Day 1 was focused on getting out of Ulaanbaatar (about 2 hours behind schedule, but who's counting) and covering as much terrain as possible. It was a sweltering July day on the long road west. Our furgong - decommissioned Soviet army van - was like a sauna on wheels.
|The sweaty drive from UB to points west|
|View of the Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes and the mountains of the Khungun Tarna Protected Area in the distance|
|A Bactrian camel with a summertime coat and carpet saddle. Temee is 'camel' in Mongolian.|
Bilge and his relatives sorted us by size and selected our camels. As is typical, our young camel guides didn't want us steering ourselves at first, and had us connect the line/reins from our camel's septum piercing into a camel train. All of Bilge's riding camels are gelded males (aht) between 5 and 12 years old. The older the camel, the larger it gets. The 12-year-old camel, ridden by the tallest man in our group, is at least 6 inches taller at the shoulder than all the other camels.
|This camel's septum piercing is held in place with plastic bottle caps|
Horses can be subdued with a small rope loop around the upper lip called a twitch, which I have seen used during veterinary and ferrier visits. In the US, horse handlers will use this non-invasive method to calm and often practically immobilize a horse by tightening the twitch around its upper lip to distract the horse (although some argue that it causes the horse's body to release endorphins, explaining the unusual and immediate calm that comes with twitching). All of this indicates that the nose, especially the mucous-membrane-lined nasal passages, are very sensitive on these kinds of animals.
In Mongolia, I have seen camel and yak septum piercings made either of wood or metal. The piercings themselves may be held in place with bottle caps, rubber rings, or other similar items. My educated guess is that the older a camel is, the more sturdy his septum piercing (usually gelded males are the ones ridden), as the septum becomes less sensitive over time.
|Ready to set off into the dunes. This photo is from when I was still 'city pale'.|
|Day 1 group photo. Note that one camel is significantly larger than the rest due to his age.|
|Drinking from a *really* dirty puddle|
You can tell if a Bactrian camel hasn't had a drink in awhile: its humps will sag and flop over.
|Looking out from inside the Elsen Tasarkhai dunes|
|Close-up brought to you by Cover|
|Sheep and goats graze on the swampy flat just after a rainstorm|
Bilge's family had recently acquired a kitten. This unsurprisingly monopolized our attention when we were not on our camels.
|The camel herding family's kitten: expert ger-climber|
Although very cute, the kitten was almost entirely indifferent to our presence, preferring to scamper about the camels, furgong, and ger:
|Kitten and camels, just like this post promised|
|Just one more|
After our ride Bilge invited us into one of the ger for some airag, which was strong and tasty. We chatted for awhile and he kindly offered us the opportunity to help milk mares for airag production. To my chagrin, we needed to press on before the sun set, and we were forced to decline the generous offer. As the sun began to sink, we headed further west on paved road, as we needed to cover as much distance as possible in order to reach the yak festival in Bat-Ulzii by the next morning.
|Sunset and on the lookout for archaeological features|
Sometime after 9pm, we stopped on the rolling hills west of Khujirt to make camp for the night. Midsummer sunsets are late and spectacular in Mongolia:
|Finally out of the furgong for the day!|