National Geographic : 1962 Mar
Solemn as a Jury, Lamas Weigh the Words of an American Judge Eager to exchange views, priests listen in tently as the interpreter at center poses their questions to Justice Douglas. Gombojab, the ranking lama, sits at the left of the altar, where butter-oil lamps cast a flickering light. Five associates range to his right in the order of their seniority. Soup, airag, cookies, and rock-hard cheese surround the guest of hon or. The decor of this lavish reception ger at Gandan, Ulan Bator's monastery, repeats the vibrant colors of the monks' scarlet-and saffron robes. All 100 members may com fortably convene here. The ger, of course, has no running water. Toilet facilities are makeshift. The family gets its water from wells that have been drilled in great numbers since Mongolia won independence in 1921. Inside the ger, one or two low chests, some times from China, sometimes homemade, hold clothes. Cots line the walls. Chairs are low footstools. A radio seems almost always present. And at Kobdo Suma the gers had electric lights. Herdsmen Honor Russian Space Pilots Pictures of Gagarin and Titov-Soviet cosmonauts - are common. Portraits of Mon golian leaders hang beside family photos. But it was Lenin whose picture was most conspicuous in the gers we visited. Once when I commented on this, an arat replied proudly, "We Mongolians feel close to Lenin. You see, he had Mongolian blood on his mother's side." I recalled the old Asian saying: "Scratch a Russian and find a Tatar." A goatskin bag or a tall wooden churn stands always by the low entranceway into the ger. It contains fermented mare's milk the airag that is famous in Mongolian history and known to Russians as koumiss. Gers are not confined to the country. Most employees of a flour mill on the edge of Ulan Bator live in gers pitched in a nearby pasture (page 342). A collection of them in a city, however, tends to become a slum. Gers in the countryside are not only beautiful, they main tain, as no mechanized society could do, the Mongolian tradition of hospitality. Whenever we stopped by an ail, a group of gers, we were invited into one. If we accepted, we soon had an invitation from the neighbor. These are not casual invitations to be treated 324 in an offhand way. They are seriously ten dered; and Choijamtse always was meticulous to save for another day the ones we did not have time to accept, in case we returned by the same route. There are formalities on entering a ger. The traveler first says: "How do you do?" Then follow three questions to the host: "Is your family well?"