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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mongolia, A Report from the Field: Confronting the Conundrum while Chewing on Meheer

A few days ago, while talking with the manager of Genco Travel as we planned a six-day trip to Lake Khuvsgul in northern Mongolia, I noticed there was a “free day” at the lake on the itinerary.

“What is there to do?”  I asked.  

“Oh, you might meet the reindeer people or you could go for a boat ride on the lake,” she answered.   That sounded fine with me.   A bit later she mentioned that the reindeer people have migrated away from the lake and are in a different, inaccessible area farther north.

Then, two days ago, on the second day of the trip, Cap told Yusuf the guide that he HAD to be back in Ulaanbaatar by noon Saturday or better yet, Friday evening, effectively cutting a full day off the trip.  I’d been pondering this conundrum ever since―when I wasn’t having the time of my life sitting on Mongolian nomad’s horses, or visiting in a real ger and drinking salted yak milk tea.

A boat ride on Lake Khuvsgul?   No way.   Not only was the lake icing up and a nasty, cold wind blowing, but the boats were in dry storage on land and tightly wrapped against the elements.

The boats, dry-docked and wrapped for the winter.

Cut to today:  As we leave the herders’s ger and head down the mountain valley on our way back to Khatsgal and the Ashihai resort, I am flying high.   I’d just experienced THE highlight of many on this trip.

A short break on the way back to the Ashihai Resort.

I see large black vultures flying along the mountain crags, no doubt on the way to the carcasses of the sheep and a horse that the wolves had killed.   

 The dirt road is nice and Chimdee’s foot gets heavier and heavier the closer we get to pavement.   I think he is enjoying it and relieved we aren’t going to the elusive waterfall.

Some of the Khatsgal locals.

We need to stop in town to get bottled water, so he pulls into a small market that turns out to be the epitome of small town department stores.   While Yusuf gathers up bottled water, I wander around the store taking photos and selecting a couple items that somehow transmogrify from healthy snacks into chocolate when I'm not looking.

Yusuf and Chimdee.

I could have sworn this was a package of carrot sticks when I picked it up.

Frozen meats.

 Wrapped chunks of cheese.

Potatoes, root vegetable, and onions.

A beautiful scale.

Housewares, clothing, and gifts.

Candy and bulk candy.

As we wait our turn at the cashier, Yusuf motions to several boxes containing  fuzzy, dark brown things.   They are sorted by size and remind me of the dried mopane worms I saw in Africa.   "Try one," he says, popping one into his mouth.

Meheer, sorted by size.

Just in case they ARE worms, I select one of the tiniest and chew on it.  "What does it taste like?" he asks.

I can't identify the taste, but I am relieved to note that it isn't a worm or other insect.

"Almond?   Coconut?" he prompts.   Exactly!   Those are the tastes I can't identify.   It has a very pleasant taste, but as with the little dried legs on the mopane worm, these things have little hairs on them that I rinse from my mouth as soon as possible.

They are called meheer and are from a flowering plant called alpine bistort, part of the buckwheat family.

Alpine bistort image from Wikipedia.

On the way back to our resort,  we turn onto the bumpy, rutted, frozen road and pass vacation cabins in the forest.

Fuzzy photo?   On this road, you bet!

The Siberian larch forest.   The needles turn bright yellow in autumn and drop, turning the forest floor gold.

Chimdee, ever aware of my photo-taking, pulls over at the best spot for a photo of the lake.

Lake Khuvsgul.   Just above and left of the power pole, a gravel spit juts into the lake.  Ashihai tourist camp is hidden at the far left of that gravel spit.

The gravel spit starts at far right.

All my pondering finally yields an idea and I suggest to Yusuf that we leave the next morning right after breakfast and drive as far as Mörön, getting a jump on the long drive back to Ulaanbaatar.   The only difference between what I suggest and what Cap requested was the time of day when we would leave.  Mine is several hours earlier than his idea, but it also means that the staff at Ashikai will be left with all the extra food they had stocked for our third day.   As a former restaurant owner, I know this means waste, unless the employees are allowed to take home the fresh food.

That settles the conundrum, much to Cap’s relief.   We could easily be in UB by noon, leaving time for Cap to contact someone in Erendet if he wanted, as he had expressed.

