Yesterday I rode a horse through a snow-cloaked valley at such a speed that it was a miracle I managed to stay on. It was both terrifying and exhilarating, and probably an experience I’ll never have again in my life – in England, they don’t tend to put beginners on top of horses which run like they’re escaping wildfire.
We (me, two other volunteers from England and Germany, and an American man and his daughter) hired a van to take us out of the city and into the Mongolian countryside. Unfortunately, this van had no seatbelts, and the potholes were big enough for a full-grown man to lie down in. We drove for miles and miles without seeing anything except for mountains, and a herd of camels surrounded by four enormous eagles. Lord knows what they were doing there… I’ve stopped questioning what I see in Mongolia…
Finally fell out of the van at the ger camp, which looked like this:
Here we were helped onto our horses by a man wearing what looked like an entire fox on his head, the ‘deel’, and curly-toed Mongolian boots. He grabbed my arm to help me up and almost launched me clear of the horse entirely.
I don’t think I will ever forget our horse-trek between the white mountains feathered with trees, partly because that Mongolian may have permanently altered the way my arm hangs by my side, but mostly because the scenery was just so fantastic. It was freezing cold but the sky was deep blue, as ever. Not a sound could be heard in the valley except for the soft moan escaping our guide’s lips. At first I put this down to the Mongolian saddle, which is made out of wood, with no padding whatsoever, but by riding closer to him I realised he was quietly singing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’.
Having already ridden for 2.5 hours, we gladly accepted his invitation and tied our horses up outside the ger, where we were greeted by two rosy-cheeked children dressed in their ‘deels’. Inside, the stove was on, and we gladly filed in to receive milk tea, sweets, buuz and curds (or in Zulaa’s case, what looked to be the whole hind leg of a sheep which he cut from the bone.) The nomad and his family watched us with intrigue.
Then we rode back to the camp, where we met a group of people from the international school. As we sat chatting in a ger, we heard a blood-curdling yowl, and a dog staggered in with its ear hanging off its head. The dogs are always fighting each other out there in the wilderness.
Driving home, we had to stop the van whilst a herd of cattle crossed the road. We also stopped to get photos of ourselves holding an eagle. It was the evening by then, and the sun was setting behind the beautiful Mongolian mountains. As we were about to enter Ulaanbaatar, a full moon rose up behind them.