Mongolian Trotting

Article excerpt

Trotting on ice; strides short and balanced, as we rode on unshod, stocky ponies through herds of yaks who were lumbering across the lunar-like landscape of Mongolia. December, minus 14C, causing not only our breath to freeze but the insides of our nostrils and what felt like the top layers of exposed skin. The only warmth emanating from the briskly moving shoulders of the solid animals beneath us.

Our guide across this sepia coloured land was Bat. His broad, regal face grinning as he explained, |In Mongolia there are thirty-two words for snow'. We learnt how to say horse, yak, wolf and one word for snow, the basics of Mongolian vocabulary.

Great care is taken of these small |horses'; for hundreds of years they have been of vital importance to the economy and communications of the country - a lack of technology maintaining this status. The people believe themselves to be |born and bred' on horseback. A critical eye of our riding skills was cast by each passing herdsman.

Our journey took us to a dense, reservation style of village. Yurts - great, white circular tents, were clustered together; white smoke coming from each causing a haze of frozen air to hang, guarding the village. It was deserted. We halted outside one of the smoking yurts.

|Tea,' announced Bat, who smiled, leapt off his pony and wandered inside. His pony, untied, didn't move. We copied.

Into the warmth. Inside and seated we were given Mongolian tea - sour and milky - and yak butter biscuits. At the centre of the warmth was a black boiler, the chimney leading to a hole in the roof and the structure of the ceiling resembled the inside of a Chinese umbrella - each spine painted and decorated to perfection. A crude gun was propped up against a chest that had Genghis Khan painted on each panel. …