Friday, August 04, 2006

When the grass is high....

U bain (‘sup) viewers?
This interregnum has been, to date, the longest ever hiatus this blog has yet experienced. Ochlaraai (apologies, viewers). While realizing that the readership for this piffle has now dwindled to less than a handful, we are delighted that someone actually noticed at all. So shouts-out then for Swithun, who poked us with a stick to see if we were dead or just sleeping.

Thing is, July is the all time high holiday month in Mongolia, and this year more than most. With dextrous scheduling, Mongolian holidays happen in January (Tsagaan Tsar) and July (Naadam), and last about in a week in each case. None of your long Arbor day weekend here and President’s birthday there rubbish for Mongolia. If you’re going on holiday, then make a decent muttony meal of it, and blow off the whole week. On top of which, July is the month when it begins to get genuinely hot. So between public hols and weather, it’s hard month to spend in front of a computer.

So we didn’t. First off was a sally to Lake Huvsgul, the 12th largest body of fresh water in the world, southern cousin to Lake Baikal. However, unrelenting rain meant that what should have been a easy morning’s drive from the sniggeringly entitled town of Moron to the lake’s edge turned into many rivers to cross, without so much as a Jimmy Cliff tape in the player to help us out. On our first attempt, we balked at the second river, as we would have had to cross 500 metres of floodwater against the current, a prospect less than concerting. When other cars were being hauled across by road graders, it seemed a slightly silly choice, given our lack of heavy earth moving equipment. On our second attempt the following day, what had been mighty torrents had disappeared altogether, leaving behind rocky riverbeds and tumbled trees, but no water. We had obviously imagined it all.

On we went up the western shore of the good lake, wending through forests and fording yet more rivers still in flood. It was later noticed that we were the first car to attempt the route in some days without a convoy- others had traveled up the lake by boat, having been told the road was impassable. Just goes to show what you can accomplish when you’re ignorant. The lake itself is fully splendid- as clear as a window, unspoilt by people, bereft of boats, and so clean you can wash your car with it. No wonder Mongolian Expat magazine lists it as one of the Six Places you Must Visit in Mongolia. Only doing what we’re told, viewers.

The trip, while ultimately pretty routine by Mongolian standards, was also confirmation of what we learned last Naadam: five days doesn’t get you very far in a place as big as this one, and any trip in Mongolia, no matter what the distance, will take five hours. Just will. Plan your in-ride entertainment and hydration strategy accordingly.

By being out of town, we missed the triumphant ceremonies marking the 800th anniversary of the Great Mongolian State. In 1206 (or thereabouts), Chinggis Khan (Genghis to you ill-educated out there) managed to unify the various warring tribes of Mongolia and create a credible nation which was a challenge/counterbalances to the Xi Xia in the east and the Jin in the south. From there on out, it was world domination, leaving such legacies to the world as a reopened overland route form Europe to Asia, the Forbidden City in Beijing (built by Kubilai Khan, Chinggis’s grandson), three kinds of Chinggis vodka, Chinggis beer, the Chinggis Club (three of them), Chinggis Khan international airport, and confusion to our enemies. To celebrate, all Naadam festivities were presented in multiples of 800, so there were 800 horsehead fiddlers, 800 long-song singers, 800 archers, and so on. A new and imposing statue of Chinggis was unveiled outside Parliament House, flanked by two of his generals on horseback. A few days later, 800 pieces of scaffolding were replaced as the whole edifice was 800 hours (or days) behind schedule . But hey, you don’t build a legacy 800 years strong overnight.

And finally, as a glittering finale on the 31st, geriatric German hard rock outfit the Scorpions played a gig on Sukhbataar Square. Lack of promotional material and forewarning (it was billed as a ‘surprise gig’ which is fine as long as someone knows where they should be standing to get their surprise) meant that the first our correspondent heard or saw of it was on UB television, the programming of which is esoteric enough that it was in no way surprising to find the Scorpions on it. However, nor was there anything to suggest in was happening just down the street. Imagine our surprise when last nights bleary eyed teevee watching turned into the next day’s front page. No word on whether ‘Winds of Change’ was retrofitted to include references to the siege of Samarkand.

German guitars aside, the summer has also been punctuated by short, speedy zooms down unsuspecting mountain and hillsides. Back in January, getting a jump on midlife crisis issues, I parted one young Settle resident from his mountain board. For those of you uncertain about such matters, a mountain board is basically an overlong skateboard with knobbly rubber tyres, intended to help you get down that slope in double quick time. You get to the top of a hill. You get on your board. You go down it. It is, in a phrase, much much stupid fun. And a country as wavy as the ocean with limited trees. Mongolia, meet mountain board. Play nice. Having accumulated a fair selection of scratches on my pointy bits while getting to grips with this improved method of dealing with pesky downhills, I knuckled under and scored some pads last week. Within metres of first putting on protection, I hit a marmot hole full on, and tumbled ass over teakettle into the flowers, thus proving that pads aren’t just for fashion, and Poetic Justice isn’t just amovie with Janet Jackson in it.

So if in the next few weeks this blog is once again punctuated by silence and atrophy, then it’s because we are off tearing around the countryside on four small wheels. And if the wind gets up, one adds a kite to the equation, and sails across the steppe. That’s where we’ll be, viewers.

Saihan amaraaraa,


1 comment:

all carbon said...

I missed the high holidays by a week when I was in Mongolia. Wish I could have seen it. Left UB with a pair of cool boots though even though. I miss Mongolia and am trying to figure out how I can make my way back there again.