Friday, September 17, 2010

A Gobi Interlude

As the sun dips towards the bleak Gobi horizon we witness the miraculous transformation. As each desiccated blade of grass catches the fading rays, the monochrome brown around us slowly ripens into a soft mellow gold. We quietly sip our tea by our tent lost in thoughts brought by the changing light on the steppe. After a hard day of cycling this was the time to reflect and relax.

We had come a long way, cranking our pedals from Thailand to reach the arid scrublands of the Mongolian Gobi. This is dirt track terrain where tar remains a myth for those who have never left. We rattle along a rather squiggly route following tracks that will lead us to Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. Crossing people is rare in the desert and our evenings often end with tent visits from curious nomads. 

This time a young man rides in. “Sain ba nuu”, we greet him, inviting him for some tea. “Sain ta sain ba nuu”, he replies, eyes roving around our little camp and the two bicycles parked beside. Hitching up his scuffed leather boots, he squats beside us while his horse, happy for the break, munches on the dry bits of grass. I had unnecessarily prepared myself with our phrasebook. The man did a fine job of sign language banter.

Fingers play quite a role in Mongolia. The pinky is for bad, the thumb the global sign for good while the forefinger shoved into the mouth is for cigarettes. He studies our maps to figure where we came from. Raised eyebrows and a thumb for ‘Great!’. He then shows us where he’s come from with his herd. We’re surprised as he points to the opposite aimag (province) at least 300 km away. A long detour from the circuit nomads usually cover on their annual migration. A pinky goes up as he points to the grass and back to his home on the map. Another pinky for failed rain. A thumb appears as he points to the land around and to his horse happily munching and snorting its approval. I exchange looks with my partner. We’re amazed to think that the bland ubiquitous brown around us could be considered good grazing grounds. 

Our man then returns to the map and places his finger on Thailand. He lifts a questioning thumb to ask if the grass was good there. We grin, ready to share a laugh but catch the solemn look in his eyes. Instead, we nod. Without having to elaborate he shrugs and signs ‘it’s a little far’.  

By now the sun has disappeared leaving a washed out red autumn sky in its wake. As we face the lingering light I can’t help but sigh. After a few minutes of silence our man points again to the map, taps his finger on Mongolia and lifts his little finger with a sad smile. We shake hands before he straddles his horse and gallops back the way he came. 

(post script: a combination of summer’s drought and a severe winter that followed  killed over 8.4 million animals in Mongolia this year stripping the livelihood thousands of families across the country)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And, I also miss long inane keyboard posts

                                                    A thoroughly misleading photo made to make you read on but it's cold alright

As I leaned over the radiators that have been cold iron for 4 months now to peer out of the window (funny drunks again?), I was in for a shock. It (radiator) nearly burnt me again after 4 short months of metal cold. Outside at 7 in the morning it was 4°C and a windchill of bout 14 km/ hr straight from Siberia. The cold set in quick. I'd forgotten cold in all the +32 summer days we've been having. It's been 11 months since we first pulled into Ulaabaatar, me a mere 54 kilos that time, 60 now and Ced double digits heavier. We've stayed a long time and done what?? A bit of work here there, Ced a Volunteer consultant for a World Bank livelihood project, me a stringer, drifter, freelancer, teacher picking up little assignments here and there. I doubt it's been all good but guess the only other thing I'd trade time we've spent here would be to be in a sunny Caribbean Island where's there's music all day. I miss the sea. I miss oysters. I miss Kerela style banana leaf unlimited meals. I miss tall 7000m+ mountain peaks. I miss masala chai. I miss coconut trees. I miss everything that we can't seem to find in this land locked nook. But I don't miss jostling with 13 million people in a sweltry Indian city. No not that. And I also miss long inane keyboard posts. The toughest thing about living in Ulaanbaatar is knowing you're stuck in a concrete hole when wild swathes of green and blue beckon all around.

As a reader might know most of the dairies are here, where I shifted after not being savy enough to figure out the proxy code to access prohibited sites that encouraged freedom of speech in China. Funny thing is it's in the Chinese sites you'll meet the one raging against the machine hardest. But now growing fat and dissolute in this free wide land, I might as well make the best of bandwidth space.

So, today I went to check the guys from the Peking - Paris Vintage Car Rally. The first race was run in 1907 and this is the 4th time folks have tried to recreate it, driving only vintage cars.

                                                  a very same model of the italian car that won the 1907 race

As remote and tucked away Mongolia might be, it does seem to be the playground of a mighty lot of adventure seeking, money hauling folks. But I liked the cars, and I liked the excited locals milling about. What I didn't like was the wistful feeling that settled down seeing them leave knowing that I could be off across the wide steppe, crossing borders, lands, people, mountains, rivers, lake. I feel grounded and my bicycle chain's rusty. But some pics here. I like it that traffic is a bigger foe to the motored than to the bicycle bound.

                                                                                   All are equal in the rush hour rule
                                                                  yea! Chinggis looks on the mighty playground he make                                                                                               I also like spokes

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wisps of Age

Have not much to say. But hoping the tide loosens soon.