Saturday, August 23, 2014

Morun to Uran Togoo Volcanic Area, Ankle Bone Games, And Why Mongolian Women Have Such Elaborate Hairdos, Mongolia

In the morning, in our Morun hotel's restaurant, we had for breakfast a large fresh salad with a plate of vegetable fried rice.

A group of four Austrian men who were sitting at a table next to us, asked with envy if we could please communicate with the waitress and order for them a large salad also.
They admitted that they had eaten nothing but meat during their whole trip so far, and said that they were heading towards Huvsgol Lake, the direction from which we had come.

They asked us for tips about what to see, and seemed happy to hear that they would be able to eat some smoked fish in Hatgal on Huvsgol Lake, which would be a nice change from what they've been eating.

We chatted with them and offered advice about how to travel with more nonchalance and acceptance around Mongolia, since they seemed very distraught that our hotel again had no power and no water this morning.

They nodded with agreement, and said that they did not mind skipping their morning shower, just that not being able to flush the toilets makes for a smelly and unpleasant visit to the bathroom.  We wished each other, "Happy travels!," as we got ready to get on the road again.

From Morun we drove to Uran Togoo, a distance of about 300 km.

The road meandered through some mountain passes and valleys crisscrossed with rivers.
At one point we stopped to take some photographs of the landscape, when a motorcycle carrying three people stopped near us.

A couple had been giving a ride on their motorcycle to a tall young man dressed in a traditional del.  
They had stopped to ask us if we would be able to give the man a ride in our car until they climbed the mountain pass a short distance ahead.
They did not think that their motorcycle would be able to climb the pass with three adults on it.

We happily obliged and made some room for him in our car.
He told us that he was a policeman, earning very little since he had just started and had no seniority.

His family were nomads who used to come to Lake Huvsgol every summer with their herds, who fed on the lush green pastures in that area.
He said that in the past few years, they had not traveled to Huvsgol, choosing instead to stay farther south, since the lakeside pasture was not so good.
This year, he took his vacation from work and hitchhiked back to Huvsgol area, to see if the pasture had improved.

We asked if the pasture looked better this year and if he will bring his parents and family to graze their animals there again as they had been doing for many years, and he said that yes, he was pleased with the grass, and as soon as he returns home, they will pack and move north.

At the top of the pass, we stopped to take photos, and the couple who gave him a ride caught up with us, and he climbed again onto their loaded motorcycle for the rest of his journey.

We came upon a very wide river which we were told that we would have to cross by a rustic and aging wooden ferry barge that could tow only one or two cars at a time.

Makeshift restaurants lined the road leading to the ferry.

Locals were dining on dumplings and soup, cooked on gas campfires, while sitting on plastic stools in the shade.

The ferry had recently been replaced by a pontoon bridge and after paying a small fee, we quickly rode over the shaky pontoon and continued on our way.  We wondered what would become of all of the local restaurants, whose business was based on there being a delay to cross the river by ferry.  

We stopped to have our picnic lunch close to "Yellow Lake," a vast body of water with herds of sheep and goats drinking from its shores, next to a few ancient graves, marked by large circular stones with a large pile of stones in the middle.

We passed by many nomads' Gers, and often the kids ran to our car, carrying plastic bottles filled with Airag, a yogurt made from fermented Mare's milk.
 Tuya told us that the Airag is especially good in this region, and is well known all over Mongolia, because it has some of the best pasture land in all of the country.

I asked Nasaa to stop and offered to buy Airag from some of the kids.
I no longer eat any dairy products, but if it were especially good, I wanted Tuya and Nasaa to enjoy it.

We arrived at our ger camp in Uran Togoo.
It is hard to believe that this was a volcanic area, since everything looked so green and lush.
The volcano had erupted many thousands of years ago, and by now lush greenery had reclaimed the landscape.

We were again the only tourists in this ger camp.
We chatted with the owners, who were a couple from Ulaanbaatar.

They came here every summer to run this tourist ger camp, and the lady told us that it seemed that not many tourists were visiting the northern parts of Mongolia this year.
Maybe it was the World Cup, or maybe the global economy had not yet recovered enough...she had no answers.

Because not many tourists were around, the lady also cooked our meals for us.
She turned out to be an excellent cook, and made us some very delicious handmade noodles and salads.
Tuya had started meditating with us in our ger every evening before dinner and every morning upon awakening.
Even though she had never meditated before, from her first time sitting she had Spiritual visions of her Spirit soaring above the trees, seeing Tipis and balls of light.

