At the end of the third day of our adventures the jeep failed to start, half-way up a snowy mountain. Fortunately we were on horseback at the time, having just visited a monastery high on a peak, where the renowned Zanabazar meditated in the C17th, and changed the face of Mongolian Buddhist art. The jeep abandoned, we trotted back to the 'ger' where a friendly nomad family had given us a shelter the previous night, lost travellers in the dark. A couple of hours later two Russian micro-buses full of New Zealanders hurtled us back to Karakoram, and safety.
Mongolian landscapes are awesome, and indescribable. I have taken a hundred thousand digital images, so do come and watch them some time.
Watching the constellations shift across the sky through the large hole at the top of a 'ger', as you lie on your couch under many layers of insulation is a marvel. Deciding you need to get up and have a pee in the sub-zero dark outside is equally a marvel, of denial, reluctance, acceptance and eventual fearful exit from the safety of the ger, having first to step over the sleeping bodies of our two drivers and very handsome host. The starry, starry night is dizzying. Are the overfriendly Mongolian hounds asleep, and is it safe to remove one's tackle?
The day after our rescue we return through more awesome scenery to UB, in the company of a handsome elderly couple, wearing the very beautiful traditional silken coats, done up with a cummerbund of contrasting colour, a couple of adorable tiny twins, swaddled in swathes of pink and blue, and assorted others. En route we stop at a roadside hostelry for a hearty mutton soup (we have long since given up trying to be vegetarian in these mountain wastes) which must have half a sheep in it.
Returned to UB we spend a night back at the station hotel, and then remove to our present quarters near the centre, in the most charming guesthouse. David and Joanna have bagged the double room, but I am quite content in my shared dormitory, inhabited at present by two beautiful Buryat girls from Ulan Ude, and their older protector or uncle. From the look of their huge bags they are traders, but who knows in what. 'Uncle' plies me with vodka, which is very welcome after our ordeal, which aids bonhomie and smiles, but does not help linguistically. Genghis Khan guesthouse must be the cleanest and friendliest in all of Mongolia.
Facts and figures: Mongolia's population is 2.8 million. One million live in the capital, 100,000 in Erdenet, and the rest are scattered in a landmass the size of Western Europe! Awesome indeed. The people are charming and friendly, and goodlooking.
Today we will visit a museum of political persecution - Mongolia has a shady communist past, dominated as it was by the Soviet Union. Then we go shopping. Love to all.