The desert children of Mongolia

From Roy Chapman Andrews' excellent book 'Across Mongolian Plains' published in 1921.


Usually when we camped we could see, almost immediately, the silhouettes of approaching Mongols black against the evening sky. Where they came from we could never guess.

For miles there might not have been the trace of a human being, but suddenly they would appear as though from out the earth itself.

Perhaps they had been riding along some distant ridge far beyond the range of white men's eyes, or the roar of a motor had carried to their ears across the miles of plain; or perhaps it was that unknown sense, which seems to have been developed in these children of the desert, which directs them unerringly to water, to a lost horse, or to others of their kind. Be it what it may, almost every night the Mongols came loping into camp on their hardy, little ponies.



Across Mongolian Plains
By Roy Chapman Andrews

The Ocean - Lord Byron


ROLL on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll!

  Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;

  Man marks the earth with ruin; his control

  Stops with the shore; upon the watery plain

  The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain   

  A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,

  When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,

  He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,

Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.


  His steps are not upon thy paths; thy fields       

  Are not a spoil for him; thou dost arise

  And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields

  For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,

  Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,

  And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray,       

  And howling, to his gods, where haply lies

  His petty hope in some near port or bay,

And dashest him again to earth: there let him lay.


  The armaments which thunderstrike the walls

  Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake,        

  And monarchs tremble in their capitals,

  The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make

  Their clay creator the vain title take

  Of lord of thee, and arbiter of war,—

  These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,        

  They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar

Alike the Armada’s pride or spoils of Trafalgar.


  Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee:

  Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?

  Thy waters washed them power while they were free,        

  And many a tyrant since; their shores obey

  The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay

  Has dried up realms to deserts: not so thou,

  Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play;

  Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow;        

Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.


  Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form

  Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,

  Calm or convulsed; in breeze or gale or storm,

  Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime        

  Dark-heaving, boundless, endless, and sublime,—

  The image of Eternity, the throne

  Of the Invisible; even from out thy slime

  The monsters of the deep are made; each zone

Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.        


  And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy

  Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be

  Borne, like thy bubbles, onward: from a boy

  I wantoned with thy breakers; they to me

  Were a delight; and if the freshening sea        

  Made them a terror, ’t was a pleasing fear,

  For I was as it were a child of thee,

  And trusted to thy billows far and near,

And laid my hand upon thy mane, as I do here.

A life lived unmorally

From Roy Chapman Andrews' excellent book 'Across Mongolian Plains' published in 1921.


In the careless freedom of his magnificent horseman-ship a Mongol seems as much an untamed creature of the plains as does the eagle itself which soars above his yurt. Independence breathes in every movement; even in his rough good humour and in the barbaric splendour of the native dress.

But the little matter of cleanliness is of no importance in his scheme of life. When a meal has been eaten, the wooden bowl is licked clean with the tongue; it is seldom washed. Every man and woman usually carries through life the bodily dirt which has accumulated in childhood, unless it is removed by some accident or by the wear of years. One can be morally certain that it will never be washed off by design or water. Perhaps the native is not altogether to blame, for, except in the north, water is not abundant. It can be found on the plains and in the Gobi Desert only at wells and an occasional pond, and on the march it is too precious to be wasted in the useless process of bathing. Moreover, from September until May the bitter winds which sweep down from the Siberian steppes furnish an unpleasant temperature in which to take a bath.

The Mongol's food consists almost entirely of mutton, cheese, and tea. Like all northern people, he needs an abundance of fat, and sheep supply his wants. There is always more or less grease distributed about his clothes and person, and when Mongols are en masse the odor of mutton and unwashed humanity is well-nigh over-powering.

I must admit that in morality the Mongol is but little better off than in personal cleanliness. A man may have only one lawful wife, but may keep as many concubines as his means allow, all of whom live with the members of the family in the single room of the yurt. Adultery is openly practiced, apparently without prejudice to either party, and polyandry is not unusual in the more remote parts of the country.

The Mongol is unmoral rather than immoral. He lives like an untaught child of nature and the sense of modesty or decency, as we conceive it, does not enter into his scheme of life.


Across Mongolian Plains
By Roy Chapman Andrews

“Roughing it”

From Roy Chapman Andrews' excellent book 'Across Mongolian Plains' published in 1921.



As every traveler knows, the natives of a country usually have developed the best possible clothes and dwellings for the peculiar conditions under which they live. Just as the Mongol felt-covered yurt and tent are all that can be desired, so do they know that fur and leather are the only clothing to keep them warm during the bitter winter months.

In the carts we had an ample supply of flour, bacon, coffee, tea, sugar, and dried fruit. For meat, we depended upon our guns, of course, and always had as much as could be used. Although we did not travel deluxe, nevertheless we were entirely comfortable. When a man boasts of the way in which he discards even necessaries in the field, you can be morally certain that he has not done much real traveling. "Roughing it" does not harmonize well with hard work. One must accept enough discomforts under the best conditions without the addition of any which can be avoided.

Good health is the prime requisite in the field. Without it you are lost. The only way in which to keep fit and ready to give every ounce of physical and mental energy to the problems of the day is to sleep comfortably, eat wholesome food, and be properly clothed. It is not often, then, that you will need a doctor. We have not as yet had a physician on any of our expeditions, even though we have often been very many miles from the nearest white men.

It never ceases to amuse me that the insurance companies always cancel my accident policies as soon as I leave for the field. The excuse is that I am not a "good risk," although they are ready enough to renew them when I return to New York. And yet the average person has a hundred times more chance of being killed or injured right on Fifth Avenue than do we who live in the open, breathing God's fresh air and sleeping under the stars. My friend Stefansson, the Arctic explorer, often says that "adventures are a mark of incompetence," and he is doubtless right. If a man goes into the field with a knowledge of the country he is to visit and with a proper equipment, he probably will have very few "adventures." If he has not the knowledge and equipment he had much better remain at home, for he will inevitably come to grief.



Across Mongolian Plains
By Roy Chapman Andrews