That afternoon, she asked if we could teach her yoga.

We asked the lady and she gave us the keys to one of their wooden cabins shaped like a tipi, and Jules, Tuya and myself lined the floor with blankets and practiced yoga.

While we were practicing yoga, Nasaa shared the Airag that we had bought from the nomadic kids with the ger camp owner, and both of them sat and downed the bottle, feeling content.

We meditated before dinner, and after we had enjoyed the yummy food, we cleared the table, and Tuya taught us some Mongolian Ankle Bone games (called Shagai).  These traditional games are played with the actual ankle bones of sheep or goats that had been slaughtered for food.  

The ankle bones are also often used to tell a person's fortune, as well as providing entertaining games for kids and adults alike.
Tuya told us that she had spent much of her childhood playing Shagai games with other kids. 

Some of the games, like "Horse Racing" and "Camel Racing," were very simple to play after we had mastered the tricky part of identifying which side of the ankle bone is a Camel, a Horse, a Goat or the Sheep.   

Each player lines up his horse (an ankle bone of his choosing) at the starting line.
You then toss four bones on the table, and according to how the bones fall, you make your move.
If you toss a Horse, you advance your running horse one space (representing 1 Kilometer) along the race course.
If you toss two horses, you advance your running horse by two spaces, (representing 2 Kilometers) etc.
The one who gets to the finish line first is the winner.

Camel racing is exactly the same, except you race the camels, not the horses.

The "Ankle Bone Flicking Game" is much harder to explain and has many rules, so I won't attempt to explain it here.
Suffice it to say that we laughed a lot and had a fabulous time playing these games.

Historically, the traditional Mongolian dress of tribal women included very elaborate headdresses and hairdos. 

Nowadays, they are still sometime worn by women attending traditional weddings.
Two dark plaits are braided and woven into the hair and attached to a beautiful ornate head cap or hat.
The plaits are put into embroidered brocade covers inlaid with coral, turquoise and silver beads.

The cap or the hat, which looks like a crown, is made from silver and velvet with colorful ribbons attached at the back. 

Tuya told us the story of how these elaborate hairdos, which resembles the wings of mythical birds, came into being.

"Many, many years ago, Mongolia was paradise on earth.
The pasture was so green that the animals were very healthy and provided plenty of food for the people.
The milk they produced was pure, and every kind of flower, vegetable and fruit grew in this land.

The people were happy, and the sun over Mongolia seemed to shine brighter, the trees were greener and healthier, and the weather seemed to continually be pleasant and nice. 

The rulers of a neighboring country were envious of this Mongolian Paradise.
They wanted to conquer Mongolia, but seeing how numerous the people were and how strong and healthy they were, they plotted a way to reduce the numbers of people so they could invade and conquer this land of happiness and plenty.

They came up with a plan to have four messenger crows fly to the mythical "Crow Mountain."
At this mountain lived very large crows who, it was said, ate human flesh.
The four messengers were to request that the mythical crows fly over to Mongolia, and eat as many humans as they can.

They figured that after the flesh eating crows had eaten many of the Mongolians, invading the land would be easy and victory would be assured.
On the way over to Crow Mountain, the four crow messengers sat on a rock in Mongolia and rested.
They chatted about how green everything was around them, how fertile was the land, and how soon, the magical large crows would feast on all the people around.

The crows started speculating about how many magical crows would be required to eat most of the humans.
One said that six big birds could do the job, while another said that only four would be needed.  

Their raised voices caught the attention of a little bird, who silently sat and listened to the whole conversation.

After the messenger crows continued on their journey, the little bird flew over to a nearby Mongolian village, and told the people what she had heard.  

The people of Mongolia took the story told by the little bird seriously, and gathered to discuss what could be done to prevent this massacre.

They collected the hair from all the women's long braids, and created huge wing-like hairdos with glue, brocade and accessories braided with glistening silver and shiny beads.
They attached those hair pieces to each woman's head.

When the man-eating crows flew over Mongolia, they saw those huge black winged hairdos and said to themselves: "This can not be Mongolia, this must be the land of the all-powerful Phoenix. Those black winged creatures will devour us in an instant, if we even attempt to attack."

And so the frightened magical crows turned back and flew back home to Crow Mountain, leaving Mongolia unharmed.

