Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 3 in Gobi [White Mountains to Dalanzadgad] Cat on a hot tin cold gher roof

I woke up in the middle of the night due to some indistinct noise I could hear in the gher. Through the plastic sheath in the roof I could see something move. The first thing that came into my mind was "EAGLE"!! I woke up Leo and Katy and told them we were under attack by an eagle and were basically doomed since we had no electricity in the gher and there was a hole in the roof! We were still discussing the reasoning behind my logic when something hit me very hard on the shoulder. I shouted back at Leo to stop throwing things in the dark at the "eagle" since he was misfiring. But he just replied with "I didn't do anything". That really creeped me out and we all just snuck into our sleeping bags imagining the massacre that the eagle was going to conduct. But things got suspicious when the "eagle" went meow! Leo got out of the bed and lit up the candle. There was a freaking cat in our gher that had jumped on me through the hole in the roof!!! I was annoyed to say the least and got out of bed to kick the cat out of the gher. Upon opening the door I realised how cold it was outside but I was not the one to sympathise with the "eagle" that had made my whole life flash before me. I tried to remove the cat out of the gher but it wouldn't budge and ended up sleeping next to Katy snuck comfortably in her sleeping bag. [In hindsight I should have supported Leo when he was protesting about the hole in the roof yesterday rather than tell him to chill out!]

I was woken up in the morning by Leo and Katy who were getting ready to go for a camel ride. Since there were only two camels for riding at any particular time I stayed back
for my turn for another hour which I put to best use by catching up on my sleep.

Eventually I stumbled out of the bed to clean up my face and committed a big mistake by accepting the offer of a lil girl from the nomad family in helping me wash my face and hair with water. Little did I know though that the little girl was actually a naughty monster in disguise who instead of pouring
the water on my hands emptied the vessel full of COLD water - which was enough to wake a dead man from a coffin - on my head! If that wasn't enough the lil girl had a field day by trying to fit me into one of her camel frocks (it's kinda like a frock with a camel in the front - see the pic).

Soon after the lil girl had finished putting me through many of her clothes and toys, Katy and Leo could be seen on the horizon on their double hump rides and I took some photos of the couple as they made their return. I got to choose my own camel to ride and agreed on a brown one. Off we went towards a little hill with a teenage boy from the family holding the leash of the camel. This was my first time on a camel and I was definitely excited especially since we were surrounded by the beautiful gobi on all sides. After being on the camel ride fore a while and listening to the silence of the never ending desert I requested 'Baatar' as he was called, sing some Mongolian melodies. It started out very beautifully with traditional Mongol music but ended up with him singing English nursery poems. It was interesting to listen to a nomadic boy sing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' and 'Jingle Bell' and he was definitely good at what he had picked up in school. Did I mention that Mongolia has a very good free schooling system? According to stats 98% of Mongolians are literate! :) The kids from these ghers normally ride/walk/drive to towns on Mondays and stay there until Friday evening when they return back home. Baatar and his sister (who had earlier tormented me with cold water) were currently on winter vacations.

After about 30minutes of picture snapping and singing we got to some rock formations where we spent few minutes and then took a U-turn back to the gher. Now from spending past 30-40minutes with Baatar I had not realised that even though he knew the nursery rhymes well and could communicate with bare minimum English, he didn't always understand what I was saying and just replied with a 'Yes'. This however became all so apparent when riding through the desert he looked back at me and asked "You wanna go faster?". Normally being the thrill seeking person I am I would have said "Yes" within a split second but the padding on the saddle was VERY thin while the rest of it was rock hard which made the ride uncomfortable. So I politely refused the offer. However he jumped back with "Yeah! Wanna ride faster? Yeah?!". I said "NO". He said "Yeah!". And thats when it got interesting. He ran like there was no tomorrow and the camel realising that the leash was not a never ending piece of rope followed his master. If the two of them were running by themselves it would be perfectly fine but along with them was your's truely on a double humped camel bobbing up and down as if I was on a giant pogo stick. As much fun as it was I had no idea how to keep the camera in my hand from falling off and making sure I didn't end up falling too. As hillarious as the situation was (imagine an Indian guy in the middle of Gobi tightly hugging the front hump of a double humped camel being lead by a Mongolian teenager running and simultaneously singing nursery rhymes) the immense discomfort from the saddle was turning into pain especially in the groin!

Relief came in the way of Baatar stopping but was shortlived as he looked back and repeated those words again "Faster?!!!!". It didn't matter what I replied. He just turned his back to me and shouted "Faster!!" The banana split at the skiing resort (unpublished post - check later when uploaded!) a week earlier seemed nothing in comparison to the current saddle ride!! The ordeal finally came to an end after Baatar got tired of running but I kept hugging the front hump of the camel awaiting another round of the game which by now I had named "Faster?". Soon we arrived at the ghers in one piece much to my delight! Phew!

We had some breakfast following which the team made themselves useful by packing luggage into the van while I tried to convince the nomads to let me ride their motorbike. After much use of polite Mongolian words which I had learnt in the past few weeks I got the go ahead and boy was I happy?! I sat in the front while one of the nomads sat behind me and off we went. To those of you who don't understand how big a feat it is, I had only ridden a bike once before so doing this here in Gobi was almost like climbing Everest, again! Leo who until now had laughed off my desire of riding the bike, arguing that the nomad would never handover the bike to a novice like me, was giggling with surprise! Katy couldn't be seen, that is until she shouted from the toilet (again three x 1.5m walls at some distance from the ghers) "Don't come here!" In all the excitement of driving the bike I had missed the part where she had walked in front of my face from the gher to the toilet. No harm was done though as I turned the bike around and brought the nomad safely back to the gher.

