The whole day I had been watching the youngest and still unmarried son of the 85 years old herdsmen, who had come out with his father to support his sisters family by setting up the summer camp. The young man had been working on an ughurga, a polo-lasso like device, consisting of a very long pole with a rope loop at the end, which is used to catch cattle. He had been bending the several metre long pole over a small fire to give it a certain tension and create an elegant, slightly bowlike shape to make handling easier.
It was early spring, but water from the melting snow had not yet let the grass grow and rain had not helped either. So, the steppes looked barren, although the herds were trying to feed on some dried blades.
Three gers had been set up for the different families within the clan and a fourth one for the new born lambs and goats, that had to be protected from the cold nights, the wolfs and eagles.
The diet for the nomadic family in early springtime was just as simple: Water from the closeby river was boiled over a small stove in the middle of the ger in a large, wok-shaped pan. Some tea leafs, that looked like roughly chopped tobacco, were thrown in and a pinch of salt, milk and some rancid Yak butter was added. All was served in a rice bowl, that would later hold our lunch or dinner: mutton and home made noodles. Next day it was home made noodles and mutton … and so forth.
Had I been in a time machine, stepping back to the times of Genshis Khan?
The children and I were offered some delicious looking caramel bonbons, which turned out to be dried milk pieces that could neither be chewed nor licked. I could not even imagine vegetables, fruits, berries or sugar products in this barren land. Yet, the happy days of airag, the fermented mares' milk of the summer months, and the thick cream scooped from the summer milk were still to come! Despite the seemingly poor diet, the children were boasting with health and the 85-year-old head of the clan was swinging himself on top of the horse like a youngster.
Mongolia's culture is determined by its natural conditions and traditions. Most eye-catching are the traditional clothes, the Del, cut in a very simple pattern (in one piece) and buttoned at an angle. It is worn with a bright-coloured Sash around the waist, that also creates a lot of space above the belt to hold all the necessities one carries around. This garment, worn by men and women, is completed with long leather boots and a felt-hat.
The traditional housing, which is not only used by the herds people, is the ger, probably more familiar is the term yurt, which was actually introduced by the Russians. If you are visiting Mongolia, refer to this tent-like housing as ger.
Respect for nature is prevalent and can be derived from the Mongolian Shamanism. The Mongolians consider the earth as "Mother" and the sky as "Father".
Do not wonder, if your driver stops all of a sudden at a cairn-like pile called 'ovoo', leaves the car and surrounds the pile three time clockwise by throwing a piece of rock on top of the pile. My driver looks around and smiles: That's what the Ghengis Khan warriors did before the left to conquer your countries! When they came home they used to go back to the same ovoo to remove the stone they had put there! I discovered a crutch on the pile and wondered….
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