Darhan, Mongolia / Ulan Ude, Russia

  • Date
  • 3 August 1999
  • Lodging
  • Hotel Geser
  • Distance
  • 371 KM
  • Total
  • 31517 KM

Jim came barreling in the room, “You’ve got to come with me and try Mongol salted tea.” A few minutes later we arrived at a small yurt, about 20 feet in diameter, where Jim knocked on the colorful, painted wooden door. A tall, thin, gorgeous woman with long, dark, silky hair invited me inside. Her eldest son, about 13, moved a chair into the center floor for me. I sat quietly, accepted the hot clear tea, which tasted like broth, and watched Anya, her sons and the surroundings.

Immediately I noticed a television and electric skillet, cooking beef stew, in the middle of the circular home. Yurt living has to be easier with the addition of electricity! I saw painted furniture, covered in intricate swirls and strokes of red, yellow, blue and green. My eyes roamed the room seeing a tricycle with two wheels missing, old photographs stuck into nooks of furniture, chests and luggage holding modern clothes and traditional robes and hats. Linoleum covered the floor and a couple of chairs were scattered around the only table, which held two black kettles of salted tea. Three beds, covered with camel hair blankets and hand-made stuffed animals, were built into the arch of the yurt. The beds became chairs when several people entered. A pile of potatoes sat in the kitchen area. In the bathing area, a razor balanced behind one of the wooden beams holding the yurt upright. A handmade toothbrush holder was tacked to the wall over a sink. Every once in a while Anya stirred the meat in the electric skillet.

I felt a bit like an intruder, but Anya did not seem to mind me, and I delighted in watching the workings of her home. Imagine if the people I know had this as their residence. Would they make it this special or feel bitterness over cramped conditions? As I drank more salty tea, Anya applied moisturizer to her rosy cheeks, black pencil to her eyebrows and red color to her lips. Her husband entered, moved to a chest and took keys from a blue-glazed pitcher. Every drawer was locked in the yurt. He unlocked one holding his cigarettes and Anya’s slimmer ones. They smoked and sipped tea with me.

Jim and I were behind schedule for Ulan Ude, but I knew my time with Anya would never be replicated, since she, and others like her, will probably live in a house by the next time I get to Darhan.