8th June 2012
I’ve definitely had a day to remember…… whilst in the ancient town of Kharkhorin, we visited the Erdene Zuu Monastery where I had my astrological signs read and it was a great relief to learn that my heart (for love), my organs and my life condition were all excellent and very strong, whilst sadly my wind horse was low and I was in great need of being cheered up – you can’t have everything! Luckily it was easily fixed as the Lama was happy to spend time reading on behalf of Tulga and I; the readings were to wish us a good journey; protect us from bad energy and most importantly to cheer up my wind horse.
After an early lunch on Lake Ogii, Tulga decided to make a slight change to our itinerary, the original plan was to stay in a ger camp on the way to Bulgan but he’d heard through the grapevine that members of his wife’s extended family had arrived at their summer camp near the village of Khishig Undur, so accommodation for the night was cancelled and with a quick stop at the market to buy vodka, chocolates, apples and nappies we headed in the direction of their camp and the hope of a bed for the night. As expected, once we actually found them, we were greeted with open arms by Batjagaa (Grandpa) and Togoo (Grandma) and ushered straight into the ger for some obligatory salt milk tea (which is definitely not the best thing about Monoglia), a huge bowl of homemade yoghurt straight from the cow, laced with sugar and finally just to make sure we were really full to the gunnels, we were served a large bowl of dried meat and noodle soup. I hope, or at least I told myself, that the dried meat was beef, but Tulga wouldn’t actually commit to what it was and just giggled a lot when I asked - judging by the amount of horses feet that I seen discarded outside the meat shed in the market, earlier in the day, I suspect I may have had horse for the first time.
One of my first thoughts on going into Batjagaa and Togoo’s ger was “this is going to be very cosy”. There was one large bed (if you can call it a bed, it was basically a raised hard platform) and if lying side by side, you could probably, at a push, sleep five if no one moved, and there was also one single bed. Looking around me there were seven members of the family which included Grandpa, Grandma, their three daughters, one son-in-law and a one month old baby, so I couldn’t quite work out where Tulga and I were going to fit in. The one person I felt even sorrier for than me was the son-in-law, imagine having to share a bed with your mother-in-law!
Having finished our soup I was in for something that I never in a million years thought I’d witness in my lifetime - the one daughter having finished expressing some milk, removed the pump from her breast, handing it to her father who dutifully drank the lot before the pump was reattached and a new batch was expressed for mum before they turned to me and asked if I’d like some – absolutely not! There may be that good old saying “While in Rome…” and I’m happy to try most things but this was one step too far!
Togoo, not put off by me turning down the breast milk, was very keen that I had a go at milking; I think in all honestly she just wanted to have a laugh, but I was happy to give it a go even in the name of entertainment. The poor cow was selected I was handed a bucket and a stool and told to get on with it. The only help I had was from the cow’s calf as he’d been released from the pen so he could have a suckle and get the milk flowing. I plonked myself on the stool; at what I though was a pretty reasonable distance from her udder, but Togoo was standing behind me and was quick to push me in closer. I have to say, I think I did rather well and although the bucket was slow to fill I did get the milk out. The feedback I received from Togoo was, “She needs to perfect her nipple massaging technique, hold the bucket between her thighs however she’s strong, shows no fear and is good with animals – she would survive in Mongolia.” I think that might be the best school report I’ve ever had! The night was still young and we were straight back into the ger where I can only guess that Grandpa had drunk the vodka and was now face down on the bed snoring happily. My last chore of the evening was to help boil the milk we had just collected and make some cream, which turned out to be a pretty easy process.
Tulga finally admitted to me that we wouldn’t be sleeping in the ger as there was no room but instead we’d be heading to the village to stay with another family member, Ouimaa. As you can imagine we were back to square one and on arrival at Ouimaa’s small one-roomed house we were served salt milk tea, biscuits and noddle soup before all getting into our sleeping bags and finding a spot on the floor to sleep.
What a day!