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Mongolia Part One

12th August 2014 As soon as we passed the last boom gate entering Mongolia the road changed from perfect tar to average dirt and we were greeted by numerous marmots, squirrel and longhaired bovines (I don’t really know what they were). Yep Yaks.

Now wild camped in open country within sight of the road but no other car has passed by in over three hours. It is quiet and cold. Do we feel isolated?

Judy, as usual, has cooked up a storm, managing to produce something out of nothing, much like a magician.

13th August 2014 Not one car passed by overnight, the silence was deafening, and we woke to a clear blue sky and a few marmots skulking about here and there. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but you have to be careful to cook marmots thoroughly before eating, and wash hands after handling, as they can carry the Bubonic plague. They apparently gave it to the rats who then spread it to Europe in the 1400’s and there are still sporadic outbreaks even now. So that’s the nature lesson for the day.

Breakfast over we drove 40k’s to Elgii (or Olgii or even more correctly Ulgii) and have organised a guide to take us through some remote parts of western Mongolia, chiefly the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. Should take four days. So here we are, we accessed cash from an ATM of which there were plenty as with petrol stations and camped at the back of the Blue Wolf Hostel with proper toilets, showers, power (with an Australian power point, this is truly bizarre) and WIFI. There is even an Irish pub in town (we saw many Irish pubs throughout Europe) The dirt road at the border only lasted 20k and it’s been good tar ever since.

Is this the last frontier? I’m beginning to think that there’s no such animal.

14th August 2014 We met our guide , Dunno (Name changed to protect the guilty, all will be revealed later) a twenty two year old student of English and Chinese, and left at midday immediately hitting the real Mongolian back roads and they are bad, but not the worst roads I’ve driven on. He took us through spectacularly sparse country. There are often many pathways to choose from but it doesn’t matter which one you take as they all join up again eventually (sounds like a good song lyric). On the road we spoke of many things. Dunno mentioned to me that he had tasted wolf meat and said that it was OK (It’s only a dog after all, even Captain Cook partook of canine) and also that his father eats marmot. I told him that I’d eaten kangaroo and crocodile; he was totally disgusted, not.

We have made camp deep into the national park in between the two lakes Khoton and Khurgan and five Russians have appeared and asked if they could fish near us no problem. I was wondering why they needed to be so close to us when they started hauling in fish by the dozen. I guess they knew what they were doing and it looked like trout that they were catching, but no it was something else lost in the translation.

Weather here is perfect blue sky about 28c in the day 15c at night, snow-capped mountains in the distance.

One really odd thing here, which we also noted in Russia, was what looked like big seagulls. Further research required.

We seem to be in the centre of things here as a passing parade of horses, fishermen, motorbikes and camels (one hump or two?) two, are walking past our campsite.

Judy became camp cook and afterwards Dunno and a local, who he befriended, found some wood (no dried yak dung for these guy’s) and lit a fire. Several others soon joined us so I produced the guitar. Turns out one of them can play guitar so we traded songs Mongolian style. The guitarist was a good picker and sang with a slight Chinese twang, an interesting mix. After some time the evening petered out and all went to bed. Later that night came a knock on the door, can we borrow the guitar and you can come too if you like. Stupidly I lent them the guitar and opted to stay home. I hope I see it again.

15th August 2014 Yep saw it again.

Today we drove on the worst road yet, this includes the whole world. Often having to drive at walking pace with numerous river crossings and bogs trying to get to the Tavan Bogd basecamp. Tavan Bogd or five saints are the five peaks that dominate this region the largest of which is Khuiten Uul, biggest in Mongolia (4374m) with an accompanying glacier, which you can access by foot, horse or camel. Having reached it was worth the effort as these peaks are gargantuan and have a very Himalayan look to them, we are now settled beside a raging torrent with the sun setting on these massifs.

Just behind is China and with the sun down it is cold.

16th August 2014 We set off to walk to the glacier rather than ride, as Judy has trouble with her back on four leg drives, and had walked about a kilometre when our guide informed us that it was 17 K’s away ( originally 10K’s) so we just walked up the valley for a couple of hours and then returned.

17th August 2014 We left camp at 8.30am, for the return journey, using the good road, down the other side of the river, this time. Good in Mongolian means even worse, as the road was no different from the incoming road but with the added degree of difficulty of really deep river crossings. We got lost and ended up at at dead end but luckily found a farmer who was just about to leave his farm and do the deep river crossing, he volunteered to show us the way. His method of locking the farmhouse door was interesting, he used a split log to nail across the front door using a stone. The river depth was well above the wheels and I had to turn on my wipers from the wash. At this point I must add that our guide has been most inadequate, not knowing the roads or crossings. He was constantly asking the locals for directions and did not seem to know anything. We missed the best rock drawings in central Asia, a promised ger stay and Lake Khoton Nuur.

We made it back and troopy did not miss a beat. I must say, though, the local farmers and nomads get about in 4WD petrol Lada’s and vans, which seem to handle the terrain just as well as our thoroughbred Landcruiser.

18th August 2014 A recovery day today saw us walk ten minutes into town to do some browsing and copy some documents related to the China leg of our trip. We saw street vendors selling animal skins with legs and hooves still attached and two women dragging what looked like a horse suit, which is exactly what it was, except real, along the street.

