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The Stunning Adventures "Not all those who wander are lost." Tolkien

Amarbayasgalant Khiid, Mongolia

MONGOLIA | Thursday, 5 July 2007 | Views [1849]

Amarbayasgalant Khiid

Amarbayasgalant Khiid

As things go when travelling, plans changed and we ended up heading to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We tried to get train tickets to Xian which were all sold out, then tried to get train tickets to Ulaanbaatar (thinking we should probably get on our way pretty soon because of the Nadaam Festival), these were all sold out (trains only leave for Ulaanbatar from Beijing once a week). So we settled on taking a sleeper bus (aka the sardine sleeper bus) to Erlian (Chinese town just before the border to Mongolia), and luckily made our way onto a sleeper train without too much hassle. Fortunately we had met an Israeli guy named Vicki and another guy named Ryo who was from Japan, who were on their way to UB via the sleeper bus. They had made prior arrangements to get over the border and on a train so we were able to benefit from their planning. Wonderful.

We spent a couple of days in Ulaanbaatar pretty much getting situated and trying to get ourselves hooked up with a group that would be renting a jeep/van for an excursion to the countryside. In a matter of hours upon our arrival, we had gotten in contact with UB guesthouse which is a great place to meet other travelers that want to go on trips and share the cost of a vehicle/driver. The roads are pretty bad in areas, and most of the destinations are remote, so it is difficult to travel any other way. "Public buses" do not go to a number of places, and ones that do, we have heard are pretty rough and take a decent chunk of time. That evening we met Dave (Australian), Camilla (Italian), Andrea (Italian), and Akki (Japanese). We all agreed on an 11 day trip to the north and central part of the country. We would leave in a couple of days.

The morning of the 4th we were packed and ready to leave. We went to take our last shower for a few days, when we realized there was no hot water, not just no hot water, but freezing water. We had the same problem at our guesthouse the day before (Elizabeth opted out, and Greg decide to brave his way through the frosty waters). Apparently in parts of UB, there is  water rationing where every block goes through its rotation of being without hot water (and/or electricity), to conserve. This time was the block's turn where we were staying. Our guesthouse is affiliated with another guesthouse that sent someone to pick us up to have a shower there before we took off on our trip. It was luke warm which was more than satisfactory, but because of all this, we were running a bit late. Our driver (Gana), and the rest of the crew had to meet us at the place we had showered and let's just say some people were not too pleased with the two of us. After some explanation, everyone was understanding and in good spirits, and we were all anxious to get on our ways!

The first stop was in a very small town beside a monastery called Amarbayasgalant Khiid (Khiid is Mongolian for monastery). This is one of the most architectually intact monasteries in the countries and is highly respected and honored in Mongolia. The condition of the monastery is quite impressive considering the number of invasions Mongolia has seen, not to mention the rise of communism in the 1930's that destroyed a multitude of Buddhist temples, as well as slaughtering or relocating thousands of religious people, intellectuals, and others.

Upon arrival after our 8 hour drive, we were pelted in the van with some of the largest hail stones we have ever seen. Fortunately, they subsided enough for us to run into the home of the family that we would be staying with. We were greeted by a lovely older woman (she could have been 45, she could have been 75)...she had her white streaked hair swept back in a low bun, a round wrinkled face with sparkling eyes and a very warm, stoic smile. She was stalky and robust, and looked like she was somone to be reckoned with. She wore a beautiful silk del which is the traditional dress of Mongolia worn by both men and women. It was so lovely to see that many of the people still wear their traditional clothing out of practicality not for show. She wore tall leather boots, as many others do. Almost everyone learns to ride a horse about the same time they are learning to walk. Wet, and laughing, we ran inside her home and circled around on the floor. She brought us some snacks immediately which consisted of a rock hard texture and tasted like old sour cheese. The bigger pieces were shaped sort of like clams and the smaller ones actually looked like large grape nuts (these ones tasted a bit better). Some of the dogs outside got a couple from the hands of Elizabeth who had innocently forgotten one or two in her pocket ;)

We played with a kitten, and a bunny that were inside for a little while before our host began to start dinner. In every home, and every ger (yurt), there is a wood fire stove that is located in the center to both warm the dwelling, facilitate cooking meals, and heating water. We had brought a head of cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, and pickled veggies that we chopped up for some salad as we were told that fresh anything would be hard to come by. This would be our first and last salad of the trip. Rice and mutton was heaped into bowls and we all ate heartily together, and sipped on tea. As we were finishing, several boys with shaved heads ran inside with the "mother" bunny and scooped up the baby. We all said "Sain bai nuu" (hello) and they ran out...we would see several of them tomorrow at the monastery as they were young monks who lived nearby. After dinner, we went outside...to check out our yurt and pet some horses. Elizabeth and Akki went for a short ride in the sunset where there were also some beautiful stupas out in a field. It was such a peaceful, serene, place where everyone seemed so relaxed and at ease. The sky stretched across the ends of the earth and the stars were absolutely incredible. We were amazed at how clear the Milky Way was to the naked eye.

After a pretty good night's sleep, some fried bread, and coffee, we all headed out to the monastery which was about a 3 minute walk from the ger. It was early morning and the monastery was silent except for a few little monks sleepily stumbling around, getting ready for the morning prayer. They were all adorned in different variations of burgundy robes. We all quietly walked around the monastery at our own pace and took in the early morning sun and the beautiful sights. We were very fortunate to get to observe some of the morning prayers; some late comers scrambled in and comfortably climbed over some of their peers to their appropriate seats. They weren't given any disapproving looks, nor did they look self-concious about their tardiness. All of the young monks seemed very content in their surroundings and with eachother; even some discreet giggles could be heard from time to time. After about 20 minutes or so, it was time for us to head back to the ger and get ready to depart for Khutag Ondor.

Tags: Culture


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