Sunday, June 18, 2023

Sharing a cup of tea. June 4, 2023


We had a long drive ahead of us, heading south for our time in the Gobi. Our destination was the Ongi Monastery.  This was one of the largest temple complexes in Mongolia. Unfortunately, the complex was destroyed during the ant-religious purges in the 1930s. In the 1990s it was decided to rebuild the monastery and the first temple was re-inaugurated  in 2004. But first we had to get there! 

I am going to be honest. I don't remember a lot of the drive itself, but I do distinctly remember two stops. We pulled over for a quick break by a very dry hill. I didn't expect to see anything, so I didn't even have my binoculars. I noticed a small sandy colored animal up on the hill. I said "There is an animal up there," and went to the car for my binoculars. I was excited to see a fox. Sergie looked through my binoculars and said it was a steppe fox. It is better known as a corsac fox. It sat and watched us as we watched it. Then in loped off. We also saw our first Mongolian gazelles! 

We stopped for a tea break in a very remote spot. As we broke out the cookies we saw a guy herding sheep on his motorcycle. He stopped and chatted with our driver and then came over and shared our tea. He had a beat up Russian issued pair of binoculars he was checking his sheep with. Sergie asked if he could see my binoculars. I handed them to him and he looked very surprised when he looked through him. He turned and held out his Russian ones, grinned and motioned that he wanted to trade. We all laughed. I wish I had been able to give them to him, but I am not that good a person. I asked if I could take his photo and he was happy to oblige.

We also started seeing our first bactrian camels. I always preferred the bactrians when we went to the zoo when I was a kid. I was very excited to see them wandering the range. Some of them had ear tags and some were marked with circles. They were darker than I expected and starting to shed their wnter  coats, so they looked a little ratty, I asked Sergie about wild bactrians, but we were not going to be in range for them.

We arrived at our next camp, Secret of Ongi, which is situated on the banks of the Ongi river. We had been told it was likely that the river would be dry, due to mining in the area, but it was flowing nicely. The camp was very nice and the setting was beautiful! There is a small mountain that reminded me of the Big Bend area of Texas. My ger was very nice and the restaurant was lovely! After lunch I wandered along the river and had a number of birds, including Gray Wagtail, Little Ringed-plover, Thick-billed Warbler, and Black-faced Bunting. Max and Rami climbed the mountain. 

A bit later we walked up to the monastery, which was less than a mile away. On the way I saw Tolai hares, which I was excited about. It ended up we saw a lot of them by the end of the trip. There was a service going on at the monastery, which we sat in on for a short period. After the service ended we saw a very elderly, very tiny woman being helped out. Sergie told us she was 103 years old! She was well known for having helped soldiers during World War II by giving them food and other provisions. Sergie showed us an old news story about her. 

We returned to the camp and had a very nice dinner. I splurged on a bottle of Chardonnay for us to share. There was a performance by a gentleman playing the traditional horse-head fiddle and a young woman did a Mongolian dance. I was surprised at how much music he could produce with just two strings! 

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