The drive to tsengel khairkhan uul was as breath-taking as it was climbing it. We stopped by a beautiful lake for lunch and what a view. I was slowly acclimatizing to the altitude and sobering up to the idea that my Olgii adventure was coming to an all to sudden end. I knew I’d miss it years later and I still do. I pine for the grace, beauty and simplicity of this beloved region. Holding back the bitter tears of realization, we drove past a few Tuvan gers dotted among Kazakh dwellings on the lunar like surface. I didn’t know that there were Tuvan people in this region. I watched an interesting documentary called “genghis blues” about Tuvan throat singing and swore I’d travel to Tuva as inspirational singer Paul Pena did. I hope to get there one day and listen to the tales and music of these intriguing people. One can spot the difference between a Tuvan ger and a Kazakh ger as Japur taught me. The Kazakh ones tend to be smaller, have a pointer elevated roof and only two ropes wrapped around the outside of the ger. The Tuvan gers are slightly bigger, flatter and have three ropes holding the outside of the ger. This picture shows four Kazakh gers on the left and a Tuvan ger on the far right. Zoom in and count the ropes.
The elevation in altitude increased as we approached the mountains. The familiar cold whispers from the snow-capped peaks beckoned and the dry air pinched my cheeks. Japur decided the view from the top was an absolute must see and dragged me out of the car into the snow and up the mountain. I was breathless after a few hundred meters up, the air was certainly rare up there. Puffing we reached as high as we could go before the snow became too deep to shuffle in. What an amazing view. I just gawked and stood in awe of this incredible place. We were up there in the clouds looking over a masterpiece of creation.
We continued through the tundra and on to Sagsal. Sagsal was a treat. Japur had family who resided there, and they immediately welcomed me and fussed about making copious amounts of salty buttery tea. Japur’s uncle is a top eagle hunter, his awards and photographs adorn their modest house. He is a source of pride for his gushing wife and his hobby is a vital income for the family. Unfortunately he was out of town in UB but they did manage to rustle up an eagle feather to give to me and I met some young gun eagle hunters with their feathered friends. I was honoured, such feathers reach a fair price with Japanese tourists so I’m told. It became a good luck charm for me on my further travels. Japur’s family invited me to stay as long as I wished, hell I’d still be there in that happy little village if I could. Granmama of the family was particularly taken with me. She was the first women I met on my travels who congratulated me on my solo travels (rather than patronise me into marriage). She expressed a desire to travel the world and see AAAAfrika, my reply as always is “you’re never too old to travel.” She invited me to stay with her as her daughter and teach English at the local school, a tempting offer. Japur’s younger cousins were just charming. Two wide-eyed gorgeous little girls finally plucked up the courage to ask me to help them with their Angliski homework. They were just too delightful. I was quite blown away by the good standard of written English in their homework books. Their speaking skills needed work, but it was quite obvious that they were in good hands. In retrospect, I wish I’d met their English teacher, oh well next time. The girls took me around the village hand in hand and fended off the wolf dogs that were lurking behind every bloody wall. The older cousin was shy and kept busy by sewing beautiful Kazakh patterns onto cloth. She sewed so elegantly and quickly, quite mezmorizing. I am an absolute addict to Kazakh swirls and patterns.
Inside their house was a sanctuary. Japur took it upon himself to prepare me for Kazakhstan, and so we watched Kazakh tele which was fascinating. He translated where he could and informed me about the current events the news attempted to capture. I hadn’t watched TV in months so all I saw was gold Astana and loads of Nursultan Nazarbayev. Japur also opened up about his adventures in Turkey as a student, full of surprises that one. All to soon it was time for dinner, the usual lump of mutton on the table was dissected and shared. More tea and of course the before bed toilet run. Horror upon horrors, that toilet was one of the worst! Well toilet is a bit generous, more like a longdrop surrounded by 3 walls. It was a communal hole in the ground, so it served us and the surrounding homes. The walk to get there was scary enough, what with wolf dogs running amok. The loos had no doors, so it was just go and hope nobody walks in set up. That task done, next was finding a place to brush me teef. I was quite used to just taking a bottle of water with me and brushing, spitting and washing up outdoors. I always felt a bit uncomfortable doing it in a village. remember there are no sinks indoors, so such bizniz must be done outdoors quite discreetly. No one else seems to bother with the task of oral hygiene but I’m too much of a prude not to. The next morning I saw my splatter of toothpaste on the ground, quite a creative splatter at that. Then bed glorious bed. I slept on the couch, the most comfortable and warm couch I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping on. After camping out, sleeping on the floors of gers and shivering, this couch was quite sublime. I did’t want to get up at all the next morning!
We ummed and aahed about having to leave the next day, but I decided on getting back to Olgii, shower, wash the hair and prepare for the flight to KAZAKHSTAN the following day. I wish I could have stayed longer in this sweet village.