Staying with nomads is always a very special experience, but the event becomes even more special if the family you are staying at, is the family of your driver. We could really tell that Gomboo was super excited to go home, seeing his wife, his almost 2 year old daughter and his parents again. Before our departure deeper into Mongolia’s grasslands, we decided to do an early morning climb to the ovoo on top of the hill. From here we had a great view over the river and valley below. But the main reason for our visit was pay our respects to the ovoo and “sacrifice” some stones. Traditions say you have to sacrifice three stones and walk three times clockwise around the ovoo, to make your wish come true. So we did and wished for an amazing stay at Gomboo’s family.
After walking three times around the ovoo it was time for breakfast before hitting 250km of paved (:-)) road. We first downloaded some disco music on request of the Team and then hit the road with Bony M’s Rasputin blasting through the speakers.
The road we were driving is called the green road. Named after the green landscapes with its smalls streams, valleys, glowing hills and trees. The first trees that we have actually seen so far in Mongolia! The landscape is still long stretched, but has become more ‘crowded’ compared to the Gobi. Small villages and more family gers can be seen along the road, without losing the feeling of Mongolian emptiness. Instead of spotting herds of camels, we are now spotting herds of Jaks grazing Mongolia’s grasslands. After a few hours we make a short stop at a beautiful gorge, with quite a spectacular view. We can see eagles soaring beneath us through the gorge. Absolutely stunning.
After another hour we reach the gates of Terhiyn Tsagaan Nuur NP, the White Lake National Park. We drive across lavarock formations and pass the Khorgo Vulcano, which has shaped this area, before turning right into a beautifull lush green valley, with a small river and trees on the surrounding mountains. Deeper in the valley we can see the gers of the family. A few minutes later father and daughter are reunited again.
As soon as we arrive we experience some true Mongolian hospitality. We are invited into the family’s ger and are offered some homemade milktea and dry yoghurt curd cookies. We get the chance to see how the nomadic life is in the grasslands, and it is quite different compared to the life of the Gobi nomads. Life is less hard in the summer compared to the heat of the desert and there is more rain, thus more food for the animals. In the late afternoon we are helping the family prepare fried dumplings for dinner. It looks easy, but folding them proofs to be bloody difficult. After a few tries the conclusion is that we lack technique and we leave it to the professionals. However folded they are still delicious.
After dinner the real nomad comes out of our driver as Gomboo puts on his riding gear and jumps onto his saddled horse. It is time to bring the Sarlag (the Jaks) back home from the grazing fields in the mountains. We spend the next hours entertaining his daughter and talking to the family. We enjoy our first homemade vodka. It is made from the yoghurt of the Jak, which they boil after the fermentation process is done. The steam is collected and forms the vodka, which is very tasty and not as strong as the bottles you can buy in the shops. We hear the sounds of the herd coming closer, and now the real fun starts! The many calfs need to be separated from their mothers and need to be put in a paddock. This is necessary to give the mothers more time to graze and produce more milk for the next morning. Gomboo, on his horse, is separating them from their mothers and then we need to guide the calfs to the paddock by using our arms and voice. So much fun and we have the feeling that we could help a bit! After we have guided the rest of the herd back to the grassland it is time to enjoy the rest of the evening by playing the ankle bone game. Which of course we lose…again. But we do get better at it!
The next morning we wake up early to help with milking the Jaks. The calfs are allowed to drink for a few minutes before being separated again, so we can milk the mothers. Koen needs to get the calfs, tie them to the fence so the girls can milk the Jaks. This process is repeated a couple of times, before releasing the calfs again. Milking turned out to be a lot easier than folding dumplings. But milking multiple nipples at the same time remains difficult. Koen also wanted to try, but he didn’t fit under the jak with his legs, which caused a lot of laughter from the rest of the group.
After milking it is time for breakfast, where we get to try fresh Jak butter for the first time. This is super jummie! The rest of the morning we relax and we get to watch a special event: preparing some typical Mongolian BBQ. The head of the family caught a marmot to celebrate the fact that Gomboo is back home again. They take out the insides of the animal and heat some stones until they are smoking hot. The marmot is then stuffed again with some herbs, onion, intestines and the hot stones. It is sewn back ‘together’ and then blowtorched to burn of the hairs and placed back on the fire. We get to try a few pieces, but this is clearly a family feast so they get to enjoy the biggest part of the marmot. The rest of the lunch consists out of delicious steamed dumplings.
In the afternoon it is time to do some horseriding to the White Lake and to the Khorgo volcano. It is a great place to explore by horse and it definitely beats driving a car. At the foot of the volcano we leave our horses and hike to the crater by foot. From the top you can see the lake. We took some time to enjoy the view and in the meantime some Korean tourists wanted to take pictures of Koen for being a giant. After returning home we enjoy dinner and a lovely treat for dessert: fresh Jak yoghurt. Probably the best yoghurt ever!!! After dinner it is time again for Gomboo to bring back the Jaks. We ask him if he is willing to wear the Gopro armour, which he is very excited about. We now have some amazing footage of Gomboo herding the Jaks from the back of his horse (still waiting on Koen’s movie though). We are of course helping again with the seperation of the calfs. In the evening we enjoy a campfire with two Dutch tourists that arrived in the late afternoon.
After a fantastic pancake breakfast and some more milking it is time to say our goodbyes and continue with our tour. We can honestly say that this was the most special part of our trip. What a wonderful family and what an amazing place. We have promised ourselves that we will come back someday!