Friday, June 24, 2016

Momgolia Part 2: Чингис Хот бас Дадал Сум (Chinggis Town and Dadal soum)

            The first few days in Chinggis were pleasant, albeit hot for Linda. After the rush and bustle of UB, it was really nice to slow down and just chill a little. The first night back, I cooked chicken fettuccine alfredo from scratch.

On Thursday, we were in no particular rush, so we wasted the morning away, went grocery shopping in the afternoon, and spent the evening enjoying pizza with our site mates. Linda had the unique experience of meeting so many of the people that make appearances in this blog. It was a pleasant evening with friends.
From Left: YeoWon, Kyra, Sally, Ophelia, Caleb, Linda
On Friday morning we went to Kyra’s school, so Linda could buy some handmade goods from the students and teachers at the vocational school. Linda found a number of nice wood carved/felt goods that were far cheaper and more meaningful than souvenirs bought at a store in UB. That evening we traveled to Sally’s CP Nyamka’s house for a traditional Mongolian dinner consisting of homemade tsuivan and Korean pork. It was also an opportunity to work out logistics for our trip to Dadal soum (soum refers to a small community usually with only a couple thousand people). Nyamka and her husband had agreed to provide transportation on this adventure.

Khentii Aimag is one of the most historical provinces in Mongolia. Dadal marks the supposed birthplace of Chinggis Khan. Dadal soum is located in the northeastern corner of Khentii. Mongolians all over the country as well as Chinese from what is sometimes referred to as inner Mongolia make the pilgrimage to this historic site to celebrate the most famous and infamous Mongolian. To travel to Dadal, one must take a sturdy vehicle 300 km (188 miles) north of Chinggis sometimes on dirt roads, sometimes with no roads. The trip is estimated to take anywhere from 6-10 hours based on road conditions, unexpected car problems, and just getting lost.

When we found out that Linda was coming to Mongolia, Sally and I decided that this was something we had to do with her. Knowing that this trip would be exhausting and difficult, we decided to do it at the half-way mark of Linda’s adventure with rest days on either end. There was also something poetic in her journey, since it starts at UB, becomes more rural with Chinggis Town, and finally complete remoteness and isolation in Dadal. Once she had seen the birthplace of Chinggis, her journey is one that slowly returns to civilization tracing the same route she had taken into some of the most sparsely populated ground on the planet.

We left for Dadal Saturday afternoon. Our journey was beautiful. Khentii is absolutely gorgeous this time of year. The land is full of rolling green mountains and long flat grasslands. Herds of cattle, horses, sheep, and goats wander peacefully through the pastures. The air is fresh and pure, and it is so clear that one can see for insurmountable distances in all directions. The only signs of human habitation are the occasional gers that dot the landscape.
On the road to Dadal. View while fixing a flat tire.
7 hours into the ride to Dadal
It was also a difficult journey. Nyamka’s husband was an excellent driver, but he could not control the unforgiving roads. Similar to being on a boat in rough seas, one must focus often on the horizon in order to avoid car sickness. A sharp rock gave us a flat about 200 km (125 miles) into the journey. This delayed our trip, because we had to stop at the next soum in order to find a tire repair shop.
Ducks on the Onon River just outside of Dadal
The last 50 km (31 miles) of our journey was awe-inspiring. It was around 9pm, and we had been in the car for 8 hours. The day had been cold and uncharacteristically cloudy leading to a beautiful sunset that seemed to last forever. As we neared Dadal, the landscape changed. Trees were suddenly visible. The road weaved through dense valleys of shrubs. Suddenly the dirt road became a large concrete bridge that crossed the Onon river. Around 10:30pm, after the sun had set we arrived utterly exhausted at a ger camp in Dadal. 
Sunset on the Onon River
Linda, Sally, Nyamka, and Nyamka's husband
Saturday morning was an opportunity to site-see in the small village that Mongolians everywhere revere. There was a small pond by our camp. Sally had wanted to feed the ducks, but that seemed unlikely, so she settled on feeding the Mongolian “ducks”.
Sally feeding the "Ducks"
Linda, Sally, and a duck outside the ger we slept in.
Elaborate post inside the ger
Linda investigating the ger stove.
Our camp also had a massive rock depiction of Chinggis and a dense pine forest that Sally and I spent some time relishing. It is hard for us to equate our sometimes dusty and beak town with the natural beauty of north Khentii.
Sally and Linda next to monument of Chinggis Khan
Downtown Dadal, we are the only vehicle on the street
Linda feels satisfied after her first adventure with a squat-toilet.
Nyamka and her husband joined us around 10am and together we went to the sacred Овоо (awaah--sacred site located on the top of a mountain) that is the celebrated monument to Chinggis Khan’s birth. The овоо was on top of a hill on the outskirts of town that was surrounded by immensely beautiful scenery. Far to the north, we could see the mountains that mark the Mongolian/Russian border. Linda and Sally took the opportunity to tie Хадаг (hadik are ceremonial scarfs) to the овоо in remembrance of loved ones. Tying a хадаг to a sacred site is a common tradition in Mongolia to celebrate loved ones who have passed on or to say prayers or wishes for the future.
View from the овоо, the mountains to the right are the Russian border. "I can see Russia from my back yard!"
The Овоо that celebrates Chinggis Khan's birth. 
After the sacred birth place, we traveled to a spring not far from town. We each drank from the holy spring and anointed our heads with its water. A sign near the spring proclaimed the safety of the water with detailed water testing reports.
Anointment at the Sacred spring
Sally at the sacred spring

In the distance is Russia. 
We left Dadal around 1pm, and set off toward home. The return journey was equally if not more beautiful than the first. It was a typical Mongolian day with warm sunshine and clear skies. We stopped in the second soum (our 300 km (188 miles) journey traveled through three villages of maybe 2000 individuals) around 6pm for roadside Mongolian stir-fry. We ordered the egg and bell pepper stir-fry to split three ways. In Mongolia this means that there was egg or pepper with copious amounts of fried mutton and fat.
Gate marking the entrance to Dadal Soum. Nyamka's husband, Sally, Linda, Nyamka. 
Returning home around 10pm, we retired to the comfort of our apartment. The journey, while difficult and fast, was an amazing way to capture the life and spirit of Mongolia in a way that a tourist would never get to experience. 


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