Suitcase and World: First night on the Mongolian steppe.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First night on the Mongolian steppe.

otel? What hotel? There would be no hotel stays on our trip through Mongolia. Gers all the way!!

More commonly known as the *yurt*, a ger is structure that is made of a circular wooden frame that is comprised of one or more lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, roof poles and a crown.

 Some styles of yurt have one or more columns to support the crown. The (self-supporting) wood frame is covered with pieces of felt. Depending on availability, the felt is additionally covered with canvas and/or sun-covers.

The frame is held together with one or more ropes or ribbons. The structure is kept under compression by the weight of the covers, sometimes supplemented by a heavy weight hung from the center of the roof.

Since steppes are treeless by definition, I had wondered where the wood for the ger frame came from and learned that it was something that used to be obtained through trade. These days, Mongolians just by the wood they need. I also learned that gers are not cheap; a large one can be as expensive as $10,000!

The first ger camp we stayed at was located stone's throw away from Amarbayasgalant Monastery. Violeta and I shared a very large ger. Inside there were two wooden beds topped with mattresses....blankets and pillows were provided. In the center was a wood burning stove and a small metal bucket that held wood. We would soon find out this is pretty much the layout of every ger. The larger ones often had a small table and stools. All had some form of lighting....either a single bulb or a candle and some even had an electrical outlet that we could plug our devices into for charging. None had an attached bathroom.....not an issue for me but I think Violeta would have been happier had there been one.

Of course, the first time you spend the night in a ger, there's novelty to it so it's all pretty cool. I had expected that the novelty would wear off soon but the truth is, I found sleeping in a ger very comfortable despite how spartan they were.

Violeta and I did have our challenges bunking in together. She's like Lei.....loves the room temperature to be really warm. Me, I love it cold. She would worry about running out of wood in the middle of the night. I was trying to figure out how to lift up a section of felt so I could bring in the cold air.

Once we got inside our ger, in the camp near Amarbayasgalant Monastery, Violeta decided to take it easy and rest until dinner time. I quickly dumped my backpack and headed outside, climbing a nearby hill so I could get a view of the camp compound from high above. From the crest of hill, I could see the white felt covered gers and the other wooden structures on the property....those were the bathrooms and the dining room.

It was my first opportunity to set foot on the Mongolian steppe. It was hillier than I imagined it to be.


Nonetheless, it was an awesome feeling to stand in one spot and all around me, all I could see was green grass and trees. Shortly after I made it to the top of the hill, Adam and Adrian joined me. Others soon arrived as well.

A small herd of horses was grazing nearby.

At dinner that night, Maree, Cathleen, Eric and I decided that we would get up early the next morning to see the sunrise. A storm was threatening. The skies looked like they would open up and rain any second. The white of the gers against the intense colors of the stormy sky was incredible.

 We had agreed to meet at 5am. My internal body clock woke me up a few minute before then. I waited outside for the other three to arrive. As I looked up at the sky, storm clouds were hanging low. As the sun started to rise, the colors of the sky kept shifting from intense pinks and reds to yellows and oranges.

We climbed another nearby hill....this one would give us a view of Amarbayasgalant Monastery. With every step we took, the skies looked that much more threatening. Since I didn't have rain gear on me, I was worried about getting drenched. But the view was so spectacular, I just could not leave.

From high above, framed by the light of the rising sun, the monastery looked like a still life painting.

As we waited for the sun to break through the clouds, a double rainbow appeared on the horizon. It's the first time I've ever seen a double rainbow so I was completely captivated by the dual bands of color forming before my eyes!

As the sun rose above the horizon, the skies opened up. Maree and Cathleen had raingear on so they ran back down the hill to the ger camp as soon as the raindrops started to fall. Luckily Eric and I we able to find shelter under a tented canopy that had been erected on a nearby construction site. Eric did the posing honors as I snapped away on my camera. We waited for the rain to subside a bit and then we also ran back down the hill to camp.

By now, it was breakfast time and the rest of the group had congregated in the dining room. We all chowed down...I was famished. After breakfast, we packed up our bags, piled back into the SUVs and headed down the road to our first destination of the day...the town of Erdinet.