Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shankh Khiid Monastery

Blog for August 12, 2011
Each day seemed to have a surprise for us as our credit union hosts were trying to take best care of us.
They showed up right after breakfast and suggested we take a trip to see the ancient Shankh Khiid monastery which is on a mountain top two ranges north of our hotel.
We agreed to go but for reasons unknown to us, everyone disappeared to do something personal. A little more than three hours of waiting, we finally had the whole gang together to go. That seemed too easy and we soon experienced the credit union manager get out while we were fueling at a new station and he talked forever to the owner. The manager is also the mayor of the town and knows and talks to everyone. We just got underway again and he requested a stop at a store and 10 minutes latter comes out with another bottle of vodka.
We drove over the first mountain range which seemed quite high but passable and entered a beautiful valley and were again directed by the manager to turn here and there until we arrived at a herder’s ger unannounced. We all went in sat down and ate their lunch. I had met the herder’s wife the day before at the horse races and she was really nice both times but you could see her concerns as she was trying to stretch the meal she cooked for only her family, now had to serve everyone.
Then we got into the herder’s hooch and when that ran out we broke out the bottle of vodka. After we consumed everything, we left the manager behind and continued our trip. However, we were now another two hours later than expected and daylight would become a problem later.
We started up the second mountain range which was much higher and steeper and stopped just a couple of kilometers short of our destination to visit a ger and talk about going the rest of the way to the top by renting a jeep. We couldn’t get a jeep so we managed to drive/climb the paths to the upper parking lot.
There are no signs to tell you where the monastery is or how far it is. Six of us started walking into the forest following muddy trails churned up by 4 X 4 vehicles and horses. All trails seemed to go in the same general direction so we were certain we would not get lost. An hour and twenty minutes later we reached the summit but still couldn’t see the monastery. A German family told us that we needed to follow this other trail for about 30 minutes brisk walk and than a 300 foot climb (half an hour) up the rocks to the monastery.
Not being wusses, we marched along the muddy trails and arrived at the site, out of breath, feet soaked and freezing cold once we stopped.
Four of our team climbed the rock cliffs to the monastery. I couldn’t go because my knee was really inflamed and painful. I lent my camera to Sarah’s son and he brought back wonderful pictures. The climb up the cliff to the monastery and down, was well over two hours. We knew we were really getting into trouble as the sun would soon set and we could get lost in the forest.
We agreed to walk back very quickly without stopping and that everyone should be careful to keep stragglers in sight. We made it back in record time of 55 minutes. The sun had already set and it was darkening very fast. As we came out of the forest to get in our minibus, we were surprised that Zundi, our driver had left with his wife and daughter. After making some enquiries of people in the parking lot, one herder advised that our driver was down at the ger camp a couple of kilometers down the mountain.
When we arrived at the ger it was pitch black outside and warm and cozy inside. The manager was there too and that meant we were eating dinner here followed by alcohol and vodka. The herder’s wife made us a great meal of roasted yak and potatoes, cabbage and carrots. This was the first time we got vegetables and the cabbage was delicious and a much different flavour than we get back home.
After dinner, the airag (mare’s milk alcohol) came out and I went to the minibus and retrieved all the cans of beer I brought for the trip. I also thought the beer would help me handle the alcohol and vodka.  The beer was welcomed by everyone and it really did make it easier for me to handle the mare’s milk and the vodka while consuming more than my share of it. Every time someone got their 2 once shooter of vodka, they had to make a speech. That part was really good and we actually got in some debates over Mongolia’s roads, tourism and garbage. In fact the herder and the manager started to argue so heavily the herder left his ger.
Then we started singing songs and the herder came back in the ger. The custom is each person must stand and sing a song, any song. I am not a singer and I do not really know any songs. However, I had a liter of beer, several bowls of airag and at least 8 ounces of vodka over a one hour time period so my inhibitions were relaxed. They sang many beautiful tunes about their country, their lifestyle and their horses. I sang “swim said the momma fishy swim if you can” song that my granddaughters love but I couldn’t remember all the words. Probably caused by my consumption of alcohol. On the second round of songs, Trudy seeing my desperation offered to sing Oh Canada with me. We did well except where the French part comes in and we couldn’t remember the English words for that part but pressed on to finish our national anthem to applause. My singing days are over. Then again, they never really started.
At midnight, the activities were concluding. The manager gave us the option to spend the night in the ger or go back to the hotel. We chose the hotel option because the next morning our ride to Kharakhorum was arriving at 9 am.
We thanked the herder and his wife for the fun time and drove back to the hotel arriving at 2:20 am. Obviously, I was only going to get 3 to 4 hours sleep depending on the “hounds from hell”.

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