Mongol Els, Mongolia
Wet season visited overnight, waking to mist and horizontal rain. Things lifted to reveal a soft green landscape around. Driving through central Mongolia, the clouds broke, sun shining in ever shifting patterns across distant mountains with gers, the traditional nomadic round white tents, scattered across this vast landscape.
The contrast with China couldn’t be more. Endless heavy industry and densely populated cities replaced with an empty land seemingly at one with its nature. Every corner unveiled more wild beauty, every moment shifted the clouds to create more unparalleled contours in this wild land.
Arriving at Mongol Ers, I reached a northern extension of the immense Gobi far to the south. The green pastures meet sand dunes, not the harsh empty desert of the south, but sand interspersed with trees and shrubs, with springs winding through the grasslands that meet the dunes.
I stay with a family in a ger, welcoming and friendly. Herds of horses graze in the spring water, immense mixed herds of goats and sheep wander aimlessly, the occasional camel wanders past finding feed in the tough shrubs that grow here.
The sky is immense, the green intense. Everywhere I look is another photo. I can’t even begin to write the feeling of being here, but the overwhelming sense of being lost if a beautiful timeless vastness grows with every hour that I’m here.
I go to the spring fed stream and sit for a while with the herds of Asiatic horses, watching their interaction, the semi-wild herds that wander freely across the grasslands. They are owned by the nomadic families, each with their brands marking who owns what, but free to wander, mix and interact as they like.
Up to a nearby mound there’s a view over this endless vista, a camel grazes at the top paying no heed until eventually wandering up to me for close scrutiny, seemingly as curious about me as I am of it.
The family organise a trek out across the dunes on camels. It’s gimmicky, but it’s still a fantastic experience. The camels seem to barely tolerate their human masters, feisty and belligerent to the last. They show their displeasure by spotting and blowing snot on anyone unfortunate to be in their path.
Back at the ger, the shadows deepen, the dramatic scenery keeps getting more dramatic. The sky unfolds a spectacle that last for hours, sunset leading to twilight that never seems to end. The vastness of land and sky grows with each minute.
After dusk, the family bring in their sheep and goat herds to their corral. I join in the action as we run in the near darkness, herding them in, heading off the splinter groups. The whole family is involved, including the tiny three-year old boy who in the midst of the throng intent on bringing down a lamb of his own. The general action is to run into the galloping mass, throw yourself into the air and attempt to rugby tackle anything you can reach, end up empty handed in the dust laughing so hard you can’t get back up again.
The overwhelming feeling here is that people are happy and content. They live a very basic life, with minimal possessions. There is no competition with others, what they have is shared with everyone around. The children seem filled with an unbounded joy and spend the day running and laughing like there is no tomorrow. It’s infectious. I’m filled with a total feeling of happiness and contentment here.
I look back to the “developed” countries and wander what we’ve lost, and why we are so wrapped up stressing about unimportant dross that seems to fill our lives. Why we rush around working our lives to amass so much junk we never see value in, why we feel it so important to fill our lives pursuing meaningless aims and possessions when happiness can be achieved so simply, and with time left over to enjoy that happiness. My decision to abandon the trap of mortgage and career feels more right than ever.
My final thought for the day was under the wild skies slowly filling with stars while the remnants of sunset seemed to burn forever in the west over the last vestiges of the northern Gobi.