I went on a number of excursions while Buriat and his family were organising my trip
to Chandman district. One of
them was a visit to relatives up the
We travelled with most of his extended family in his brother lorry. I was in the cab,
most of the others were in the open topped back. Onwards and upwards passing
flocks of sheep and goats and
fording small rivers. We had break at Pagam’s sisters
Milk tea, cheese and curds, followed by Airag (fermented mare’s milk).
This was hung in a leather sack in the south west section of the ger.
I was invited to stir the mixture with a wooden stirrer. It took a while to get the twisting action
that enabled the mixture to bubble and help it continue the fermentation process.
Airag has a mildly sour and tangy taste that is weakly alcoholic. The Mongolians love it
and will take any opportunity to quaff down bowls full. I have even been told that there
is a cleansing regime that consists of drinking only Airag for a whole week!!
Eventually after about 2 hours we reached Buriats mother’s Ail (a group of gers).
Some of the family was preparing wool for making felt. The long iron rods slice through the wool
and seem to soften the fleece. It was thirsty work.
Buriats mother was preparing “Shimmy Airag”. This was distilled fermented horse milk.
On the dung fired stove a large bowl was put upon which a metal cylinder was placed.
The bowl was filled with Mare’s milk and then a second bowl hung in the cylinder.
A third bowl was placed on top and filled with cool water.
The milk was heated, evaporated and then condensed on the underside of the cool
third bowl into the second bowl. The clear distilled liquid was fairly strong alcoholic milk vodka.
For the main course we had a treat. Khorkhog is a method of cooking meat with hot stones.
A fire is lit outside the ger and smooth rocks usually found in a stream are placed in it until they are red hot.
Meanwhile a goat is killed, skinned and butchered.
The meat is put into a milk churn along with the hot rocks and if you are lucky
some wild onions and vegetables. The lid is put on to seal the ingredients and
is left to pressure cook for a while, about 30 minutesfrom what I can remember.
Once ready the piping hot meat and now steaming blackened rocksare put in a bowl.
The meat is a delicious roasted flavour, probably the best meal you will get in the countryside.
I along with the rest of us was given a hot rock to cool in the palms of my hand.
I was only able to do this by passing the rock very quickly between the palms of my hand.
Eventually I could slow down this process and press the heat of the rock into my skin.
The effect of this was to sweat my body. The Mongolians say that this is good for your health.
We all had a great time. I did some entertaining by singing my Anglii Khöömii,
playing two tin whistles at the same time whilst circular breathing and playing my Jews harp.
Buriat and all his family sang many songs with great enthusiasm and gusto.
While most of the family were cleaning up, Buriat, one of his nephews and
I climbed up to the top of the mountain nearby. It was not the highest,
but there were large boulder size pieces of quartz and an amazing endless view of land and sky.
The silence was palpable. I quietly played my Ney to offer some sounds to the spirit of the place.
It was beginning to get late and we had a long journey ahead so we packed our things,
said our goodbyes. I gave Buriats mother a photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
This was accepted with great
honour and respect and placed in the sacred
I was given some aruul (dried milk curd) and Russian boiled sweets as a going away present.
Buriat received a supply of fresh cream, load of aruul and a sheep for eating later.
Trucking down the mountain hills we stopped in the twilight for and evening break some gers.
The population is so small that everyone knows everyone or is related to them in some way.
We were welcome into a warm
the north being covered in felt mats and some hides. Once again I was asked to perform,
this time in the dim candle light. Out of the darkness came my gift for entertaining.
To my horror and surprise it was a freshly hunted marmot!! I quickly passed it onto Buriat.
My concern was that it may have had the Plague. As I had come on the first plane from UB
after the quarantine maybe the fleas that carried La Peste were still hanging around the creature.
On second thoughts I realised that the herdspeople would have gone no where near a Marmot with the Plague let alone hunt it. We left the Altai Mountains with a canvas a stars, so many that it was impossible to count them, to light our way back to Khovd, arriving late in the night, tired, a little drunk but happy.