As an English-literature major and avid reader of spy novels, I have always enjoyed visiting the exotic or historic places in the books I read: Marrakesh, Kathmandu, Istanbul, Pompeii and Tintagel (in England) among them. When my daughter Lisa called to tell me that she had found an interesting tour of Mongolia, I said yes immediately.
Mongolia is a beautiful country of varied terrain. We visited sand dunes and grassy steppes in the Gobi Desert, interesting rock formations and forested areas in the north. Along the road we stopped to photograph grazing camels and horses. Our intrepid driver even ran into a field to herd a group of yaks closer to the road for our photos.
In Ulaanbaatar, the capital, temples and palaces mix with high-rise apartment buildings and glass-and-steel office structures. Statues of Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan are everywhere.
The people we met were friendly and hospitable. The children were not shy, and the young ones who dressed in traditional costumes for the days of the festival were adorable. One man stopped us on the street to shake our hand, and asked if we wanted to take his picture in his Mongolian costume.
We rode camels in the Gobi and went horseback riding in the beautiful, green Yul Valley, where pika scampered across the road and ibex grazed high up on a rocky cliff. We climbed down the Flaming Cliffs, where dinosaur bones and petrified dinosaur eggs have been found. At night, we slept in a ger, the traditional tent with folding wooden sides covered by canvas and felt for warmth. These gers can be assembled and disassembled easily when a family moves from place to place.
We went to Ulaanbaatar for theNaadam Festival, a celebration of the traditional Mongol sports of wrestling, archery and horse racing. The opening-day ceremony featured a speech by the president of Mongolia, and a pageant of marching and folk bands, horses with costumed riders, dancers, soldiers and athletes. Mongolian wrestling begins with the wrestlers dancing a ritual eagle dance; it has no weight divisions and seems to allow head butting, kicking and pulling on your opponent's clothing.
These words from St. Augustine capture our adventure perfectly: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." I look forward to the next page.
The writer lives in Scottsdale.
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