Many Mongolians are still nomadic and live on the steppe grazing their animals. Most herders have mixed flocks of sheep and goats. There are few cows. We wondered what they found to eat as there were few tufts of very dry grass – there’s more vegetation on our local beach. Grass does grow after the summer rains but it doesn’t provide a complete cover. I asked about overgrazing but was met with very blank looks.
As you travel you can see the small ger settlements scattered across the landscape.
The ger is a herder's most important possession. When a couple get married the family builds or buys them a new ger. It is made up of a wooden framework with a felt covering. It is easily put up and taken down as the family move around. Inside there is a small stove for heat and cooking. The fuel is traditionally dried dung. It doesn’t smell but burns slowly providing an even heat. There are beds around the sides, which double as sitting and working areas. There is a dresser, which holds prize possessions. There are few personal possessions as everything has to be carried by truck as the family moves. There is however a TV with satellite dish and solar panel outside.
Horses are the traditional method of transport and are still used by most herders. They are kept tethered to a ‘washing line’ outside the camp when not in use. Motor cycles and quad bikes are beginning to appear.
On the way back to Ulaanbataar we were asked if we would like to visit a nomad family in their ger. Mongolian nomads have a tradition of hospitality and welcome visitors who are offered tea, dairy products and food. No payment is expected and none accepted. Unfortunately there have been cases of tourists, especially backpackers, who have abused this tradition and outstayed their welcome.
The first family were too busy but the second tent we stopped at we were invited inside and we were given ‘milk tea’ and small dough loaves to eat. The pan went on the fire and a meal was cooked for us. Slices of rib were cut off some lamb and boiled up in water in the pan.
The mother them made noodles – it was fascinating to watch as she mixed water with flour and kneaded the dough. It was then rolled out on a small board about 15”x10” into a huge round shape. I still don’t know how she did this – the dough was wrapped round the rolling pin as it was rolled out and was gradually stretched until it was much, much larger than the board. The dough was then rolled up and chopped into thin strips. By now the meat was cooked and taken out of the water and the noodles put in.
The meat was given to us to eat – Michael and I were given a knife to cut off strips. The guide and driver just used their hands. We were then given huge big bowls of stock with the noodles. Second helpings were offered. Michael asked for just a little bit but was given a full bowl. The guide explained that nomad hospitality didn’t run to half helpings as that is an insult to the guest. This was definitely a highlight of the trip.
All was offered freely and we felt very bad that we hadn’t got anything to give in return. The family had seven month old twins so we arranged with the guide that we would give him some money to buy presents for the children, which he would deliver to them when he next went past.