Dinner is phenomenal.  I can not eat all the tasty, tender, and mild fish on my plate, and gladly give the other half of the fish to Chimdee.  The chef came out abnd offered Cap and Patti some potato salad.   Cap declined but Patti accepted.

Potato salad and sweet bread.

Tasty fish with rice.   Sorry, I forgot a "before" photo.

I sample my dessert dessert, and donate the rest of it to Cap and Patti.   Cap also got Chimdee's dessert.  

Desseert:   peach half, grapes, wafer cookie, and drizzle of strawberry syrup.

Cap sets up his post-card assembly line and I watch in awe.

The next morning, all the water in the bathroom is gone.   Chimdee comes to the rescue by going upstairs and bringing down a large pot full of water.

I'm in the dining room early, so I fix a cup of tea and try one of those brown, hard things that I'd wondered about the previous day.   They are COOKIES!   They are to die for!   I eat two of them.

Tea and whole wheat cookie.  I went back later for some more to take on the trip, but they were gone.   Cap later confessed he's taken them.

Then, breakfast is served.   All the usual goodies are on the table--cereal, breads,etc.

Fried eggs, sausage, pickled sweet pepper, and ketchup.

Cereal, juice, milk, etc.

A plate of dumplings, filled with meat.

Just as I'm finishing my eggs and sausage, the server brings out a huge tureen of traditional beef noodle soup!

Chimdee still has room for soup.   This would feed me for a week.

The middle basket contains those wonderful whole wheat cookies--the ones that Cap took!   And didn't share.   And ate all by himself!

Another photo of the cookies before they were purloined (right of the soup).

Once again, the chef wanted to know where Cap and Patti were but they didn't show up.   Earlier Cap had said, "Just being here (Ashihai resort) was worth the cost of the trip."  I agreed.

The chef.   He used to be the private chef for the government leaders.

One of the staff.

All the goodness came from a simple cooking station.

The chef's seasoning arsenal.

She does the dishes, too.

Right after breakfast, as planned, we load up in the Mitsubishi van.   To our amazement, the Ashihai staff comes out in the cold to see us off.

Cap and Patti heading for the van as we leave.

Chef, assistant, and server.

This game played with tiles is called khoral.

Sunrise at Lake Khuvsgul.

 Then, we are on the road to Mörön.  

Before I came to Mongolia, I had been reading about the country in preparation.   One of the e-books I purchased was Moron to Moron: Two Men, Two Bikes, One Mongolian Misadventure by Tom Doig.   The story is about two New Zealanders who decide to bicycle from two townships named Moron and the mishaps and adventures they experienced along the way.

I had a hard time getting through all the pre-trip juvenile jokes and frat boy sexual stories, and closed the book.   Now, actually in one of the Morons, I opened it again and read on, skipping all the pre-trip nonsense and starting where the men were actually in Khatsgal at Lake Khuvsgul.   

This time, it was much more enjoyable to read along as they bikedsomewhat the same route as I was traveling to Ulaanbaatar, though they made some cross-country excursions where no vehicle was meant to go.

Bicycles, either.

Simple and elegant decor in the lodge.

A local couple selling handmade goods.

I purchased the wool reindeer in the center as my souvenir from Mongolia.

A gas station in Khatsgal.   Note  the red shed at left.

Fire-fighting equipment.   I guess those are buckets of sand.

And, one last photo of the whole wheat cookies--the ones that were gone when i went back to get them!   CAP!


  1. The food looks amazing. How they prepared all of that with the equipment they had is something to ponder. So glad you enjoyed these adventures.

  2. You have a more adventurous spirit than I do Jeanne when it comes to worms and buckwheat flowers that look like worms! The food that was prepared for you at the Lake did look amazing ... but such quantities just make me lose my appetite. It is such a delight to re-do this trip with you through your blogspot ... thanks for the return to Mongolia! Hugs and smiles, Patti and Cap

  3. Oh My Goodness .. MUNCH .. Those (I thought they were just hard bread rolls until I bit into one of them) cookies were soooo good .. I took them all that were left .. Smiling at my good fortune .. Cap ..