I forgot to mention that on Sunday, after birding, in addition to being served mutton ribs and some concoction of tea, rice, milk and more mutton bits, I was offered a delicacy for the first time in my Mongolian odyssey: chilled marmot. Um, not the whole thing, mind you. Just a couple of fatty slivers, presented as if they were nightingale tongues. They might as well have been. As I gently chided my hosts (good friends), poaching of the Siberian Marmot has resulted in a severe decline in its population over the last couple of decades.
Oh, and marmots are the primary vector in Mongolia for outbreaks of bubonic plague (that whump you just heard was my mother hitting the floor).
Nonetheless, as a monk I’m obligated to sample what is offered to me, even if it’s cold marmot fat. And you know what? I pronounced it pretty darn tasty, provoking much laughter at the table, along with variations of, “Ooh, Gonchig’s a real Mongolian monk now!”
I did decline the fermented mare’s milk, though. By this time of year (airag is fresh in June/July), the alcohol content would present a pretty clear transgression of my precepts.