Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mongolia - The Land

The landscape of the Gun-Gulaat Nature Preserve is very barren but immensely beautiful. Pictures do not nearly do it justice simply because the beauty lies in its vastness.The steppe terrain is rugged and dotted with steep hills and rocky ravines. The frigid climate and lack of vegetation meant that it was only through domestic animals that life on the steppe became possible. It was therefore ‘survival’ that forced a certain way of life on the people; a nomadic lifestyle. This in turn meant that they were naturally superior warriors- physically hardened and masterful on horseback. Since the horse was key to their survival, Mongolians honor the fastest with a traditional burial. They bury the horse under rocks and place the skull on top. I came atop this one at the top of the hill just outside of the camp.

There is no land ownership in Mongolia which is why you can see gers dotting he landscape with no sign of any fences. Herds of sheep, goats, horses, cows and yaks roam freely. If you watch them long enough, they eventually make their way to some source of water, the very heart of survival. Everyone in the region I was visiting relies on the Kherlen River for a source of water. Since its shared by everyone, animals and people alike, parasites such as Giardia are a concern. Giardiasis is a diarrheal disease caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia. A parasite is an organism that feeds off of another to survive. Once a person or animal (for example,  cattle, horse, sheep, or goats) has been infected with Giardia, the parasite lives in the intestines and is passed in feces. Once outside the body, Giardia can sometimes survive for weeks or months. Giardia can be found within every region of the U.S. and around the world. Having a good filter would be a good idea but since those aren't readily available in Mongolia, they do the next best thing which is boiling it. Once water reaches a boil, all you have to do is let it continue to boil for another minute and all the bacteria and parasites in the water should be killed. So feel confident partaking in the tea which will be offered by EVERYONE in Mongolia. I drank it for every meal with the water source coming straight out of the river and I did not get sick over my two week stay.

Most of my mornings began with a trek far into the steppes to get a feel for the country and the land that Ghengis Khan himself once road across. Because there would be no rescue team coming for me if I were to get lost or hurt, I packed a bag ready to overnight and start a fire if need be. This is truly an environment where you need to be confident in your own survival skills. I learned quickly that wood is very scarce on the steppes. Dry dung was the best source of fuel here and there was plenty of that. The dry grass was excellent tinder as I found when I lit a fire every night in my ger. But I took a candle with me just in case as few things can burn as long or steadily as a candle.

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