on the horses and in the yurt, Sheila. I think I will remove Mongolia from MY bucket list....

by joyce

That "eagle" looks more like a turkey vulture. When you get home, book Sheila on a cattle drive in the Chilcotin. I guarantee it will be more exciting than either Brighton or Mongolia.

by R and B

I was reading Graham your entry as he is reading Simon Winchester's book The Man Who Loved China. He had just read that there are only 500 bactrian camels left in the world - and YOU saw one of them.

by joyce

what a hoot... Maybe we can rev up the excitement and dress up fancy for you when you get home and lasso some harbour seals while riding bareback on surfboards! I'm with R&B - that's one 'interesting' 'eagle', bless his heart. Love you, G/***

by gabriole

What a treasure trove of Halloween costumes we have here. One year a Yak, another a camel, a third a Dodgee. What a great adventure you are having - though the lack of heat can't be fun!


by Tom

Looks really enjoyable but beware the health hazards in such a climate. Can you remember the advice that you should always wear a hat
Enjoy your holiday.

by David Henderson

Don't you love fantasy VS reality. Sometimes it is wonderfully surprising. Hooray to those who find a way to survive.... tourists are a wonderful/awful source of survival. Loved you on the ponies. How many of us have fallen in love with the Mongolian ponies.

by Sue Fitzwilson

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