 The land was never molested again."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bronze Age Deer Stones, Morun City, Why Mongolian People Love Fox Fur Hats, And Why It Is Customary To Cut Off And Sleep On The Tail Of A Beloved Dead Dog

From Huvsgol Lake, we drove south towards the city of Morun (also spelled Mörön).
We first stopped again at the port village of Hatgal to buy some lunch as we planned to find a nice picnic spot and eat our lunch along the road.  

We were very excited to go to see the ancient Deer Stones located about an hour northwest of the city of Morun. 

Very few ancient monuments exist today dating back to the Bronze Age that are as well preserved as these Deer Stones.
Maybe the dry climate has helped to preserve the Stones, or possibly their remote location has protected them from archeological bandits, but I was surprised to find so many beautiful and tall Deer Stones just standing, untended, in a vast open field.

There was no gate, no fence, no guard and no entrance fee.
There were a few signs explaining the significance of the Stones, and we saw no other tourists until we were ready to leave.
Several local kids rode bareback on horses in the surrounding area, giving the Deer Stones a respectable berth.

Deer stones (also known as Reindeer Stones) are ancient megaliths carved with symbols.  
They can be found all over the world, but are concentrated largely in Siberia and Mongolia. 

They are constructed from granite or greenstone, which are both abundant in the area.
Some were just a few feet tall, and some reached a height of 15 feet. 
The stones are rectangular or rounded in shape, and are carved on all sides with symbols of reindeers, a sun and a moon, a belt of tools, and some were even carved with a face with earrings, looking towards the east.

The exact origin and purpose of the deer stones is unknown.
Those standing here in Mongolia are thought to have been constructed during the Bronze Age, around 2000- 1000 BC, and may have marked the graves of important people.

Most deer stones stand at the edge of ancient grave sites, and since the stones' symbols are rooted in Shamanism, it is believed that the stones are the guardians of the dead. 

There are about 700 deer stones around Mongolia of the total of 900 such stones that  archeologists have found in Central Asia and South Siberia. 

Back in Mörön, we noticed that there was a Buddhist monastery at the edge of town, and we decided to visit it after we had checked into our hotel.

The receptionist at our hotel looked like a woman who is not easily moved or bothered.
She has learned to deal with waves of demanding tourists with equanimity and indifference.
With only a hint of apology in her eyes, she notified us that there was no electricity in the whole city and no water, since there was municipal work being done on the main power and water lines.
We were promised that after dinner the power and water might be restored,... maybe yes, maybe no....

We decided to go for a walk around town, and visit the Buddhist monastery we had seen on the outskirts of town.

It was a beautiful old monastery, but most of it was undergoing reconstruction.
It was dedicated as the "Temple Of The Protectors Of The Dharma" (protectors of the Truth and the Way.)

A large statue of the Buddha had been donated by a local elected official.

Corruption and misappropriation of funds is very common in Mongolian politics.
Large sums of money simply disappear when entrusted to the hands of local politicians, instead of being directly used by the government for public needs like improving the living conditions of the constituents. 

Often when local politicians get elected, instead of spending money on improving roads, schools, the sewer systems, fixing the sidewalks, etc, they spend the money to erect impressive monuments to the Buddha.
I guess the prevailing idea is that one must get "right with God" first, and then later, if any money is left over, help the people who had trusted and elected them.

On the grounds outside of this modest little temple, the Buddha had been erected at a high cost, sitting on a marble podium while the streets of Morun city were in dire need of decent concrete walkways.

We walked down the Main Street and chose to eat at a local Korean restaurant run entirely by Mongolians.
The place seemed very popular with the locals, and they made us a dish of wild rice with vegetables, which was very good.

It seemed like the place doubled as a combination late night Latin night club and Karaoke bar.
The owner of the place, a heavy set Mongolian man, walked around the tables with a proprietary look, a money belt full of cash tied to his waist, and a pencil behind his ear, which he used when asked to add up the bill. 

Over dinner, Tuya told us another Mongolian folktale, about why Mongolian people love fox hats.

Here it is:

"Once, way before the opulent times of the wealthiest Mongol rulers, at a time when even dirt roads did not exist, a traveling Buddhist Lama came upon the ger of a couple who had been married for many years, but had not been able to conceive a baby.

The couple were very friendly, and they invited the Lama to stay over in their ger and offered him tea and food.

Their conversation was about the sadness of the couple, over not having had any children.
The lama listened carefully, and before his departure, he handed the woman the fur of a fox that he had, and a small pouch filled with some herbal magic pills, with the instruction that the woman should take a pill a day until she finished all of them.

