Friday, September 13, 2013

Visiting a nomadic family

When I woke up on September 8, I never guessed I’d be milking a mare later that day…. Will get to that.
Herding on the Steppes
We headed South from the Karakhorum camp for a short while on a dirt track – we were on dirt tracks from now on – and suddenly Boldah, our driver, veered to the right onto the steppe.  We wondered – WTF?  It was a short cut to a more travelled track.  We constantly marveled that he always knew where he was going, across the vast Mongolian steppe – no signs, very few roads.  But he had been doing this for 15 years; we were not concerned.
Another right turn, and we were headed for the ger encampment of a nomadic family.  Two gers, a satellite dish, a solar panel, about 25 head of horses and some goats across the way.  The lady of the house, wearing a Boston, Massachusetts sweatshirt over a cashmere sweater, turned off the small black and white TV, powered by 3 car batteries, and welcomed us into her home.  She was busy making a number of foods from yak milk – a dried yogurt that tasted like a sweet parmesan, dried bean curd, a butter that was like a solid, but soft ghee, a very smooth vodka, and then fermented mare’s milk.  All pretty tasty. 
Then it was time to milk the mares - apparently, they do it about 5 times a day.  I tried it for a few minutes (hence the opening comment).  The teats were about 4 inches long and smooth – the technique involved starting at the top and smoothly moving downward, pinching the teat
Ricky trying her hand
between thumb and index finger.  I squeezed out a fraction of what she was able to produce.  It was lovely to hang out with the small herd of horses.  As their silent herder, wearing traditional garb, (the woman’s husband?) looked on, we took a close look at a saddle setting on the one horse who was tethered.  It was hand-carved from wood with steeply sloping front and back and it sat on a thick felt pad,
A Traditional Wooden Saddle
all tied down with hand-made leather and horse-hair straps.

We thanked them as best we could and took our leave, not before our hostess ran out with a bag of yak milk goodies.  It was a visit we won’t forget.

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