Getting friendly (and inebriated) with the only locals around, Lynsey Wolstenholme realises what self-sustainability really means on a Mongolian yurt homestay.
After a six hour journey, along the bumpy, unpaved roads of Mongolia, I arrived at my base for the next 24 hours: a homestay nestled in the shadow of the Khogno Khan mountain. I was in the Khogno Khan nature reserve, home to wild animals, sand dunes, forests and grasslands, and I was instantly struck by the remoteness of the place. There were just two gers (yurts, the traditional Mongolian nomad tent) in an expanse of grasslands as far as the eye can see. It was incredibly peaceful yet I struggled to imagine how people could live in such solitude. It’s hardly surprising though – Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world and due to increasing urbanisation, 45% of the population now live in the capital. This is a place where isolation is the norm.
I was warmly greeted by my hostess and invited into the family ger. Inside, it was warmly alluring; this was nothing like the sparsely furnished gers of the tourist camps but instead it was a real home. The circular room was dominated by a stove in the middle, surrounded by beautifully decorated hand-carved timber cabinets, woven yak-hair wall hangings and handmade throws on the beds, which doubled as seating in the daytime. The family took a break from their work to share a traditional welcome snack with me; a plate of goat’s meat – including the skin and tail, which I tactfully managed to avoid – and a bowl of fermented mare's milk commonly known as airag. Having read about this drink I was excited to try it – this didn’t last long though, as I politely polished off a bowl and realised that the sour tasting milk was not for my palette. They eagerly served me another bowl, and with an alcohol content of 2.5% I began to feel a little tipsy.