Goodbyes and thank yous followed soon and off we were again in the Russian 'tank'. The beauty of the Gobi seems to increase ten folds everyday and words defy me to explain the virgin beauty of the nature we have come across in last three days. Steppes after steppes for miles and miles with no civilisation and only occasional wild horses, camels, deer, yaks or their carcasses every now and then. NationalGeographic and Animal Planet were all around us and I didn't want to be anywhere else in the World than in this mesmerising place.

I had charged my camera yesterday at the Aimag town centre but the hundreds of photographs I was taking didn't help in making the battery last too long. Yet again the Austrians came to rescue. Since day1, something had been bothering me - Leo looked familiar and I couldn't figure out where I had seen him before but their immeasurable kindness in lending me the camera finally made me realise his uncanny resembelance to Jesus! God himself had come to rescue me and from then on I decided to call him 'Jesus/Jesusboy'.

The much awaited lunch came next to a cellphone tower which was located in the middle of nowhere. I know I keep using the words "in the middle of nowhere" a lot but never in my life have these 5 words been as true to the meaning as on this trip. It really was the middle of nowhere and we cooked some delicious Mongolian Shabu (soup with vegetables and meat). Tuksuu had worked her magic again and we were now considering on nominating her for an award for her culinary brilliance despite minimalistic availability of ingredients.

We set out after lunch getting to know each other a bit more. The 'Evil Austrians' as I now collectively called them (because of the evil face Katy makes when posing) were both in a band back home (check out their website: called 'Shylock Nerd'. I was in company of rockstars! After I showed them I could beatbox and rap (not really), we discussed many ideas about starting a Mongolian band wherein I would do the rap using Mongolian words and the evil Austrians would work their magic with drums and guitar. This way we could teach Mongolian to foreigners in a cool way :) That very moment something special happened and the course of history or at least Mongolian music charts, was about to change forever as 'The Mavinci's' were born. I suggested this name based on the fact that our first album cover could look like Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' wherein Leo would be Jesus and Katy would be Mary
Magdalin sitting on his right while I would be one of Jesus's homeboy dressed up like the stupid "Flava" guy from MTV's "Flava of Love" with a huge wall clock hanging from my neck. Hence, the Mongolian Leonardo da Vinci's ie 'The Mavincis'. [Please do not write in discussing Jesus and Mary's relation and the Holy Church's or your opinion on the matter]

Our ambitious plans of taking over the Mongolian charts were put to side as we reached our destination for the day, a town called Dalanzadgad. While I was way too happy being in the Gobi far away from the madding crowd, it seemed the Evil Austrians couldn't be happier to be near civilisation as they were longing to shower! We made our way through the town entrance - where many youngsters had lined their cars up for racing in the desert - to our hosts' gher. Mongolian towns have a very interesting town planning. The residential parts of the town mostly consist of ghers with wooden fence around them marking home boundaries. Brick buildings form only a minor part of the town architecture and normally only house government buildings, schools and supermarkets.

By now we had gotten used to our welcoming routines of the evening. The bloodhounds were always the first one to greet us with loud barks which was followed by host families introducing themselves and offering us
Tse and Boortsog. Soon after the snacks we were packed into the van as the Austrians' itch for shower had started to spread like a wildfire amongst other crew members (Ganaa and Tugsuu). We were taken to the town 'Bathing House' to clean ourself as houses (ghers) in towns in Mongolia don't have running water (except in Ulaan Baator).

Wow! Although I wasn't too bothered about showering intially, as soon as I got under the tap of hot water I realised what I had been missing for three days! I didn't want to leave the bath house and the 20minutes for 1500 Tugriks ($1) were worth every penny. Nicely cleaned we all reached back to the gher after making a quick stop at the local supermarket to replenish our supplies.

We celebrated Easter Sunday with some fulfilling
Shabu for dinner in the presence of our Lord Jesusboy who although couldn't turn water into alcohol, was going around offering alcohol he had bought at the supermarkets to the nomads :p

After plugging in all our cameras for recharging and making sure there were no holes anywhere in the gher to prevent last night's events from recurring we all went to sleep for next day's early start.

[Pic1: Gher roof top. Notice the triangular hole in the right hand corner. 
Pic2: Camels around the gher we were staying at.
Pic3: Face wash with freezing water. 
Pic4: Me trying the camel 'frock'. 
Pic5: Leo and Katy on their way back from camel ride. 
Pic6: Me on the camel before we started playing "Faster?! Yeah!". 
Pic7: Tugsuu inside the gher.
Pic8: Me after convincing the nomad to let me ride his bike :) 
Pic9: The MaVincis with Jesusboy in the middle. 
Pic10: Lunch stop. 
Pic11: Me skipping rocks during lunch break. 
Pic12: The 'evil Austrians'. 
Pic13: Gher in Dalanzadgad we stayed at. 
Pic14: Shower! 
Pic15: Dinosaur outside the supermarket called Dino Mart lol 
Pic16: Jesusboy celebrating Easter with Chinngis Vodka]