Monday, March 1, 2010

Camel Country

I gambled on a camel race in the Gobi Desert. My life is now complete. Winning a Quinella at the dogs ain't got nothing on throwing down 1000₮ for a hairy two-humped beast ridden by a 12-year-old to run faster than other hairy two-humped beasts ridden by 12-year-olds... and maybe a few 42-year-olds. Nat's chosen camel had a slow start:

camel race

Mine sure as hell didn't win, but the race to the finish line was rather exciting indeed:

So yes, a group of us headed south to the Gobi Desert for a while. After driving for two days in a Russian van in an experience I can only liken to giving birth (I have friends you know) we hit a little town called Bulgan for its annual camel festival. Here's our friendly van:

our van

The festival was quite wondrous. The camels (or temee in Mongolian) were definitely kitted out for winter, and put on a lovely show for us non-desert dwelling types. There was the aforementioned race, a parade, a competition for best looking couple on camels and then some kind of unfettered camel taming competition involving teams of five. How does one tame a camel, you ask? I wish I didn't know the answer to that question, because I think I saw and heard a camel cry for the first time, and that was not really pleasant for either party.

First up, the camel is effectively lassoed, then like a tree that's spent too much time with a lumberjack, taken down. Observe here:

Next up, like a lumberjack who has decided to shun his true stylistic calling, the camel's beard is removed. Unlike a lumberjack's beard (although this could prove to be an interesting use for excess facial hair), the camel's beard is instantly turned into a rope that will be used as its harness. Then someone stands on the camel:

camel stand

Then a wooden peg is stuck in the camel's nose. I'm no camel or horse expert, but I think it's the equivalent of a horse's 'bit'. It is here and now that the camel cries and I squeal like I have had something shoved in my nose. The camel was not happy about the situation, but once the deed was done, it got to chill on the ground for a while while a herder dude used it as a seat:

camel seat

Finally, the camel is brought upright and a stellar herdsmen jumps on its back and 'tames' it, ie rides a wild beast. At this point, all those within a 100m radius of the camel should move out of the way. It wasn't until the camel came hurtling towards us that we realised it cared not for our safety, and we ran screaming into the desert (actually, we hid behind a van until the camel ran in another direction).

While in the Gobi we also visited the Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag, where the first ever dinosaur eggs were found in the 1920s. Excessive sandy wind meant we probably ate a raptor each, or at the very least took one home in our bags.

flaming cliffs

And yes, there was snow in the desert. Life in the Gobi is far from easy, as this lil guy unfortunately discovered:


I met lots of other lovely dogs and cats in the desert though, and there are some more pics of them + the super sexy camels over at Flickr.

P.S. I have no idea where the obsession with lumberjacks came from. Lack of good beards on parade in Mongolia?


  1. Hilarious and heartbreaking. You write a good blog, Kish.

  2. Thanks Bradshaw. Hilarious and heartbreaking are two words that could be used for a lot of things here actually.