Seven months later, amazingly, the woman gave birth to a premature, tiny baby.

At first, everything seemed fine, but the baby began getting weaker and weaker as the winter months came, and the snow was falling daily.

Another lama passed by their ger on a rare winter pilgrimage, and the couple rejoiced to invite him in.
They conversed late into the night, expressing their concern for the health of their tiny newborn.

Suddenly, as if by Divine guidance, the lama asked them if they still had the fox fur that had been given to them months before.
The couple was surprised that the lama knew about the fox fur, and they said that yes, they still had it.

They took the fur out of the sack that it was packed in, and handed it to the lama.
The lama told them to make the fur into a hat, and to place the baby inside the hat, and to hang the hat at the center of the ger, above the fire where it was warm.

The couple followed the instructions of the lama, and their baby grew to be a healthy young boy."

This is a well known folktale, and Tuya told us that even nowadays, Mongolian people believe that if they have a premature baby, they should wrap him or her in a fox fur hat.
They do not hang it from the rafters of their ger, like in the folktale, they just wrap it in a fox fur hat for good luck.

Many old Mongolian beliefs are a mixture of Shamanic tradition and Buddhism.

Tuya told us that her grandmother, who is a devout Buddhist who fully believes in reincarnation, told her that when the family's dog dies, it is customary to cut off its tail, wrap it in a blue silk scarf, and sleep with it under your pillow.
By doing so, you are helping the spirit of the dog to reincarnate in its next life, as a human.


Huvsgol Lake, Visiting A Reindeer Family, And Why The Camel Always Waits By The Well, Mongolia

The drive to Huvsgol Lake (also spelled Khuvsgul and Khövsgöl) took us through very picturesque landscapes.We could see blue rivers crisscrossing the green pastures, forming the most beautiful abstract shapes.

We would have to cross many of those rivers before we were able to get to our ger camp on the shores of the vast lake.
Some of the wooden bridges crossing these rivers were so badly damaged that we decided to get out of our Land Cruiser and walk across, while Nasaa, our driver, zigzagged his way across the bridge, trying to find the least broken parts of the bridge on which to drive.

By way of comparison, crossing rivers with no bridges at all, where the water came up almost to the height of the windows, was much less scary than crossing those broken bridges.

We arrived at Huvsgol Lake by the early evening, just in time to check into our ger and enjoy the beautiful sunset on the lake before dinner.

Huvsgol Lake is surrounded by several mountain ranges, the highest among them the Bürenkhaan Mönkh Saridag (3,492 meters or 11,457 feet).

The lake forms part of the Russian-Mongolian border, and used to be a busy trade route between the two countries.
The surface of the lake freezes over completely in winter. 

The icy surface used to be strong enough to carry the weight of heavy trucks during the wintertime, so that transport routes developed on its surface as shortcuts to the normal roads between Russia and Mongolia. 

However, this practice has now been discontinued, because it is estimated that 30-40 cars have fallen through the ice and sunk into the lake over the years, their engines leaking oil and petrol and contaminating the lake.

Lake Khövsgöl is one of seventeen ancient lakes around the world that are more than 2 million years old.

In Mongolia, the lake is reputed to be potable without any treatment, although during a long lakeside walk we noticed that many herds of yaks came down to drink at the shore, and the shoreline was filled with manure in some places.

Of course most of the land bordering this vast lake is not inhabited by people.
There are a few tourist ger camps on the southern edge of the lake, and a few communities of indigenous nomads, who live in tipis and are reindeer herders, living in the northern parts year round. 

The Lake area is now a National Park with an entrance fee.
It is bigger than Yellowstone and strictly protected as a transition zone between the Central Asian Steppe and the Siberian Taiga. 

The locals are no longer allowed to cut any trees for heating during the winter, and commercial fishing is illegal.

Despite Khuvsgul's protected status, illegal fishing is common and you can even buy smoked lake fish in the nearby village of Hatgal.

The lake is so large that the locals refer to it as "Huvsgol Ocean."
This nickname was adopted because of something that actually happened here, hundreds of years ago during the Manchurian occupation. 

The Manchu rulers decided to increase their tax revenues by instituting a tax on all of the many lakes around Mongolia.
The local nomads who had so few resources to spare to pay yet another tax, argued with the Manchurians that Huvsgol was not a lake, but an ocean.

The Manchurians, who had horses that could circumnavigate the large lake, knew that this was not true, but to seem politically sensitive in their occupied territory, they said that if Huvsgol is an ocean, it must have 100 rivers running into it.

