Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Genghis Khan and The Testicles

With our visas being processed, train tickets purchased, and Ulaanbaatar not quite living up to our expectations we decided to opted to get some things done that we had previously put off. Namely eating testicles.

It was an odd request to ask the operator of a local tour company, but we have obligations to our sponsors so there we were standing in front of the lovely Meg as she searched her extensive local knowledge for the best place to eat balls.

Finally she smiled and said, "Would horse testicle sausage be ok?" Not a question I'd ever thought I'd hear before, but we agreed that sounds just disgusting enough to work.

We were assured that there was a place we could get such culinary delights at one of the road side stalls just past the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, which was another place we had enquired about seeing.

So the next day we picked up a group of five hungover but hilarious Australians and headed out with Meg to the Genghis Khan statue which sits about an hour east of Ulaanbaatar. Supposedly it is the centrepiece to a new tourist centre being developed, but currently the statue is the only part that has been completed.

On the way we passed more of the beautiful Mongolian countryside, which really helped us to forget about Ulaanbaatar and remember that Mongolia still has so much to offer us.

It wasn't long before we could see this colossus shiny souvenir coming over the hillside. Standing in the middle of a field, stands a whopping 40 meter/131 ft 3 inch tall, stainless steel statue of Chinggis Khaan on horseback. It is incredibly impressive from a distance. The contrasts of the shiny metallic against the clear blue skies and rich green hillside makes it worth the visit in itself. I've never seen anything like it. It was almost garish and tacky, but at the same time beautiful and impressive.

The statue was built in 2006, to mark the 800th anniversary of "Chinngis Khaan" uniting the Mongolian tribes as one nation which sounds like a good enough reason to celebrate the man as any. The site was chosen because it is a place where old Chinngis found a horse whip, which sounds to me like someone owned the site and was looking to increase its value by saying someone famous came through once.

I grew up in a town where a local hotel wasn't shy of telling people that one of the queen's relatives had once stayed at the hotel. However, cynical we are assured that finding a horse whip is a very special event that symbolises a lot of luck, especially for men.  I guess finding a horsewhip, was certainly luckier than not finding a horsewhip.

The only problem with the statue is that you are actually able to climb up through his legs, which if legend is correct was not an unfamiliar thing for women in the region, and then get to see all the detail of Mr Khan. This little process seems to cheapen it a little bit, and make the statue look as though it is going to come alive and fight Iron Man at any minute. Kind of taking away from just how impressive of a human being Genghis Khan really was.

Least terrifying warrior ever? 
The map we were shown in the museum underneath the statue shows the full extent of the Mongolian empire. Whilst most of it was conquered by Genghis' children and grandchildren, it was Genghis' blueprint for warfare, adapting and learning from new territories that made the Mongols such impressive conquerers.

The Mongolian's extensive empire spanned from Ukraine to Malaysia which means that for most of our entire "Our Long Drive Home" we are sitting on what was once Mongolian territory. Impressive stuff from a group of nomadic cattle farmers.

So after our museum visit and a little lesson in Mongolian archery, something they are very proud of doing, even shooting arrows from a horse at 180 degrees, and then headed off to this street market to get our testicles.

As we pulled up and got close all we could look at was this very fatty thick skinned red sausage sizzling on a homemade BBQ. A deal was a deal though and we ordered our testicle sausage, with a side of mare's milk.

Unfortunately for all those who wanted us to see us suffering our way through testicles, we have to say we actually enjoyed it. It was very oily and tasted a bit like beefy, chewy mackerel but all in all not bad. Videos will be uploaded when we get a better WIFI connection.

Mare's milk, on the other hand is fermented horse milk, and tastes fizzy watery stale yoghurt and was very hard to swallow, especially with testicles also in my mouth. Being fermented it is alcoholic, but at 2% it isn't going to get anyone buzzed so with it tasting the way it does I don't know why they bother.

A local guy sat down with us to enjoy the street food too, and in exchange for a laugh at our grimacing faces he exchanged stories about his life. He was a hunter who used eagles to hunt for food. He said he owned an eagle that had a wing span of nearly 3 meters in length, that he used to catch wolves!! However that wasn't the most insane story we heard, one of the local villagers we are told had an eagle that was so hungry one winter landed on the back of a horse and pecked the horses eyes out until it passed out and died! A Mongolian eagle killing a horse! Picture that for a second.

We bid out fair wells, headed off for some real food in a National Park with a local family. Stone baked mutton and veggies. This I have to say was one of the best meals we have had so far and the meat just peeled off the bone. It was so fatty and tender it tasted sensational.

We topped the day off with a few beers on a Mongolian hillside and listened to the music playing at a wedding on the other side of the valley. As the sun went down over the hills and headed back to our hostel, we felt lucky to have been able to have fallen back in love with Mongolia again ready for our train to China tomorrow.

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