Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 8 - 17th July 2009

2am - The heavens opened and Chinggis was on the warpath. Torrential rain soaked the felt gers and drips started to come in through the roof at the central point. I got up and lifted all the bags and rucksacks off the floor and onto one of the empty beds to keep them dry. The fire was out and it was decidedly colder. I gladly got back into bed to warm up and promptly fell asleep again. 5am - I dreamt I could hear drips of water very close to my head and could almost feel the odd splash back circle my head. Then the real thing started dripping on my head like a Japanese/ Mongolian trade agreement water torture. I jumped up with a start and my pillow and head were soaked. I had to use one of the other empty beds and tried to get some sleep with what was left of the night. After a basic but adequate breakfast, we went to a ger museum where the attendant, an old man in traditional costume, showed us around the equivalent of a camp used in the time of Chinggis Khan. The main ger was surrounded by nine other gers, four on one side and five on the other. Each was dedicated to elders and relatives of Chinggis throughout the years. It was interesting to see all the artefacts but the guides grandchildren stole the show as they insisted on coming with us into each ger.

It’s possible of course that they were his children. Life was hard there, so perhaps he was actually a lot younger than he looked. The older boy was dressed in traditional costume and his little sister was a natural poser with her cute chubby Mongolian features. The old guide passed me some snuff to try and I felt like it burnt all the hairs off the inside of my nasal cavity. The snuff was passed around and one of my travelling companions mad a faux pas by trying to pass it back to the guide between the two upright posts. He was horrified but thankfully explained that nothing should be passed between the posts as this signified the entrance to heaven.

We went outside and were asked if we wanted to try our hand at archery. Of course, we said, and I did wonder about the safety of the offer, as where the targets were, we had previously entered the arena area. What if some other groups arrived as we let go a volley of badly aimed shots in their direction? Thankfully, the arrows had rubber tips so no danger there. After a few false starts we managed to at least get the arrows to go in the general direction of the targets, but we would never make great marksmen in the next Mongolian invasion. As we were leaving a wild and dangerous bareback horse race started with mostly young boys as the jockeys. This was part of the Naadam Festival that is held every year in July.

We had missed the main event by days but this was one of the country offshoots that would take place during the rest of the month outside of the capital. Every year horses and riders were killed in these literally breakneck races across the plains. To die in a race like this was considered a great honour. I passed on the chance to be so honoured. A bumpy ride back to the capital saw us dropped of at our dream hotel. Again there was a guard armed to the teeth watching the door. Was it so dangerous here?

The clouds began gathering again as we headed into town to look around. The second deluge of the trip hit us just as we passed a restaurant bar and we ducked in out of the way. A good excuse for an early lunch. Okay but not great, but at least the local beer was decent. We sat for two hours until the rain eased and ran down the street into a bookshop. Some art book purchases and coffee later we ducked and dived between the cars determined to soak us in the big lying puddles. We had a dilemma. Do we go back to the hotel and lie down or just go on out for dinner?
The large Irish pub on the corner ‘The Grand Khan’ called out to us and beckoned us in. Four hours and three bottles of wine later, each at a cost of 23000 tugrugs, we staggered out thinking how wonderful Ulaanbaatar was. One of our party, a 23 year old student got a note passed to her in the bar by one of the waitresses with an invitation from another customer and with a telephone number on it. She was a bit embarrassed but decided that maybe that was the way that dates were arranged in Mongolia. Needless to say she didn’t phone the number. Later, the author of the note built up the courage to come over and speak to her in person. An amiable Mongolian man around his early thirties introduced himself as Mogi. After a brief exchange he got the message that she wasn’t interested and wished us a pleasant onward journey anyway. We left the bar and headed towards the hotel. Then we got lost, couldn’t work out the street names and drunks and slow passing cars were calling out to us in the darkness. I like to think the drunks were just amiable drunks, and the car drivers were no more suspicious than illegal taxis but we took no chances and made our own way back as quickly as possible. Glad to be back behind the door watching guards we went to bed tired but happy and expecting the hangover from hell to come knocking at the door in the morning.


Rob Innis said...

So what sort of wine was it ? (and what was it made from !)

TJ Miles said...

It was Spanish of course, made from the sweaty feet of peons struggling to survive the current economic climate, Rob.