My energy and my enthusiasm are at odds with each other tonight. It is after midnight and I am dog tired. But my head is still swimming with the sights, sounds and smells of three days on the road in rural Mongolia.
Chingaas Khaan spent most of his youth in Khentii region of northeast Mongolia. Later it was his staging ground for the reorganization of bands of nomadic herders into the mighty Mongol nation.
Accompanied by Mongolian historians O. Sukhbaatar and Munkh-Erdene Lhamsuren, we caravaned through Khenti in two Russian jeep/vans and a more modern but less comfortable Mitsubishi. It was a tour of history, wonder, lifestyles and vistas tempered with a developing environmental disaster.
Mongolia is dry in the best of years. But this year the rains did not come to Khenti. The grass in the pasture takes a good eye to find. The cattle are thin and many carcasses littered the landscape. And this is early summer. With no grass now, the livestock have little chance of making it through the sub-zero weather.
If he herds die, so do the Mongolians.
Bed beckons, but there are plenty of photos on the Flickr site. And here is the short version to be fleshed out later.
-- "Road" is a relative term in Mongolia. At times it meant nothing at all as we simply drove off across the trackless steppes looking for our next waypoint.
-- "Road sign" is not a relative term in Mongolia. It is simply meaningless.
-- Camels are curious, but don't like cookies.
-- Milk tea is really salty milk and water, but tastes surprisingly good.
-- A ger is strangely roomy comfortable.
-- Mongolian faces are beautiful. As are their hearts. They welcomed this band of strangers into their gers, fed us from their larders and charmed us with incomprehensible words but universal smiles.
-- Chingaas Khaan camped in more places than there are inns in which Washington slept.
-- We erroneously start the history of Mongolia in the 1200's when Chingaas Khaan rose to power. But centuries before him the Turkic people, the Huns and others rode the steppes. Still earlier -- much earlier -- Stone Age people turned giant stones into art.
-- The secret to keeping a UAZ van on the road is to carry an extra distributor in your tool box
-- Dust storms are nasty. Just nasty. You taste them for days.
-- Hours, miles and bruised tailbones fade rapidly when you spend them with a handful of colleagues from various MU departments. I learned as much about myself, my school and my profession on this trip as I did about the simple cow herder who conquered most of the civilized world.