"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mongolia, A Report from the Field: Of Box Springs, Milk Soup, and Poetry

We leave the wonderful little cafe in Khutul, and the bullied boy with his stones and wistful countenance, and drive through the lands of nomad herders.

It’s early winter here.   The greens of summer and the oranges of autumn are gone.  Now, nature has painted the land from a palette of golds and browns.  I could stare at this countryside for hours.

These mountain-top adornments appears to be an ovoo pole and perhaps a Buddhist shrine.

That’s a good thing, because there are miles and miles of this land and hours and hours before we reach our destination at Lake Khuvsgul tomorrow afternoon.


Some call this a stark and desolate land; I find poetry here.

Old and new.   A herder in the traditional coat called a  deel and his Mongolian horse, an anachronism against  a high voltage electrical tower.  Note the ovoo wrapped in blue prayer flags in front of the herder.   In this case, it most likely is a boundary ovoo rather than a spiritual one.

A herder's camp nestled in a swale.

The long golden rays of the setting sun highlight this pastoral scene.

We drive into a glorious sunset late in the afternoon, and as we are driving west and north, we enjoy the sunset for what seems like hours.

Setting sunlight reflects off  the tar strips on the highway.

Chimdee, the driver, is the first to spot this herder and he nudges me, then slows to a  stop for the photo.   He slows or stops every time he sees me raise my camera and will do that for the rest of the trip if  I'm in the front seat, and often points out things I don't see.

A herder carrying a long pole with a loop on the end  for catching one of the animals in his herd, much like a lariat or lasso was used by American cowboys.   It is called an uurga in Mongolian.

Eventually we reach the town of Bulgan, where we will spend the night at the Bulgan Hotel.


I am flabbergasted when I am shown to my room.   This has to be the largest hotel room I’ve ever been in, very comparable to the villa room at the Spier Hotel in the winelands of South Africa.

A dance floor between the bed and the desk.   One would need binoculars to watch TV in bed.

The room is chilly and there’s a strong draft (hurricane) coming from one outside corner of the room where the drapes are billowing inward.   I check behind the drapes and my suspicions are verified.   There’s a balcony beyond the outside wall.   

A typical enclosed Khrushchev balcony.

Note the sharp and dangerous broken plastic seat.   One does not linger.

Retrofitted plumbing, more evidence to support my belief that this is an apartment building remodeled into a hotel.

Need room for a retrofitted shower drain?   Some bricks will do nicely.

A hot water maker for tea or coffee, and a large bottle of Mongolian water.

I’m in a Khrushchev building!   I’d bet this was once an apartment building remodeled into a hotel.

The latch on the balcony door is broken so I lean a chair against the door to stop the north wind hurricane blowing through, and the room begins to warm up immediately.

An effective draft-stopper.

I check with Patti and Cap in their equally large room.   There’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on as electrical outlets near the bed are non-existent.   Cap needs to plug in his CPAP machine to assist his breathing during sleep, and there’s no outlet close enough. 

Once the idea of needing an electrical outlet is translated, it is quickly solved with an extension cord.    

I leave them and Yusef to handle that problem and return to my room.   I think the idea of a CPAP is new to the Mongolians here.   If it's new to you, the machine provides a "continuous positive airway pressure" to treat sleep apnea, hence the acronym CPAP.

Yusef, our driver Chimdee, and I go across the street to a restaurant, where we are shown into a private dining room.   “It will get too noisy when the dancing starts,” is the explanation.

We ate upstairs in this building.

I order beef and veggies with noodles.  The noodles are home-made and delicious.  Patti and Cap will dine in their room on food they brought.

Left overs.   I could not eat any more, even though they were delicious.

My friend and guide Yusel, prepariing to leave our private dining room.   Cap would not be happy with all the food left on my plate.   I have noticed the exceptionally large servings in both Hong Kong and Mongolia.  I don't know how they do it.

Back in the room, I get ready for bed and climb in.  

Uh-oh.   I think I am on the box spring part of a double mattress.   I lie in bed, trying to get comfortable, and wondering who has the mattress part of my bed.

I am going to wake up with octopus rings on my body.   I think of my friend Sue who has taught school in many countries.   She told me in one country she had the box spring, too, and when she tried to explain there was another part of the mattress set, she was told she was wrong, that mattresses are purchased two at a time and make two beds.

I leave one drape partially open because right across the street is a sign with the current time.  I can see it as I lie in bed.

My handy bedside clock across the street.

I forget to check in the morning to see if I have circles from sleeping on the box springs.  

There’s a knock on the door and when I open it, a hotel employee is standing there with a tray full of bowls.

The milk is bland, of course, but the dumplings are plentiful and tasty.

I take one of the bowls from the tray and thank the person.  It’s dumpling soup—tiny meat-filled dumplings in milk.   The dumplings are tasty, but the milk, as expected, is rather bland.  Whatever, it’s filling, and another Mongolian experience not to be forgotten.

Cap refuses the morning soup.  One reason is that he and Patti had already eaten food they had with them.   The other reason is that the soup did not appeal to Cap.   IN THE LEAST!

Well, no one travels to Mongolia for its cuisine as one does to France or Tuscany, but sampling the local cuisine is part of the adventure.  For centuries, the people here have made do with what was available to them, and that is not much.   I tell Cap he’s missing part of the Mongolian experience.   He does not think that funny, but I enjoy ribbing him, especially first thing in the morning.

Bulgan has a population of about 12,000 at an elevation of 4,000 ft.   It is 291 miles from Ulaanbaatar.

And the other direction in Bulgan.

Antennae on a home.   They look like bent coat hangers, a shelf from a refrigerator, and a barbeque grill, but they probably aren't.

And we load up, me in the left-side shotgun seat, Patti and Cap behind me, and Yusef, whom we have consigned to the rear seat with some of the luggage.   I did not make a mistake with “left-side shotgun seat.”   The driver’s position is on the right in this Mitsubishi van.

We are all about photos and good visibility here, and that is why we told Yusef he gets to lean on the baggage in the rear seat.   Yusef does not complain, though guides usually sit up front with the driver.  

A grove of Siberian larch.  Larch are a deciduous coniferous tree like evergreens, except the larch needles turn bright yellow in autumn and then to gold before they fall.   New needles appear in spring.      

Little do we know, as we journey into the early Bulgan sunrise, that serendipity has laid a surprise for us up the road.

Our drive for the day:   From Ulaanbaatar northwest to Darkan, southwest to Khutul, west to Erdenet, and southwest to Bulgan.   Tomorrow, northwest to Murun, then north to Lake Khovsgol (aka Khuvsgul).

A few more photos from the first day's drive: 


  1. A country so different and yet so much the same as home. I see we are not the only ones that have rednecks doing remodeling.

  2. Thank you for another taste of Mongolia.

  3. Thank you for another taste of Mongolia.

  4. The (what would I do without Dictionary.com to help me out) silhouette photos of the horse and rider in front of our car and to the right and crossing the road were so great. After eating some 'real' Mongolian soup I was gun-shy of any soup. You never told us about the great seat on the toilet. I have got-to-tell you we two are SO enjoying these posts. Cap and Patti