We have camped early at 1656 metres on the shores of this enormous clear blue lake. A small rivulet flows under the last sheet of winter ice, the actual ice being only a 50 metre patch. At this height and with the lakes breeze it has been a comfortable ride under the "eternal blue skies" of Mongolia. The first 19 kilometres of our journey were traversed along a Rangers footrack at about 7 kilometres per hour. This was very pleasant riding in tight forest past small flowing streams but the technical skills required to remain perpendicular mostly evaded me. Eventually we looped back onto a gravel track and then made good speed to our night stop. The track had again faded away, so our onward journey would be decided in the dawn.
Last evening I spent time with Cowboy, a local boy of about 21 years, whom I helped hitch his oxen for the forty minute return journey to collect the Guesthouses water. The collection is done in the evening as once loaded with 200 litres the natural instinct for the animal is to head home. A five year old boy sat on the cart with me. His job was to strike the animal with a jagged wire, whilst Cowboy called out: huck! to speed up the animal. The beast certainly felt pain upon the rough gravel path and would stubbornly veer to the grass, thereupon lengthening our journey. After worrying about the water running out at Moron I now have empathy for the water carriers even if they have the comfort of a cell phone in hand! Our journey has seen very large eagles, marmots comically scurrying to their tunnels and the pleasant sounds of what is probably a cuckoo each night. Today we passed a Tourist Camp with the local reindeer people selling moccasins and good quality jackets. The sight of Oriental tourists being photographed on a mock-up reindeer was very weird, so we simply rode on. The Ger camps have thinned out and with the lack of cattle to be herded it seems that this picturesque forest is ours for the night. My thoughts now reflect upon yesterday: In the main square of Khatgal was an inscription in Uigher script which he translated as: "A strong man can do many things and a brave man can do anything". Above was the Korean yin and yang symbol which Sookie (i.e. Cowboy) considers to be two intertwined fish which are considered sacred to Buddhists. That being said; a local boy was selling fish to a Dutchman for 1000 togrog ($1.25 AUD). Buddhism is not universal in this country. There are not the incense burning or rice offerings on the footpaths, unlike Hindu Bali. People wear saffron sashes and every high point in the land has a cairn of rocks; Ooovoo ; with coloured cloth tied to sticks. Often old walking sticks or crutches are ceremoniously left at these sites. People add rocks to the Ooovoo and do a brief prayer motion before moving on. Occasional Buddha symbols are found in homes with a candle burning alongside.
***with the Soviets leaving the country in the early 1990s, younger Mongolians are rediscovering their old religious cultures and re-interpreting them in more modern ways.