Visiting a fertility statue in Mongolia

Visiting a fertility statue in Mongolia

Mongolia is one of those places that manages to beautifully link modern life with ago-old traditions. Walking through Ulan Bator, you will see McDonalds, KFCs, modern cinemas and jazz bars, before hitting the ever-shifting outer limits of the city, a place where ger camps come and go and nomadic traditions are still strong. Young people drink beer, go bowling, and play traditional goat ankle bone games. Once you’re out of the city, expect to bump into men on horseback and women cooking over open fires.

Mongolia - food in ger camp

There is so much to see, from lush green steppe plains, barren sandy deserts to mountainous lakes. Herds of goats, sheep, horses, cows and even camels roam the land, reminding us that it is still possible to live a life more in touch with nature. Monuments, museums and monasteries all offer great insights into what life must have been like when the Mongolian empire ruled the majority of the known world.

Mongolia Horses

But I’m going to tell you about the time I was taken to visit a Mongolian fertility statue.

Having ended up in Mongolia fairly unexpectedly, I was frustrated to find that it wasn’t going to be easy to create a tour group to leave Ulan Bator the next day. Tourists will find that some things are well-set up and easy to book on to, such as day trips out of the city, but that getting away for longer trips can be trickier to organise. For this reason, many hostels and hotels offer group tours with local guides, which get cheaper the more people sign on (you usually try to fill one or two 4 x 4 Land Rovers).

Mongolia Fertility Statue

As I only had a few days in Mongolia I ended up having to book a trip alone (after leaving – in my opinion – charming, friendly and hilarious notes seeing if anyone wanted to join me in all of the main hostels. No one replied). This was a shame because a) it was way more expensive and b) my Mongolian guide didn’t really speak much English, and we had a huge amount of driving ahead of us.

On the first day my guide – who was 26 and fairly hunky – and I head out for a casual 4 hour drive. Having covered the initial name, country, age, do you like Mongolia? topics, the conversation stalls and we settle into a not entirely comfortable silence. It is made infinitely better by the fact that the scenery gets proportionally more beautiful with every kilometre further you get out of UB. The main roads, of which there are basically four: North, South, East and West, get worse and eventually give way to dirt roads as you hit the great Mongolian plains. It’s easy to imagine being in the twelfth century, horseback armies thundering down the plains.

Mongolia Monastery

The tour covers the Genghis Khan monument, a few national parks, a small desert and Karakorum, which was the location of the capital city of the Mongolian empire. Genghis Khan is central – you’ll see his name on airports, roads, universities and even vodkas. We stay in ger camps with lovely families who host and feed us. I get to ride camels, horses and even yaks. There is sand and waterfalls and hikes – it’s basically wonderful all around. Trouble is, there’s only one of me and we cover ground pretty quickly. I can tell my guide is struggling to find things to fill our time with. And then the lightbulb moment hits.

Mongolia - desert

Mongolia Empire

My guide asks me if I want to visit a traditional Mongolian fertility statue and, as an enthusiastic and naïve traveller, I just say ‘sure!”. Having just witnessed this unbelievably beautiful scenery and 800-year old monasteries, my expectations are pretty high. So we hop back in the Land Rover and drive for another 50 minutes.

And then we get out.

First of all, the path up the fertility statue is lined with the skulls of animals. I try to ask why this is, but my poor guide can only say ‘tradition’ and ‘dead’. We trudge up the hill and there, on the other side, is the fertility statue. This is where women come when trying to conceive, and give milk as an offering. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it. And definitely never driven a round trip of over two hours to get to one.

In case you were wondering, it really just is what it looks like. A Mongolian fertility statue is basically just a massive concrete penis. Excellent.

Date posted: 7th March, 2015

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