Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Can't Take My Heart Out of Mongolia's Countryside - Manzuchir Khiid Part 2, Tuv Aimag, Mongolia

I know that behind those tall south side Bogd Khan mountains protecting Ulaanbaatar is Manzuchir (Mandchir) Khiid valley, where wildflowers abound, where wild berries await harvest, where wild rhubarb tastes like heaven, where cool springs form into waterfalls that form into rivers that meander through the steppes, quenching thirsts of roaming horses, goats, sheep and cows. 

The longing persists and one beautiful morning, I was off again to Manzuchir Khiid,  with friends who instantly connected with Mother Nature. 

Ulaanbaatar wakes up to a beautiful sunrise - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Photo by Greca Durant

To reach Manzuchir Khiid, we followed the UB airport road up until the left turn, passing the new Sports Palace. With airag-making season in full swing, gers/yurts dotted the scenery, with dozens of mares and foals milling around outside them. Also outside these gers were blue-colored plastic containers holding gallons of airag or fermented horse milk.

We stopped by the Tuv aimag marker and paid our respects to the ovoo.

Bruce sheltering from the scorching sun - Bruce is one of more than 20 artists from around the world handpicked for the 2nd Land Art Biennial Mongolia 360˚  2012, now going on at Ikh Gazriin Chuluu, Dundgobi,
until August 18. Bruce represents the U.S.A.                                                                                
Photo credit: Greca Durant

Marne goes three times around the ovoo or Tibetan prayer mound - Marne Lucas is one of more than twenty artists handpicked for the 2nd Land Art Biennial Mongolia 360˚ 2012, now going on at Ikh Gazriin Chuluu,  Dundgobi, until August 18. Marne represents the U.S.A.                                  
Photo credit: Greca Durant

Erdene telling me about the topography of the aimag and nearby sights - Photo credit: Marne Lucas

In Zuunmod, feeling famished, the sight of Loving Hut, a vegan restaurant, got us all excited. We parked the car and piled inside the restaurant. Our orders were taken and minutes later, tsuivan (Mongolian spaghetti), shepherd's pie, coleslaw, spinach, mushroom and dumpling soup came along with raisin tea, Lipton tea and Sprite. 

Marne and her tsuivan, Loving Hut at Zuunmod, Tuv aimag, Mongolia                                                                                         Photo credit: Greca Durant
Shepherd's Pie vegetarian version - very tasty buckwheat cutlet and creamy mashed potatoes, Loving Hut at Zuunmod, Tuv aimag, Mongolia                                                                
Photo credit: Greca Durant

Julie takes a bite of her khushuur..Mmmmm, while Bruce contemplates which one to eat first -
dumpling soup or shepherd's pie                                                                                                        
Photo credit: Greca Durant

After a hearty lunch, we proceeded to the airag ger station positioned next to Loving Hut. We found the friendly airag maker and chatted with him. Outside his ger, a daughter was preparing milk vodka. The airag tasted fresh and the very mild vodka carried a tiny hint of milkiness. 

The airag master pouring freshly-made airag into a bowl                                  
Photo credit: Greca Durant

Erdene stirring the airag                                             Photo credit: Greca Durant

Erdene enjoying airag while Julie and Marne chat                                               Photo credit: Greca Durant

Bruce gets his turn on the airag bowl while Marne records the action                 Photo credit: Greca Durant

Marne gets her first ever sip of Mongolian airag. Verdict? She likes it.             Photo credit: Greca Durant

If you are not into vegetarian/vegan food, then there's Chansaa Restaurant, near the town square. Excellent Pineapple Chicken! The restaurant offers Mongolian, Korean and European dishes. 

Pineapple Chicken at Chansaa Restaurant, Zuunmod, Tuv Aimag                       Photo credit: Greca Durant

From the airag station, we continued driving to Manzuchir Khiid. It's six kilometers from Zuunmod center. On our way, we passed apartment blocks from the Soviet times. They're called gulag blocks. 

Soviet-era apartment blocks, Zuunmod, Tuv aimag                                               Photo credit: Greca Durant
Old stone grains grinder outside the aimag museum, Zuunmod. Tuv aimag           Photo credit: Greca Durant

The aimag museum shows samples of mineral deposits in the area, huge stuffed animals like moose and deer that once roamed Bogd Khan, old photographs, photographs of Naadam champions, a Buddha statue, models of typewriters, calculators and computers, and other interesting pieces. It's worth a visit. 

Finally, Manzuchir Khiid. 

There were more visitors that day, including ethnic Mongolians from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China. The meadow was teeming with more flowers. The rains from two days before caused the spring to burst forth into rushing waterfalls.

