Last Friday we received the good news that we not only had a car that had been waiting for us (oh so patiently) since we arrived but that we were also in possession of two valid Mongolian drivers’ licenses (bet there aren’t too many of those), proper vehicle insurance, AND (and this is very important) a working battery properly installed in the right car.
All that suddenly meant we could now take part in the road craziness known as Mongolian driving. I will comment on what it’s like to drive in UB another time so for the moment, let’s just understand that getting behind the wheel here is indeed an adventure – car accidents are a very regular, everyday occurrence with drivers making up rules as they go along and a culture in which sudden unexpected U-turns, cutting off other cars, and hostile driving are just new norms I need to learn.
Anyways, back to the good news! We have a working car! And just in time since our super CLO team (the community liaison office for my non-FS readers) planned a “little” road trip to see the Mother Rock so all the more reason for John to get behind the wheel and start driving (because I will need a bit of a slower start).
So off we went – to see the “Mother Rock” or ээж хад (Eej Khad for my non-Mongolian/Cyrillic readers). The Mother Rock is a very famous naturally formed rock formation – rather small, standing at about 2m high (6’6″ for the non-metric readers) and resembles a woman. It’s a sacred pilgrimage site where worshippers go three times during their lifetime to make their wishes. Tradition has it when you go once, you must go two more times. Good thing we’re here for a few more years.
Pilgrims come to Mother Rock for advice, to find peace, and to bring offerings consisting of vodka (we’re in Mongolia after all), milk, biscuits, and blue silk scarves they wrap around her for good fortune. During communism, it was illegal to come here and let me tell you, it’s by no means an easy trek. We knew it was 90 km (56 miles for my non-metric readers) from UB but boy were we in for an adventure. It turns out (shockingly) that 90km can take a really, really long time.
Why you ask? Well, because for about 1.5 hours, this was our road:
Or rather lack of a road. Yes, the bumpy, dusty, and sometimes very rocky but amazingly beautiful Mongolian steppe was our country road.
Good-bye paved roads – hello off-road driving. It turns out this was a good driving test for our new (old) car and we never doubted, not even once for a split second, that we would break down in the middle of nowhere (let me assure you; it was not a thought at all). Thankfully, very thankfully, we had a Mongolian driver ahead of us whom we were following as closely as we could for fear of losing him in the middle of (amazingly beautiful) nowhere. You know, in the land of the blue skies among herds of animals without a working GPS and definitely zero cell reception or any signs or points of reference that we could decipher.
And it’s a good thing we had the beautifully painted landscapes to keep our minds off the worst case scenarios we quietly went through in our minds. I mean, isn’t the view gorgeous? We all just stared at the scenery and the few gers we passed along the way and slowly realised we certainly weren’t in
Kansas Austria anymore.
Aside from gers, we saw lots of animals. Herds of them – horses, cows, sheep, goats. We saw them all.
It was just stunning.
Very fortunately for us, we were not just tailgating a random car hoping it was going where we wanted to end up but following friends who kindly stopped a few times along the way to check on us and make sure we were still breathing through the ups and downs of off-road driving. We were – including the kids who were super troopers even though they were under the assumption we’d be in and out of the car in an hour (mental note: 90km in Mongolia does not equal about an hour in the car – so noted for next time)!
And then after a long time in the car, we finally made it and saw the Mother Rock.
The pilgrim site was marked by a house, two gers, and “bathroom” facilities I was told to better avoid as well as the prayer wheels and – of course – more animals.
The kids loved that there were camels – the only “touristy” attraction in this part of the world where for a few dollars, you can hop on a camel and enjoy the ride – which Juliana and I did (because after 2.5 hours in the car, we certainly deserved to test other modes of steppe transportation). Let me tell you – camel riding is fun!
But back to the Mother Rock – what does she look like you ask? Here she is in all her glory.
The women whisper into Mother Rock’s left ear while the men report their wishes into her right one. Do you notice that the line for the women is much longer? I wonder why…
In front of Mother Rock is a table for pilgrims to place their offerings – milk, bread, biscuits, and on the “men” side there is another table for the traditional manly liquid offering (vodka) which you can conveniently purchase at the little kiosk right next to the offering table. One the women’s side, the table holds tea offerings and candles. I see yet another gender divide here….
In addition to leaving offerings and whispering into Mother Rock’s ear, pilgrims need to circle the wall around the Holy Mother three times while tossing seeds and/or milk for good fortune. Since we weren’t prepared for that part of the trip, our friends gave some seeds to the kids to toss around and for Luca, this was the absolute highlight of the trip (I am not quite sure why).
We spent some more time observing the worshippers and taking in the solitude and amazing landscape.
But not before we had a quick mandatory stop at a close-by ovoo. What’s an ovoo? It’s a shamanic worship place in the steppe or side of the road and usually consists of pieces of wood, rocks and blue silk scarves. Worshippers are supposed to circle an ovoo three times for good luck (or honk their horn three times when they don’t want to stop). But this ovoo had special powers we were told. If you rub money on it, it will lead to more fortune.
So that’s what we did. We handed each kid a 1,000 MNT bill which they rubbed against the ovoo. They also got to keep their “hard earned” cash so I guess the ovoo came through for them.
And that concluded our road trip just 90km outside of UB. And while I had every bit of intention to cook a fresh, organic dinner when we came home, we quickly realised that time was not on our side. Cue in cell phone service when we approached UB and a quick scroll through our new friend, the songo app, and a few pushes of a button later, and we arrived home just before our dinner came personally delivered. That’s one way to enjoy a well deserved German-Turkish Döner and fries.
What can you say? Life is full of those kinds of surprises and new discoveries!