So before I get to the road trip part, it’s currently Tsaagan Sar (Lunar New Year)! So Khovd is pretty hopping, and by “pretty hopping” I mean the streets are deserted but the parking lots are packed as people go around visiting friends and family. Today I hung out with one of my students–she’s Kazakh, and therefore doesn’t celebrate Tsagaan Sar, but she called me up and was like “TEACHER YOU WILL COME TO MY HOME IN TEN MINUTES,” so off I went. I got to see the university dorms for the first time. They would look just like dorms in America if dorms in America contained four beds and an industrial-sized meat freezer.
I had a lovely late lunch with her and her roommates. At one point she asked me if I like eating Kazakh people and I said “Yes, I love it,” because I’m pretty sure that’s not what she meant. Unless it is what she meant, in which case the entire university will, as of Monday, think I’m a cannibal. They already think I’m a witch because I live alone, so really the cannibalism part just adds to the legend. By the end of the semester, I’d like to have them convinced I’m a cannibal witch who also dabbles in piracy.
Anyway, back to my Mongol Road Trip, Part III, in which I journey from Darkhan to Sükhbaatar by train.
I arrived in Sükhbaatar and was immediately greeted by New Peace Corps Friend.
The day after my arrival was a fairly eventful one, as another volunteer’s turtle had recently died and I had the good luck to arrive just in time for its funeral. The somber procession first involved a snowy hike through a Middle Earth landscape, except instead of the One Ring, these hobbits carried a shovel and a dead turtle.
Then we dug a grave in the frozen ground.
When that was surprisingly unsuccessful, we started looking for rocks to build a cairn. But the rocks were all buried under two feet of snow, so then we just gathered sticks, because every turtle deserves to rest under a twig tepee.
The sad burial of said turtle was followed by a lovely and snowy morin khuur rendition of Ave Maria, and since we’ve already established that I am a morin whore, I took pictures.
Obviously, the turtle’s funeral was followed by a wake. It’s what he would have wanted.
The next day, New Peace Corps Friend took me around to all the sites. First stop, Mother Tree, which we hit up with our taxi driver who was super emotionally invested in making sure we did not fuck up visiting as sacred a site as Mother Tree.
As you can probably tell from these pictures, the Mother Tree site is pretty important to the Mongolians. There was incense lighting:
And walking around the entire site three times while throwing the milk and rice we’d brought into the air as offerings to the sky gods.
As you can probably imagine, the intense amount of edible offerings means that Mother Tree has the best-fed birds and dogs that I have seen this winter:
The original Mother Tree, I found out, actually burned down not too long ago, thanks in part to all the milk offerings that were made to it, which had the unfortunate side effect of drying out the bark and ensuring it went up like a stack of kindling, which is more or less what it had turned into. But it’s cool, you can still pay homage to the site of the original Mother Tree!
There’s also New Mother Tree fifty feet away, which probably helps.
After the awesomeness of Mother Tree, we got our taxi driver to take us up to the border park!
The park, suffice to say, is gorgeous. For starters, giant rocks.
Followed by views that just keep getting better as you go up.
With the welcome addition of statues to pose with, even if one of them turned out to be a six-foot baby in a diaper. Too scary to take a picture of, sorry.
Those appear to be two small, iced-over bridges connecting two large, iced-over boulders that are a fatal fall away from…well, fatality.
LET’S PLAY ON THEM.
Verdict: Who knew staring at Siberia could be so awesome?
And here’s us and our super awesome taxi driver who didn’t totally get why we wanted a picture with him.
New Peace Corps Friend had to work the next day, so I spent the better part of the morning running around Sükhbaatar, eventually deciding to climb the hill because I’ve yet to meet a hill that isn’t taunting me and saying mean things about my mother (and therefore must be vanquished). Along the way I ran into a monument to what was apparently an alien spacecraft
plus also Chinggis Khan’s wife.
Whatever, made it up!
And that was Sükhbaatar! Later that afternoon I caught a bus back to Darkhan, which dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and I had to call a friend to talk to the Mongolians around me to figure out where I was. After locating myself, it was a taxi to the bus stop followed by another taxi to Erdenet (i.e., the topic of the next blog post) because by that point the buses had stopped running.
Thanks New Peace Corps Friend for the best weekend of my trip!