Teepee and ger inside the monastery grounds, Manzuchir Khiid                      Photo credit: Greca Durant

Julie and Erdene with a Mongolian from Hohhot who can read the Uighur script
that's written on the bronze cauldron                              Photo credit: Marne Lucas

Erdene showing off a huge mushroom - called Sky Death! Oooopppsss!                            Photo Credit: Greca Durant

Flowing icy cold water, Manzuchir Khiid, Tuv aimag, Mongolia                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Greca Durant

After a pleasant picnic, we headed back to Zuunmod, where we met Justin Bieber.

Justin Bieber was half Przewalski-half domesticated Mongolian horse. He was gorgeous! He had the telltale leg stripes of a Przewalski horse. Marne and I wondered about his eye color.  Blue?                                                                                                            Photo credit: Marne Lucas

We got home to UB safely but we couldn't stop talking about Justin Bieber, the stallion, head of a harem of a dozen equally gorgeous females. 

Bye for now, my friends.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Bees of Gorkhi-Terelj Park, Mongolia

Out on a green valley hemmed in by rolling hills, dotted with gers, and watched over by the eternal blue sky, my daughter Ysabelle and I, together with Bruce and Erdene, discovered the fierce bees of Gorkhi-Terelj. 

After a hearty lunch of grilled fish, steamed vegetables, rice and tsuivan at UB2 (Ulaanbaatar Hotel 2), our little band crossed the bridge over the gushing clear waters of the Tuul river. The last time I saw the river was in wintertime, when it was a shimmering white solid block of ice. 

Ysabelle and UB2
Photo credit: Greca Durant

We followed a path in the woods that led to the other river crossing. This time, it was no steel bridge but an interesting compilation of earth, pebbles, logs, branches, twigs, roots and leaves.

Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

From here, the bee farm was three kilometers away. Thankfully, the bee keeper was on hand with his trusty Russian motorbike. Ysabelle and I became his first passengers. He would come back for Bruce and Erdene. 

We roared our way into the great country, up and down gullies, passing horses and horse riders, cows, goats, dogs, gers, and finally deposited in front of his ger. Ysabelle and I were ushered in and we sat on the bed. The bee keeper hurried back on his 'machine' to pick up Bruce and Erdene.

The Russian-made motorbike: Tops!
Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

The bee keeper's ger complete with solar panels, dish and Russian army truck (behind)
Photo credit: Greca Durant

The bee keeper's daughter, who was preening in front of the mirror, applying eyeliner and lipstick, took a short break from her activity and poured milk tea into deep bowls. She served these to us accompanied by boortsog, Mongolian butter-fried bread. Mongolians are well-known for their warm hospitality, even to strangers.

When everyone was accounted for, we headed out to the bee farm, on the foot of a hill. Green boxes were laid out on the ground. There was also a covered shed, some kind of shelter, where tools were kept.

Green bee boxes scattered on the green
Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

We put on our protective gear, actually just a bee-keeper's veil. It was good enough for me.

Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

But not good enough for the others, even for the bee keeper.

Photo credit: Greca Durant

Ysabelle got stung big time!
Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

 Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

Back in the bee keeper's ger, to nurse the pain from the stings, we snacked on bread with fragrant honey and roasted sheep's head. Mmmm...

Photo credit: Greca Durant

Photo credit: Greca Durant

The bee keeper saved us again from a long walk back to UB2 by hauling us, his mates, his children, practically everybody in his village, in his giant of a Russian army truck. The rugged terrain posed no problem. The 'Russian machine' as it was called, forded surging rivers and easily navigated high riverbanks. Our little band was safely deposited in front of Terelj's bar. 

Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

Photo credit: Ysabelle Durant

All right, bye for now. Talk to you again later 

about my latest Mongolian explorations. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Wildflowers, Manzuchir Monastery Ruins by Bogd Khan Mountains, Töv Aimag, Mongolia

HI again! It's the season for wildflowers here in Mongolia. One of the best places to see them is at the Manzuchir Monastery or Mandshir Khiid ruins, just a few kilometers outside of  Zuunmod, the capital of Töv aimag. 

Set on a valley by the majestic Bogd Khan mountain, one of the holy mountains protecting Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia's capital city, Mandshir Khiid is just an hour and a half leisurely drive from UB. 

The road is bumpy some ways, especially with the new airport road construction going on. But it's really worth a trip. It could be a day trip, picnic there, or you can stay in one of the ger camps. For transport, I usually call Sukhee (99652371, to organize my travel needs. 

These photos are just teasers. Prepare for a heart meltdown when you get there.

Bye for now, talk to you soon.