Letters to Jonathan- Day 2: Nature and History

Jonathan – 

Brrrrrr! It was cold last night! Can you believe that our cabin didn’t have any heat and only one tiny candle? Luckily they gave us some extra blankets. The sun comes up at 6 am so we decided to take a look around Blue Lake.

Our Cabin for the first night

Our Cabin for the first night

We were confused when we saw a series of totem poles. As we got closer, we realized they weren’t totem poles but instead an amazing historical monument made of wooden columns, one for each for each of the Khans of Mongolia. (“Khan” is simply a title of authority similar to king or emperor, but of course you already knew that). At the top of each post is a carved likeness of each Khan. As we read each plaque describing each Khan we realized that being a Khan was not really a position that lends itself to a long life. Some of them only lasted a couple of months before they died or were killed by other family members.

Hanging out with the Khans

Hanging out with the Khans

Dr. Sandler has been reading the guide book about Mongolia. (Between you and me I think he’s memorized most of it. I bet the two of you could have contests to see who could know more about Mongolia.) Dr. Sandler reports that the lake we are camped at is called “Blue Lake by the heart shaped mountains” and is where Temujin called a khuruldai (tribal meeting) and was confirmed as the first ruler of the united tribes of Mongolia and his name was changed to Genghis Khan. It didn’t seem to bother him that his best-friend-turned-arch-enemy, Jamukha, was still in charge of half of the country.


         To be at the site of such a historic event in Mongolian history I expected a giant lake, but it was actually quite small. It was very reflective of the natural landscape and when the beautiful blue sky reflected off the lake you could tell why it was called Blue Lake. All the mountains look alike to me but our driver and tour guide can somehow them apart and get us to where we are going even though they’ve never been here before and they have no road signs or maps. They say the can “just find their way based on the shape of the mountains.”

We had lunch in a local city. Our guide reports the city is near a coal mine, so most of the residents are involved with the mine. We walked into the supermarket and at the back there was a meat market with giant hunks of meat. A lady was cutting up a piece of meat so large it looked like a horse’s rib cage and hind quarters. Definitely not something you’d see at Publix!

My kids asked me to find out about the schools so we took a detour through the city to check out the local school. As luck would have it today was their first day of school. The first day of school is a big deal, even if September 1st falls on a Sunday (which it did this year). The opening festivities were already over but the balloons and banners were still up and there were still some boys playing soccer in the field. The nomadic children from the country side will live in the city during the school year with extended family members or stay in the dorms. The primary school is from age six to age twelve. Could you imagine living away from your family for more than half the year to go to school?

We’ve only known our driver to get lost once, but it worked out awesome. We found ourselves on a precipice overlooking the Herlen River. There was a ger on the top with livestock all around. There were even Mongolians fishing in the river. Dr. Sandler reports this was the most beautiful view of Mongolia he has seen yet. I even contemplated rolling down the hill, if only it weren’t covered in rocks. I think Jenna even broke out in a little rendition of “The Sound of Music.”

The tourist season ends in the middle of September but one our ger camps shut down early so we got to stay two nights at Steppe Nomads located in the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve. This is the best rated ger camp on Trip Advisor and we can see why! Being in a nature preserve, the camp had a big focus on making use of natural resources like solar and wind power. All heat in the ger was provided by wood stove, including the water for showers. Dr. Gayle is just excited that we don’t use dung stoves like some of the ger camps use.
The ger camp is at the base of the Herlen River. It’s very peaceful watching the birds play around in the reeds. While Jenna and Dr. Sandler read by the river, Dr. Gayle, Dr. Abram and I hiked to the top of the highest mountain overlooking the camp. I bet you would have beaten us all up the mountain.

Jenna and Dr. Sandler reading by the Herlen River

Jenna and Dr. Sandler reading by the Herlen River

Dr. Gayle and Dr. Abram at the top of a mountain overlooking the ger camp.

Dr. Gayle and Dr. Abram at the top of a mountain overlooking the ger camp.

Despite all the natural beauty surrounding us we were most amazed at the stars at night. Without any ambient city lights you could see millions of stars. We stole a blanket from the bed and lay out on the grasslands for an hour as we stared up at the universe. We could see the Milky Way and make out individual satellites shooting across the sky as they were orbiting the earth. For me, the most touching moment was when Dr. Gayle saw his first shooting star in over 20 years. You would have loved it.


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