How to shock foreigners in Mongolia?

Easy peasy! Collect a group of young people accustomed to all luxury that come with modern lifestyle. Then simply drive them to the countryside in roughly 15 hours with a 3am arrival when it is pitch dark and all they can see is some unheated yurts and a toilet set up somewhere further under the stars.

This is how we arrived to our camp in Saikhan district of Bulgan province in Northern Mongolia. The perplexity was visible and sensible in the group but when I woke later in the morning, stepping out of my yurt, the most breath-takingly beautiful view awaited me. It was a total surprise because I really didn’t see any of it in the dark, starless night. I was walking in awe next to horses wandering around our yurts. And the hills at the end of the vast steppe all over the horizon provided an atmosphere you would find nowhere else but in Mongolia.

The point of bringing 30 young people here was to introduce them to the daily life of a Mongolian family and show them a few beautiful and culturally significant fields or sights. Those who gathered were somehow related to Mongolian studies. A couple of teachers, a few researchers, some young students. Most of us have been to Mongolia before this or that way and of course we have had an idea of country life. However, this week was intense. I have also travelled in various parts of the country and slept in yurts here and there but I have never spent a whole week at the same place. The lack of running water – at least through a pipe and not in a river-bed – looked like a problem only for a moment. Your brain somehow switches to a different mode then everything is fine. We were cared after throughout the week. We did not have to work for what we ate, even our fire was made if we could not handle the wet firewood. I must note here that it was painful to see the amount of firewood wasted only to provide the comfort we are used to at home. One guy, a friend of my yurt-mate refused to leave the stove unattended. He stopped feeding the fire only when, to my greatest happiness, he returned to his place for the night. The heat was many times unbearable inside during the day. Heating it up to boiling point is pointless, the nights in a yurt are cold anyway if you are not used to this life. Thankfully I received a traditional caftan-like dress called deel that keeps cold out thanks to its warm lining. I have to admit without that the nights would have been challenging.

All in all, we received a mild version of Mongolian reality but it was still testing to our pampered bodies and minds. The weather was not kind to us for a few days, it was raining cats and dogs but our hosts and teachers did their best to keep us occupied. One other thing I must note – we had the coolest teachers ever. Where else can you meet scholars, who, after delivering some lectures, hop into a saddle and help herding the animals. And they do both pretty impressively. We had lectures in old-style school desks outdoor or in a yurt when it was rainy and cold. On sunny days we took the school-bus and went to see even more beautiful places nearby and a little further on. I will say more about these sights in an other post. Now have a look at the place where I spent an incredibly inspiring week.


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