Trips and Tales (Part 87)
The waiver was foreboding enough, indemnifying those organising the horse trail against any horrific calamity that may befall the participants, whether broken this, that or the other (trust me, having “the other” broken is murder), sudden death, alien abduction – well perhaps not the last one, but you get the idea.
Nonetheless, MA and Companion signed away their lives and with some trepidation embarked upon the trek, led by at true Mongolian horseman. Now, these are expert riders, capable of spinning their high performance mounts around the Mongolian steppe with ease, historically adept at firing their composite bows from the saddle during times of conflict. It was with this level of skill that the Mongolian empire (truly galvanised under Ghengis Khan) expanded into one of the world’s largest in only a few hundred years, even encroaching onto the doorstep of Europe.
Ghengis Khan (actually Chinggis Khan) is looked upon as a national Mongolian hero today, in spite of his predilection for mass slaughter and land-grabbing. It undoubtedly had a lot to do with his and his countrymen’s interpretation of his position as “Lord of Everything”. Us Brits certainly shouldn’t be the ones to point the finger in this regard, but I digress.
Incidentally MA‘s guide T joked with them: “If Ghengis Khan had headed further West, the world would want to speak Mongolian now rather than English”. Well, perhaps you had to be there.
No doubt it was with some surprise (and perhaps relief) that MA and the rest of the tourist cavalry found themselves on little more than a sedate pony trek then. Well, frankly what else could their hosts offer without having to buy-in stretchers and body bags?
To give added point to the experience of a leisurely plod around the steppe: a meeting with the locals had been arranged. Sure enough, the horses were trailed up a valley to a Ger, where the riders dismounted ready to meet the family inside and offer presents – very important etiquette, incidentally.
MA told me more of the etiquette involved, even in entering Ger: the eldest should enter first, leading with the right foot and then moving to the left. It’s all a serious, respectful business, and there is much more to it: different sides of the Ger for the husband and wife’s respective roles – I’ll have to get the complete low down and make a it feature. Generally though, there is considerable ritualised formality and etiquette, rather than the kind of light hearted small-talk and smiles that we find here at home. Sure, they do smile, laugh, have a good time, but with a reason behind it. They don’t throw it around in the same way that we do.
Randomly smiling at strangers is certainly frowned upon. Someone once told me that you would generally be thought of as an idiot if you behave in such a manner, innocuous as it may seem to us. In fact, I also heard that approaching strangers in the street is just “not done” either, that a random approach is “usually a prelude to something bad happening” – if I remember correctly.
After entering the Ger without causing an international incident and being duly welcomed. MA and Companion were presented with a “fatty milk drink” (probably fermented mare’s milk) and a hardened coconut-like biscuit which verged upon edibility. Well at least they thought it was a biscuit and tried to eat it anyway. It could have been something to rub hard skin off their feet for all they knew.
The husband arrived with the same formal, polite but unsmiling air and the woman tried and failed to get her shy, curious children to sing for their guests. Instead they escaped outside to peep in at the interlopers from the edge of the Ger’s entrance. And then T, the guide arrived, pulling up his horse and dismounting with some consternation. “You’ve got the wrong Ger,” he exclaimed, as they stood inside some random Mongolian family’s home.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 88) In and out of Ulaanbaatar: From ankle bones to passports
[Photo by stealthtractor]