Aug.28, 2003 - Sept. 15, 2003

Saturday  August 3, 2003   Ulanbaatoor - the countryside
submitted by Cecilia Morrissey

Today was a day filled with many contrasts that inundated the senses and emotions.This was our first full day in the countryside and we were not disappointed.  Our itinerary for the day included a home visit, drive to an important monastery site, late lunch, and upon return to Ulanbaatoor optional shopping at the state department store 


. As we left the city we passed the huge imposing coal fired power plant that supplies hot water steam heating for the many apartments in the city.  During the bitter cold winter days the pipes that run above ground are vital to the city.  In sharp contrast to the apartments are the gers (yurts) which exist side by side with brick houses that are under construction.
As our ride continued through the countryside we saw piles of stones with poles extended and blue material attached.  Our guide Gerel explained to us that this is in effect, a Buddhist devotional complete with prayer rituals.  Soon we looked out over rolling green hills where we saw yak, goats, cows and horses.  Gers which house the families, often multigenerational. dot the countryside. Along the way we stopped for an unannounced visit with a family.
Meli sent our guide Gerel ahead to ask if we might visit.  We were then warmly welcomed by this family.  Outside the ger one of the younger children was being bathed with mare's milk, which is good for the skin and provides immunity from ailments during the coming winter.  Eight persons reside here, with the eldest being an 80 year old grandmother.  She was very hospitable and we managed to find seating for all of us inside the ger.  In the center of the ger is the stove, and the wooden floor and ceiling slats which support the canvas walls and roof were brightly painted.  Soon the matriarch directed that mare's milk and a bowl of cows cream be passed around our group.  Through Gerel we asked many questions about the family and their daily life. This family is stationary rather than seasonally nomadic, and they have horses, goats, sheep and cows.  Throughout our visit, one of the younger children clutched a young blue gray haired goat, and he seemed pleased that we were interested in holding his animal.  At the end of our visit we left some school supplies with the family, which were warmly received, as school was soon to start.  The family waved goodbye, and seemed genuinely pleased that we had stopped by.  On the bus we all commented what this was such a special visit.  We were touched by not only the hospitality, but the family's willingness to share information about their daily life with these unannounced visitors.

After a time we began to gain altitude and approach the Manzushir Monastery.  This monastery was established in 1733 and at its peak housed 350 monks and contained 24 temples.  It did not survive the political and social upheavals of the 1930's and only a few ruins of the original buildings remain.  It is nevertheless, a breathtaking view down the valley, and as one stands in the ruins, there is a decisive presence of the previous civilization.  The small museum which gives an indication of the rich furnishings which were in the impressive temples.s

Leaving the park, we stopped at a local temple. The two monks who were chantingwere ages no more than 14 or 15.  The temple was filled with incense and the walls were lined with prayer books.  One of our group had a Polaroid camera, and delighted the children with their pictures. Soon an older monk who had denied Meli's attempt to take pictures inside the temple wanted his Polaroid taken as well.  By the time it was all over, pictures were taken of the monk, the interior of the temple, and the monk had presented the photographers with blessed juniper sprigs!

After lunch at a tourist ger camp we ended our day with a stop at the state department store in Ulanbaatoor.  This large store contains many stalls virtually everything of interest to the tourist.  This was a day to be discussed over dinner while trading comments about the countryside, the family, the temple, and the souvenir shopping.  A day perhaps so filled with color, encounters and contrasts that it seemed overwhelming.   And this was Day Three?

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