JULY/AUGUST 2009 Journey to the Tsaatan.
Mongolia: Journey to the Taiga
'The ever renewing cycles of life.'
Mongolia; the very name conjures up visions of far off exotic lands and of course the great Chinggis Khan who we in the west call Gengis Khan, a man who conquered more land than anyone else on the planet. The symbol Paul carves "changes" its shape just as he is about to do a final polish. It takes on a totally different feel and it comes alive for us. Have no idea of what it means and we can see so many things in the form it has chosen...animals and flowers, waves and clouds and more. The people it is to go through are the Tsaatan of the East Taiga....the last of the reindeer herders. Way in the North and remote even by Mongolian standards....they still live very much by shamanic traditions and it is they we hope will bless the stone and give us a clue as to what it means. Paul feels it will then go to Lake Khovsgol, also know as the Blue Pearl which is the clearest bluest lake you could ever imagine seeing and holds 2% of the worlds fresh water. Here it will rest until it is called on by the other symbols to do the work they have been designed to do.Aunty Jo has decided that she is coming along after a very strong dream and for the first time we have advertised for other people to join us. Sheila, pronounce Shayla, from Brazil is drawn to come with us just weeks before we are to leave. She tells us that she took one look at why we are going and what we are hoping to do and the pull to join us is too strong for her to let it go. Sheila had been getting the "pull" to go to Mongolia for two years, now it falls into place for her.
We meet Jo in Seoul and Sheila in Ulaanbaataar the capital of Mongolia. Olly and Goyo who work for Panoramic Journeys, the company who organised our tour for us, meet us for dinner that first night and explain all the logistics of getting to the Tsaatan and just what may be in store for us. We are all very excited about heading off the next day.
A short flight to Muron and we meet our guide Esee, our driver Monkoh and off across the countryside we go in a Russian built van with our supplies. The scenery is so similar to Tibet that we have to remind ourselves where we are. There are even marmots and yaks. The roads are just car tracks for 90% of the time and we soon get used to the bumping around. Sheila has to deal with car sickness so sits in the front for most of the car parts of our journey. That night we arrive at Tsagaanur.
The White Lake to stay at the TCVC, Tsaatan Community and Visitors Center set up to ensure that the people benefit from visitors to the area through a source of sustainable income. It is also a way of addressing other problems such as litter and possible breaches of conduct. We are handed a booklet that explains social protocols, what to bring and how our visit will benefit the Tsaatan. The rooms and bedding are basic, there are outside long drops (toilets), food is great, cooked by a young girl at the center and too much of it. This will be a theme. We were hoping to loose some weight.
There is a few hour drive the next morning to where we pick up our horses and horse handler Shaghah plus extras. Then we are off and soon riding through a larch forest on what is only a horse trail of sorts. It is pretty tough riding as you have to concentrate all the time. The weather is great..cool but great. Not so for others as we were to find out. Big floods and lots of rain everywhere else except on us!
Seven hours later we arrive at the camp. We have all had moments where we walked for awhile as we are just so sore. Jo and I are the last to arrive and the walk down a mountainside into the Tsaatan valley saw our legs just about give up. What an amazing place! I struggle into my ortz (teepee) for the night after greeting our hosts and fall asleep as one of the women makes my bed around me as I cannot move anymore.
Daylight and there are reindeer and wolf looking dogs everywhere. I am not going to go into any more detail about our stay here other than to say that against all odds we met with a shaman who performed a ceremony for us and told us all about our symbol, when to do the gifting ceremony and then blessed us all individually. Such an honour and a very rare thing for visitors. A few more days of riding out and about saw our time with the Tsaatan over and we left our hearts behind. Two days later and we are beside Lake Khuvsgol at a ger camp for a day of R'n'R. Fun horse riding by the Lake YEH! Then we move to another ger camp for the day of the full moon when we will do the sacred stone ceremony.
How did it all go? How did Paul save a passing woman's life? That is for our third book and all I can say is that we had some amazing adventures. Lots of learnings, laughter, a few tears and lots of wonderful moments in a beautiful land with beautiful people. Oh and Jo has a "long drop" story for the book.
A big thank you to Olly,Goyo and the gang at Panoramic Journeys: You couldn't have put a better journey together for us and you thought of our every need. Esee our amazing guide...hope your nose has healed..oops from Paul! ; Shaghai and all helpers, our drivers especially Monkoh and then there is the Tsaatan community who extended us such a warm and heartfelt welcome. Reindeer milk...yum!! we dream of it. Thank you also to Jo and Sheila whose company gave the journey a wonderful touch and many great memories.