Notes from Mongolia (Part 1)
During the summer of 2019, I spent 10 days on the Mongolian steppe, sleeping in a ger camp (a ger is a Mongolian yurt), with no electricity or running water, many hours from the nearest road. It was an incredible adventure, much more than a typical vacation. I’m a different person because of the experience and before more time goes on I want to capture some of the things I found most interesting.
“People don’t take trips — trips take people.” ― John Steinbeck
A Gift to the Nervous System.
Western culture is always on. Work life balance means responding to email, slack, and IM on nights and weekends. There are many great things about our hyper connected, always on world, but we know it’s not good for mental health. The camp we stayed at was very remote. It took me a 15 hour flight from NYC to China, a 2 hour connecting flight to Ulan Batar, 6 hours on the road, and the last 2 hours driving over grass with no roads at all. The place where we got dropped off was beautiful — look at the grass, clouds, and hills. But it’s more beautiful for what you don’t see — no roads, airplanes, wires, or buildings.
The sese of calm I felt in this remote place, deep down to my core is indescribable.
The Land of No Fences
There is very little land ownership in Mongolia. Half of the country still lives as nomads, with the same customs and traditions that have been passed down over thousands of years. Nomad doesn’t mean wandering without a home. Nomads might move between different camps for different seasons, a summer camp and a winter camp for example, but they typically keep the same camps year after year. The nickname, the land of no fences, describes the vast open land with no ownership. Spending time here made me stop and pause to consider how much of western society and culture is rooted in property ownership?
If you accidentally bump into someone on the street it is customary to make eye contact and shake hands. I witnessed the spirit of this cultural norm play out in a most extraordinary way. In the capital city of Ulan Batar I saw a pedestrian get hit by a car crossing a busy 4 lane street. The driver immediately stopped the car, rushed to this persons side, helped him up, put him in his back seat and they drove off together, presumably to the hospital. It made me think. What if this happened back home in the US? Bystanders would take their phones out to start filming, police and ambulance would be called, and the driver and victim would wait.
Food and Diet
The Mongolian nomad diet could be described as the opposite of plant based. Mongolian nomads are herders, not farmers. They don’t have access to farm fresh vegetables but they do live with large herds of yaks, goats, sheep and horses. Their diet is almost 100% animal based. All dairy and meat. They spend hours, multiple times per day, milking their animals, and then make various cheeses, yogurts and the Mongolian national drink of airag (fermented mares milk).
That’s all I have for part 1. In part 2 I’ll write about Buddhism, Naadam festival, and horse back riding.