I have been fortunate enough to have both lived and travelled around Mongolia over a period of ten years, and each time I am always pleasantly surprised by some new discovery be it culturally, gastrically or scenically, however on my last trip I did not get a pleasant surprise but rather a rude awakening.
We had been travelling the beautiful Arkhangai aimag visiting the hot springs, an extinct volcanic crater, white lake and the geologically peculiar standing rock by Tsetserleg town. Finally we arrived just outside of Mongolia’s second city of Erdenet where we met our Nomadic family for the evening. The location of their ger was at the top of a valley that gently rolled down across an extensive passe of grassland.
Having settled in to our ger accommodation my wife and I enjoyed the scenery whilst our son investigated the goats. Looking across the valley was spectacular: in all directions we could see storms rolling past, the strikes of lightning visible but the claps of thunder inaudible due to the great distances of the plains. We watched on until nearly 9pm when the head of the Nomadic family came over to us and told us we should get ready for bed, one of the storms was coming our way!
Quickly, we got into our ger tent and got ourselves into bed. We heard the rain begin to patter and thought this would be a relaxing way to drift off to sleep with the rain pattering on the tent and fire crackling in the ger.
No sooner had the rain began to patter than the latticed insides of the ger began to shake violently (like the house shaking in The Wizard of Oz), which was followed by the poles which support the roof clattering down in quick succession. Not wanting to be a drama queen I begin fixing the poles back into place but like a leaking ship I couldn’t fix the poles back in to place as quickly as they were falling down. Sensing our demise, my wife picks up our son and runs out the door making for the Nomadic family’s ger tent.
As I followed, the sky had already turned an eerie midnight blue and the pattering of rain had been replaced with the thumping of huge hailstones and the clash of violent thunder. Making it to the Nomadic family’s ger tent we push on the door but….locked.
The next three minutes were as long as three minutes can be; my wife covering our son and myself covering my wife, we banged on the door and screamed at the top of our voices; eventually they heard us and we spilled into the ger. After a long period of calming down and realizing we were safe we observed why the Nomadic family could not hear our plight from outside. Whilst we had been banging the family had been standing either side of the stove which covers the centre of the ger with a rope that is connected to the roof, the members of the family had been pulling on the rope and observing the roof to save their ger from collapse. The storm was so violent that they could not hear us on the outside.
The next day we learned that it was the most destructive summer storm to have ravaged the aimag in known history, taking down electricity masts breaking car windshields and in some cases blowing away ger tents.
Luckily for us we were unhurt (except for some bruises on the head), but more fortunately we learned an important lesson. Nature has a raw power that must be respected, disaster can strike anytime, anywhere. When I look back on this experience it is not just the storm that sticks out in my memory but the calmness of the Nomadic family that looked after us. For the people that still live this lifestyle they have a connection with nature and a resourcefulness that makes the rest of us look hopeless. For my next visit to Mongolia I will most certainly keep an eye on the clouds but more so I am eager to see what more can be learned from these amazing people.