A Mongolian Milky Way

by Ant Stone on July 20, 2007

in Mongolia

“I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world. Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!”, I’ll never forget these ghastly lyrics. An hour previous, I was sitting in a ger in the Mongolian countryside just to the west of Ulaanbaatar, politely accepting the offer of a bowl of airag (fermented mares milk) from our generous host. Not wanting to cause offence, I acknowledged my 3 Austrian tour-mates, Phillip, Harry and George who observed me swiftly swallow the sharp, milky, fizzy contents of the chipped china bowl.

It’s mild alcohol content soon took hold and after leaving the ger for the minibus I drifted into a much needed snooze, following which the incessant lyrics made their infamous appearance. “I’m a Barbie girl”, with uncanny timing my stomach imploded to a chorus of light rumblings “in the Barbie world”, the rumbles gained momentum. Thankfully, five minutes later we staggered out of the bus, where Tiggy- our overtly flirtatious guide- proclaimed “Ok, now we ride the horse”, my face dropped suddenly as my bowels demanded action. I gingerly replied “Ant no ride horse, Ant need bathroom”. Tiggy looked offended that I wasn’t eager to climb aboard one of Mongolia’s proudest symbols, needless to say I didn’t stick around to explain. I’d spotted a wooden shack in the distance and my streaming eyes were firmly fixed on salvation.

Sometime later I rejoined the group and proceeded to milk a small goat, who I’m sure was smirking at my obvious affliction. From there, the tour gathered pace and the four days I spent with Tiggy & Co firmly cemented Mongolia as one of the most beautifully warm countries I’ve ever had the privilege of being in.

As we bounded along the road from UB, eagles and kites dragged my gaze with faultless fruition.

Stopping intermittently to achieve various activities, we were consistently surrounded by awe inspiring scenery and occasionally the people of this great nation would cross our paths to instill a sense of charm into our journey. Our first night in a ger was beside the Khognokhan mountain, the sky so clear you could wipe your eyes free of dust with the Milky Way, while plucking planets from their orbits. Lest I forget that I was given this opportunity as a consequence of the Chinese Embassy being shut, reaffirming my belief in fate. If I had left Mongolia with Ulaanbaatar as my trophy then I would have missed the magic of the nations existence.

For two of the three nights our gers were filled with an order of live events worthy of the National Theatre. The mystical sounds of Mongolian throat singers, complimented by the traditional horse hair fiddle and on one occasion, a 9 year old contortionist plied her skill beside our hearth with relentless enthusiasm. The look upon her face at the reward of a Wispa bar almost causing the ger to float blissfully away, we came across this vigour in the shadow of every mountain. Despite my original rejection to board the Mongolian horse, I did so with rapture in the following days, looking across the steppe landscape at Harry, Phillip and George I felt the shared excitement roar through us as we galloped uncontrollably toward Ulaan Tsutgalan, the highest waterfall in Mongolia (needless to say, not too high!). In the distance, I could hear Tiggy cheerfully bellow “Yanaaaaa, oshey oshey!” it’s translation made redundant by the surroundings of it’s tenor.

Our final night and day was spent in Kharkhorin, the ancient capital city and home to Erdene Zuu Khiid Buddhist monastery, which I’m sure you know is the first in Mongolia- started in 1586, parts have survived the Manchu invasion and numerous purges by Stalin. If this place sounds magical, I must pull the plug as it is one of the most desolate places you’ll ever see. A ghost town. A shambles. A blister on the landscape, the monastery it’s only appeal. Bewildered, we turned to vodka and Hite beer to gain closure on the tour. Our final night, and once more our ger was blessed with a live concert, followed by our own iPod powered version and yet more alcohol, the Milky Way draped overhead I turned to my Austrian compadres and announced with unequivocal honesty “I could go home now, content”, we raised a glass while Tiggy vibrantly hollered “yanaaa, oshey oshey!” into the night, my stomach faintly rumbled.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Manuela Cunha July 24, 2007 at 11:01 am

Hi Ant!
Met you on the bus from the horse ride place to the Naadam stadium (the two Portuguese guys). We looked for you, after the archers, outside the stadium, and during the games, from our places, once we were right on the next gate. But didn´t find you then :(
Am very glad to have found you here. You write so well, it is a delight to read you. And it is going to be a pleasure to accompany all over the world.. leaving Africa to another opportunity.
What you say here is how i felt about Mongolia too.
Happy Birthday
Take Care
ps- it seems you tend to find austrians, or people who live in Austria.
freaky ;)

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Ant July 27, 2007 at 11:57 am

Hi Manuela! I couldn’t get into the stadium! I waited outside for an hour or so but then gave up, I had Jose’s spare so figured we could sleep easy. I hope the wedding was fantastic, keep in touch : ).

ps- I was just on a tour in Datong with the Polish couple we were squeexed in the minibus with from the horse racing at Naadam!

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