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Gers of Terelj

Gers of Terelj
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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19 September 2016
Terelj Nat Park
Mongolia
47°52'50"N
107°25'39"E
1510m ASL
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HEADING eastward from Ulannbaatar, ahead were the remains of an ancient mountain range marking Terelj National Park. Worn down by past glaciers, these mountains marked the headwaters of one of the great rivers flowing northward to cross the plains of Siberia into the Arctic Ocean.

Terelj Valley

Terelj Valley

The granite formations here were unlike any I had previously seen. Uniquely exposed to the extreme chill of the arctic winters not seeing the temperature rise above zero for months on end.

The short summer was rapidly waning. The deciduous trees were already passing into hibernation proudly showing their brilliant Autumn reds, oranges and yellows. In stark contrast the conifers growing amongst them stoically retained their dark green foliage ready to face the coming winter. The tree coverage was confined to the small gullies steeply rising between the exposed granite outcrops, those strong enough to resist the glacial erosion in the last ice age.

Ger village

Ger village

The tiny ger villages of the nomadic farmers lay scattered along the bottom of the valley. The grass growth season is very short here, so they need to move around to keep their horses and yaks fed.

We were visiting one family who lived permanently in one of these mobile ger villages. They had, in the past week, moved their gers to a new spot under a hill sheltered from what will soon be the worst of the arctic winds.

At a ger farm

At a ger farm

The gers were little more than tents, constructed with three to four half centimetre thick layers of wool felt around a framework of several pieces of timber and 61 slats holding up the roof. The layers of felt were covered to the outside by waterproof canvas. In the middle of the room was a tiny steel fireplace, and around the walls were sofas, and a kitchen. It seemed very functional. There were no windows, just a plastic skylight around the chimney. The only entrance was through a tiny hobbit sized door which I needed to stoop quite low to get through.

They are a simple and very effective construction having been developed over thousands of years by the nomadic tribes of Central Asia.

Entrance to a ger home

Entrance to a ger home

My guide told me they can dismantle the ger in about fifteen minutes, load it on the back of a ute, then rebuild it at the new location in about an hour and a half. It was all very quick work for a change in scenery.

Inside the homely ger

Inside the homely ger

The fireplace was gently roaring, creating a surprising amount of heat radiating evenly around the entire ger, keeping it very warm despite it being overcast outside. The temperature was still well above freezing though, but they assured me the gers are warm even in the middle of winter when they have midday highs of around minus twenty degrees.

Inside the homely ger

Inside the homely ger

Our hosts’ skin was dark and their wrinkled faces puffy with red cheeks similar to the Peruvians. Their bodies must be adjusted to the extremely cold conditions experienced here.

After some time with the family, we headed up to a tourist ger village where I was given my own ger to live in for a night.

The ger I stayed in

The ger I stayed in

The rows of gers were nicely set under some huge rocky outcrops sheltered from the prevailing winds and the thunderstorm we had in the afternoon. The gers were set beside a large log cabin dining hall where we were very well fed with meat and pasta. The Mongolians have enormous appetites, perhaps as part of their adaptation to the cold.

The ger camp

The ger camp

My ger was towards the back of the group, with spectacular views across the valley. Too bad about the lack of windows though. The ger itself was very fancy, with the inside walls lined with finely woven silk, a hint perhaps of some of the more northern parts of the silk road passing through here, although the route passing through here was known as the tea road.

The log cabin dining hall

The log cabin dining hall

Following dinner I was rewarded with a most magnificent sunset. The brilliant oranges of the passing thunderstorm clouds highlighted the fiery autumn foliage. One of the local boys came into my ger and lit the fire, leaving a pile of kindling in a metal pot for the morning.

Sunset over the ger camp

Sunset over the ger camp

The fire was incredibly efficient, heating the ger to near sauna temperatures. I had to open my tiny door to let some of the cold air in to mix with the heat. Apparently the Mongolians are able to roll up the sides of the walls of the ger a few centimetres when the temperature does get hot, allowing the inside to quickly cool.

Inside my ger

Inside my ger

Fortunately the fire quickly died down allowing the ger to cool as I fell asleep under the crisp clear sky of the bright northern stars, in the silence of this remote wilderness.

Ger camp just after moonrise

Ger camp just after moonrise

Following a fantastic night’s sleep I was awoken by the boy returning to light the fire again in the pre-dawn morning to overcome the coldness of the night. Quickly the ger heated up to sauna temperatures forcing me to get up.

Morning frost in the valley

Morning frost in the valley

Looking outside the sun was yet to rise, but I could see white frost down in the valley below. The cold sun crept over the jagged hills across the valley as I packed up ready to head back into civilisation.

Morning sun

Morning sun

Although I only had a single night in the ger village in amongst the brilliant Mongolian autumn colours, it certainly was an experience to remember.

 
 
 

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