With our business meetings behind us, we shed our professional suits in favor of suits of armor at the 13th century camp, a tour destination where guests can experience life in Mongolia long, long ago.
The cons of the 13th century camp? No indoor plumbing. The pros of the 13th century camp? Every. Thing. Else. Our group gleefully dressed up as warriors at the first camp, built to replicate life in the Mongolian army. At the second camp, we learned about life as artisans. At the third, we visited the library and had our names written in Mongolian script. At the fourth, we met a real-life shaman. The fifth and last camp was the royal ger, where we dined like kings and queens on traditional Mongolian cuisine. On the menu was Suutei Tsai, a salted milk tea, Khuushur, a fried meaty empanada, and a slightly gamy but delicious lamb noodle dish. We devoured everything with gusto.
The next day, we embarked on the journey to Lake Khuvsgul for some good old outdoor camping. Lake Khuvsgul is the largest freshwater lake in Mongolia by volume, with a surface area of 1,070 square miles. To put that into perspective, it’s a little smaller than the size of Long Island. To get there, we sat through a two hour ride on a shaky small plane, plus another two hour bus ride through bumpy terrain.
The destination was well-worth the rocky journey, for Lake Khuvsgul was truly stunning. We stayed at the Toilogt tourist camp, where we had the choice of living in a ger, a teepee, or a cabin. The gers were heated by a wood-burning stove, and we were surprised to find that 1) the stove was highly effective, when it is on, the ger easily heated to 80 degrees, and that 2) when the fire went out, the 30 degree weather quickly crept in. Thankfully, a team of professional fire makers at the camp came into our tents throughout the night to re-light the fire. I do not recommend anyone trying to light their own stove.
The next day, we went off into the mountains in search of the elusive reindeer herders. Reindeers thrive in the cold northern climate where their diet consists mainly of a special type of moss. The herders agreed to come down as south as they will go, but we had to meet them half way. Thus began the steepest hike I had ever been on. For forty minutes, we sweated up the side of a mountain. After twenty minutes, we wondered if the reindeers even existed. How is it that we haven’t seen any signs of them?
It wasn’t until we made it over the ridge that we saw the reindeers. They have large brown eyes and fuzzy antlers. No red noses here. We lined up to nuzzle their adorable faces and pose for photos, then took photos to commemorate this heroic hike.
One thing we were surprised to learn is how technologically advanced these reindeer herders are. For people living such a traditional way of life, the herders all had cellphones and immediate recognized the drone that we brought along.
The reindeer visit wasn’t over just yet. The herders trotted out his baby reindeers! These guys were just two days old and were already walking. We weren’t allowed to touch them, but merely seeing them was already a highlight of the trip.
After returning to camp and a rowdy game of Mongolia trivia (Team Golden Gobi was robbed!), we geared up for horseback riding around the lake. Mongolian horses are a lot smaller, but still fairly rambunctious. We rode into the grass fields where yaks grazed, and got to experience the life on horseback of a nomad.
On our last night, we built a huge bonfire and gazed up at the perfectly clear night sky. Hello Big Dipper! This total nature immersion was the most incredible way to experience Mongolia. The next day, we would return to Ulaanbaatar and wrap up our week long journey.