It was agreed that in two weeks time, Manchu inspectors would gather to count the rivers running into Huvsgol.

The Mongolians gathered the local shamans and Buddhist Lamas, and asked for advice.
The spiritual Lamas and the ancient Shamans who had resided in this region for thousands of years, sat in prayer and meditation.

The night before the inspection date, the heavens opened and a torrential rain fell over the region.
Some say that it had never rained so much in this area, before or since.

On the morning of the inspection, the Manchurian inspectors lowered their heads in defeat when they counted many more than a hundred rivers which had gushed down from the mountain ranges surrounding Huvsgol, blending into this vast body of water.

The "Lake tax" was not imposed in this region and Huvsgol is still called today by Mongolians, "Huvsgol Ocean".

By now, we had developed a routine which we followed when we checked into a ger camp.
First we examined the yurt that was assigned to us, making sure that we had towels and enough wood for the stove.
Then we arranged for the staff to come and start a fire in our ger at a certain time and asked when the hot water would be on, and when can we take a shower.

Then we arranged to meet the cook to discuss our options for food and the time for dinner.
The chef had already spoken to a local woman who runs a meditation retreat in the area, and had asked her for advice about how to make vegetarian food for us.

He made us cucumber soup and traditional Mongolian Buuz (steamed dumplings), filled with vegetables instead of meat.

We were told that there was plenty of hot water for a shower right now, so I took my towel and with hope in my heart, marched over to the shower stalls.
A new bathroom wing was being constructed, and a hole for a new sceptic tank was being dug.

The old showers were tiny cubicles with no water pressure and no hot water.
An attendant who spoke no English, told me to wait while she sent someone to the roof to adjust the heaters and the pump.

She managed to find me a shower stall with a bit of water pressure and gave me a towel and plastic sandals to shower with.
In the middle of my shower, the water ran out.
I heard screaming and running on the roof, and a girl from the kitchen who spoke a smattering of English, opened my shower curtain and told me to finish right now, since the water pump was on fire!

There was a lot of commotion, and two hours later there was enough lukewarm water available for me to go back to the shower and wash the shampoo out of my hair.

Luckily, we were the only guests in this large ger camp which was mostly undergoing a major renovation.

Summertime was the only time that camp owners had to make improvements, and ALL of the ger camps around Mongolia that we saw were in need of some kind of renovations, especially to the bathrooms and shower facilities.

The next day Jules and I went for a hike in the woods surrounding the lake.
We noticed many varieties of wild mushrooms and wildflowers growing in the forest and many, many large herds of yaks, roaming freely in the woods.

It felt a little startling to meet face to face with a huge male yak with his Bull horns.
Some were flaring their nostrils and digging the ground with their hooves as if they were preparing to attack....
We skirted the herds, and tried to avoid walking in their paths.

The owner of our ger camp had a small motorboat, and after breakfast, we piled into the boat to go visit a Reindeer nomadic family who comes down every summer from their village up north to camp on the southeastern part of the lake.

They mostly come down to try and earn a living from the tourists.
Some collect herbs and flowers in the Mongolian Taiga where they live, and dry the herbs and make a herbal tea from it, which Is known for its healing properties.

We reached the shores of their camp, and the men came over to help tie up our boat.
This nomadic family belonged to the Tsaatan Dukha tribe.

The Dukha, (also called Duhalar and in Mongolian: Tsaatan) are a small Tuvan Turkic community of reindeer herders living in northern Khövsgöl Aimg Lake.

Only 44 Dukha families remain, totaling somewhere between 200 and 400 people. 

They ride, breed, milk, and live off their reindeers.
Traditionally, they are shamans by faith.
They used to eat reindeer meat during the winters, but now the reindeer population, which once numbered in the thousands, has dropped to approximately 600.

The Tsaatan people live in Tipis and not in the more rounded Mongolian Gers.
They used to line their Tipis with Reindeer skins, but now they use only canvas, which needs to be replaced every four to five years.

Much of the Tsaatan's income today comes from tourists who pay to buy their crafts and to ride their domesticated reindeer. 
The name "Tsaatan" means "reindeer herder" and "Tsaabug" means a Reindeer.

There were two mangy looking reindeers resting in the shade of a tree, and a large tipi which the family had erected by the shores of the lake.
To ward off the many flies that were attracted to the dung of the reindeers, the family had set up some small dung fires to produce smoke.

