Today we woke up at 3am and left the hotel in a mini-van, together with a few of the ladies (+ friends, grandmothers, children) from the Credit Union – whom we had met last night. In typical Mongolian fashion, our entire entourage turned out to include approx. 15 people altogether!
We bounced through the desert for 2 hours, while my head bobbed in and out of sleep. I wasn’t sure if we were merely driving until the sun came up – or heading for a specific destination. Eventually, we arrived at the foot of a large hill. There was a sacred path of prayer that led up the 100’s of stairs to the top, dotted with “ovoos” (shamanistic rock piles where people pray). We had 10 minutes to climb before the sun was expected to rise at 5:30am.
After a few quick stops and rests, we made it to the top – very slightly out of breath. As the sun was beginning to peak out from beyond the horizon, we made our offerings at the ovoo – including cookies, birdseed and (you guessed it) a few shots of vodka for good measure.
Although the morning wind was cold and sleep was still tugging at my eyelids, the view was spectacular and definitely worth the climb! We stood at the summit for 20 minutes and took photos, then began our descent.
Midway down the hill, we burned incense and made wishes – as is the custom.
At the base, we all piled back into our 2 vans and continued onto the Khamariin Hiid Monastery further in the desert. We had a tailgate breakfast of sliced sausage, cucumbers and bread – which were a welcome change, since we had strictly been eating various combinations of rice and mutton for the past week.
After a tour of the World Energy Centre, the monastery and various stops at the holy caves, we drove to a nearby ger (aka “yurt”) tourist camp which is owned by one of the CU members. We were escorted to the deluxe brick ger. And it really was deluxe. It had 2 plush sofas, a king-sized and single bed, a television and a mini-fridge – in addition to a private bathroom with plumbing! Definitely a tourist ger rather than the typical types we had seen in the villages.
However, we were happy to be told that we were there with the sole purpose of napping. So nap we did. After 2 hours we were called to have lunch in the central building: “buuz” (mutton dumplings) and mutton noodle soup. Afterwards, we chatted with some of the CU’s ladies’ daughters in English. It was good practice for them, and it was nice for us to get to know our new set of friends in Sainshand.
On our return trip to the city, we made one last stop at a farm. That’s right… there is a farm smack dab in the middle of the Gobi desert! A few in fact. The one we stopped to walk through was predominantly a watermelon farm. Mmmmmm… my first piece of fruit since we left UB. It was mouth-wateringly delicious!
-- Ramune Jonusonis