We were on the bus for hours. Flat, bleak, brown plains rolled in front of us, crisp with the onset of winter. I have scoured my photos of Outer Mongolia and have not found a single tree. The wind sweeps across the plains, constant and cold. Eventually we arrive. Here is a photo of a ger. Not a yurt, but it is what you think of as a yurt. It is the kind of dwelling most people in Outer Mongolia live in. Even in Ulan Bator, the capital, they don't do houses very much, although they do the few they have very well. This is a tourist ger, unfortunately. We were tourists, only there for four days, but it looks very like what normal Mongolians live in. It is effectively a round tent, with a waterproof canvas cover. Inside, as you can see, there are trellises, again lined with canvas. House size is described by the number of trellises it takes to surround the wooden floor. The ger is situated on a fairly permanent platform. The Mongolians are largely nomadic, but they don't move often. Usually, they have a platform for their summer ger, and then another in their winter quarters. Between the two layers of canvas, there are several linings of felt. These are added or taken away according to the time of year and the temperature.
We picked up our baggage, and trudged across the field, the grass crackling under our boots, the two Marys, Mona, Carmel and me. The frosts have begun, the gers are in winter felt. They do not look prepossing, and we wonder how wise we were. I look at Mary O'Carroll, "Brace yourself, Bridget." Laughter melts away the tension, and once we go inside it is so warm and comfortable and like a hobbit house, we are perfectly content.
In the foreground of the picture is the stove, a galvanised iron, simply constructed but very efficient heater. In such a bare countryside, yak dung is the common fuel, collected routinely. For the tourists, there was wood, and somebody came in in the middle of the night to feed the stove. You can see the beds on both sides of the door. This is where they are in all gers, and they serve during the day as seating. On our first night, we almost melted with heat. Blankets, bedsocks, even sheets were shed in the sweltering heat. The following night, Carmel volunteered to mind the stove. She meant to try to keep the heat down a bit, but she fell asleep and the stove went out, and it was truly freezing.
On the left of the door in the photo, you can see a sink with a tap. This is connected to a small cistern outside the ger, and filled daily. There is no running water. That's it for washing. The lavatory is across two fields. Waking up in the middle of a night, I put on my thermals, socks, boots, down jacket, hat and gloves and set out. Outside, the full moon shone on Mongolia, beautiful bare bleak plains rolling to rocky spiky mountains. I sat in that field for a long time, and hoped that I would manage another trip to this amazing place.
Our guide asked if we would like a Mongolian barbecue, and of course we would. Well, if you go, don't try it. We had boiled lumps of several sheep. These seemed to be two-legged sheep. Front legs. There was no back end to any sheep brought to this barbecue. And the bones were long enough to be used as weapons, should we have decided to try single combat. So they were very old sheep. Never mind, back to the cosy ger.
Next time, we will bring a hard hat and a bottle of Dettol. Mongolians are typically not very tall, and they all have an instinct to stoop as they are entering a dwelling. We don't have that instinct, and the doors are about 1.5 metres high. So some one of the five of us cracked a skull every time we went in or out. The hard hat would help with that. And at night, if there was no tempting full moon, it would serve another purpose. The Dettol would serve to separate the two functions.