that sweet smell of sheep
The one pervading memory of Mongolia is sheep - that stench of dirty mutton managed to infiltrate every inanimate object regardless of whether there were sheep in the vicinity or not. We spent our time in Mongolia being driven in a van through the wilderness of the Gobi dessert for 9 days staying at local ger camps along the way. Sheep (and goats to a lesser extent) are big in Mongolia; the main enterprise and the main food source of the country. Subsequently every meal, whether or not it contained mutton, had the subtle taste of sheep; our bedding and even our clothing had absorbed that stench. The most disturbing thing was when we unscrewed the lid of the hot water flask each morning to make coffee and even then that sheepish smell would come seeping out.
Gers are little more than sophisticated tents with a fire situated in the middle (if you're lucky) with beds around the outside. For the most part there is no running water; subsequently we didn't shower for at least 5 days (this was a new low point for us). Thankfully being mercifully cold we weren't that bothered about this gross violation of personal hygiene. Another preoccupation of this trip was the state of the toilets. Usually this was an affair consisting of 2 wooden slats over a pit; if we were lucky there would be a functional door so that we could maintain our dignity. Our lowest toilet moment perhaps was the lavatory with no door that actually faced onto the street so passers-by had full view of toileting activities.
The highlight of our time in Mongolia was the night we had been allocated to the 'reject' ger in the midst of a storm. It was obviously mid-construction, lacking an outer layer and wall furnishings to hide the mould. Furthermore it only had 3 beds, yet there were 4 of us - the couple we were sharing with were not happy to be informed that they would have to share a single bed as they were a couple! Chillingly cold, it also lacked a fire. There was only one way to get through this situation - get drunk. This was where our alcoholic driver came in handy - providing us with beer and forcing us to down shots of Mongolian vodka. Eventually we were intoxicated enough to sleep in the squallor of our ger.... yet our driver didn't seem to want to sleep and spent the night flitting in and out of our tent to sit on each of our beds in turn to try and start conversations with us while we were sleeping....
After 9 days on the road with our temperamental and alcohol dependent driver, we forfeited plans to go further north and fled back to the, now apparently, sophisticated China.