We sat in their Tipi and asked many questions.
Traditionally in Mongolian Gers, there are beds and chests, an altar and shelves.
In this Tipi they had no furniture, just some blankets rolled up and a large wooden stove in the middle.  

The flour, sugar, milk and other food items they used were arranged on the right side of the Tipi, by the door.
We thought that this was because they only came for the summer months, but the mother told us that this is how they live up north.
They do not have furniture of any kind.
They sleep on a blanket on the floor during winter, with blankets to cover themselves, and in the summertime they sleep outdoors, or inside the tipi with its sides rolled up.

In the cold winters, they pack snow around the sides of the tipi, to prevent the wind from coming through the openings.

The mother had a daughter and two sons.

We were told that her daughter, who was almost a teenager, loves to dress up with nice white  dresses and often wears high heels, even though the camp area is muddy and full of animal dung.

The older son was twenty five and was of marrying age.
He shyly mentioned to us that he was looking for a wife.
Jules said that with the upcoming Nadaam festivities, maybe he could find a wife, and the young man smiled and said that that was exactly his plan.

We asked him what would be his criteria for choosing a wife, and he said that his new wife would have to be willing to move up north to live with his family.

We asked him what he would do if she refused, and he said that he would not be able to marry her.
He has no plans to leave his tribe or change his way of life.

The other son was a cute toddler who was called Tugultur which means "A Piano."
I thought it was a strange choice of a name for people who never owned a piano...

The older son had carved some naive patterns into old reindeer horns.
I decided to buy a few of them in order to give them some money.

They were so happy that I purchased three horns at high prices without negotiating, that they offered to let me ride the reindeer.

I said that I did not wish to ride the skinny animal, who seemed so content to lay quietly in the shade.

We drank some salty milk tea made with reindeer milk, and Piano (Tugultur) showed us his toys which included a brightly painted model helicopter.  The family also had a solar panel to charge their mobile phone and a motorcycle which they used for transport during the summertime.

They mentioned that they have been coming down here every summer for the last five years, and that nobody else from their tribe made the journey down during the summers, that they all stay up north and care for their animals.

Back in our ger camp, we found that some mischievous prairie dogs had entered our ger under the sidings, and ate some of the candy that we had brought to give to the nomad kids.
We secured everything in a dresser in our ger, and went for a long walk around the lake before dinner.

The next day we drove around the lake to the western side, to visit the harbor village of Hatgal.

We packed a picnic lunch and went for a hike up the mountain, to see the surrounding vistas.
Heavy rain came down and we had to walk hurriedly back down the mountain.

But by the time we reached the village of Hatgal, just a few minutes away, the sun was shining again.
Vendors lined the waterfront, selling traditional crafts, jewelry, smoked fish, canned lake fish, all sort of jams made from local berries, and Taiga tea.

We tasted a local Mongolian dish of Khushuur which are pan fried pockets of dough filled with smoked fish.
They were truly delicious and we took some more to eat later, because our camp chef, despite all his good intentions, just did not have the touch to produce any tasty food.

There were many tourists around, most of them Mongolians who had come for a lake cruise upon the not so seaworthy S.S. Sukhbaatar.

We saw some big Mongolian men hide big bottles of vodka in their dels, as they boarded the ancient sea vessel.
There was loud music and many cries of drunken laughter, coming from people already on board the S.S. Sukhbaatar.

After checking out each of the vendors' tables of treasures, we bought some Taiga herbal tea, some small souvenirs, a beautiful necklace of turquoise stones, and a comb carved from a yak horn.

Since I was already talking about horns - the carved reindeer horns that I had bought from the Tsaatan family and the yak horn comb I bought in Hatgal - Tuya told us a Mongolian folktale that her grandmother had told her, about the camel and the deer.

Once, little Tuya asked her grandmother, "Why do the camels always sit by the water well?"

The grandmother told her that once, a very long time ago, when the earth was still young, all camels had beautiful antlers.

Once a deer approached a camel and asked to try on his horns.

The camel was reluctant to give his antlers to the deer, but the deer promised that he would only borrow the antlers for one night.
He would go to the pond by the well, look at his reflection in the water to see how it suited him, and bring the horns back the very next day.

The camel agreed and gave his antlers to the deer.
The deer put them on and never returned.

And so, to this very day, the camel still sits by the well, hoping one day to get his antlers back.

A Folktale it may be, but there actually is a real, life-size sculpture in the Gobi of a camel with a beautiful set of antlers, to corroborate this ancient Mongolian tale.