In the afternoon we visited the local museum, which was quite interesting and then went to the movies Mongolian style. What this entails is that you buy a ticket and then choose which movie you want to see. This is easy enough if there are only two of you but you can see that any more and it could become complicated. The theatre seats about thirty people. Luckily we were in first and got to see our choice, a Ben Stiller movie The Secret World of Walter Mittey, quite good and in English.

On coming home we met a Dutch couple Belinda and Markus who, it turns out are part of our China convoy and are camped right next door to us.

19th August 2014 Had to register our visa and get some third party insurance for the car and spent futile hours getting neither as it turns out that both are unnecessary.

Marcus and Belinda have proved to be like-minded with us and we seem to bump into them all over, even in the restaurant toilet in town. We all looked through the markets and bid a fond adieu before we set of toward U.B. (Ulaan Baatar) at 4pm.

The first 60K was perfect tar road, what a disappointment. Then suddenly hit really bad dirt road, what a disappointment! No mostly good dirt with but with some hairy water crossings. This is the main southern route I’m talking about. So maybe it is a frontier after all. Nonetheless we feel safe and are wild camped again somewhere.

20th August 2014   Leaving Ulgii We had to pay a road tax at a police post. Later on I wondered why. This is a 4×4 enthusiast’s paradise.

21st August 2014 Rock & Roll, literally. From the large town of Khovd we had perfect tar for 160k’s and then, bang, really bad dirt. One section, many kilometres long, was so bad that you could not use it at any speed, luckily there was a track next to it which was nearly as bad. In the end the best option was to use no road at all. That’s one good thing in Mongolia, if you get lost or want to use another road (There is usually a choice of six or more) you can just shoot off in a direction until it connects with the road you want. I recommend doing this in conjunction with a GPS device.

The Mongol Rally is in progress at the moment and we have travelled along side many of the entrants, we are almost one of them travelling at times with several cars abreast on different tracks, cars weaving all over the place. One condition is that the cars have to have 1 litre engines or less. This means that they are all small cars and how they manage to survive the bad roads and mud I do not know. Actually quite a few cars don’t make it and there is a collection of abandoned cars at Altai.

From Altai we have opted to go north as this seems to be more interesting and I think we will also miss the crazy rally driving.

22nd August 2014 I think we made the right choice as the road is much better and the scenery is very beautiful with undulating hills to small mountains and rocky outcrops interspersed with Ger villages every now and then. Altitude around the Mt Kosciusko mark. Weather here is beautiful with cool nights. The sky, if you look up, is a blackish blue (close to space) but if you look to the horizon it is a vivid pale blue I haven’t seen before.

Found Uliastai to be an interesting town with quite a history and explored it’s market to find a Ger kit seller and the butcher from where we bought some goat meat. Now just wild camped on the outskirts ready for a day of R&R, exploring and doing some home chores and maintenance.

23rd August 2014 Just a washing day as the weather is perfect and we are close to a river.

In the afternoon a cow arrived, on it’s own and after a while we gave it some left over curry, banana skins and bread. She devoured the goat curry and then, obviously loving it, proceeded to make a real pest of herself by trying to lick everything in sight. She was persistent and would not let up until rounded up for the night by the farmers cattle dogs.

23rd August 2014 In the morning as Judy was preparing breakfast who should we see walking across the fields to us but the cow. Which goes to prove that cows do have memories, and I always thought they were stupid. Doing the wrong thing we fed her again, this time with toad in the hole. We won’t get rid of her now.

My dung fire experiment was a great success, it burns like coal with no wood added.

24th August 2014 Drove on reasonable dirt roads through green valleys surrounded by timbered hills to end up camped by a stream at Tosontsengel.

25th August 2014

The roads today were diabolical, giving us a sample of every kind of bad road there is from huge pot holes to shard surfaces, corrugations, sand and at one point an incline which must have been at a 45 degree tilt. (Had to use low range 1st gear to get down) The road building techniques here are similar to the ones we have seen in Africa, building new roads but also scarring the landscape as they go along, some valleys were just a mess.

With no road signage to tell of diversions and the many options of tracks to take it become a true jigsaw puzzle even with GPS, throw in a deep river crossing and confusion reigned as cars drove all over the place trying to find the right way. We did this too.

Now camped by Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur (Nuur means lake in Mongolian).

26th August 2014 Entered the National park surrounding Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur via the village of Tariat and saw the extinct volcano Khorgo Uul. This is a real tourist trap Mongolian style. That is to say there were some stalls selling soft drinks and what looked like beans in a fluid. Two ladies came to our van selling fish and a type of meat piroshky, delicious. From there we started to circumnavigate the lake and came to a mud crossing in the middle of which was a small sedan belonging to a couple of local lads. I think they could not believe their good luck when they saw my winch, we had them out in five minutes and in gratitude gave us a bag of biscuits which they insisted we take.

We drive over these roads thinking them a challenge but the Mongolians seem to get away with, most of the time, using town sedans although there are plenty of LandCruisers about also.

We are now camped at a very beautiful place overlooking the lake surrounded by wooded rises, on a sandy beach with the sun shining and no one else around.

Mongolia has a population of three million, two million of which live in Ulaan Bataar and it is a big country. Last night we camped just off what we thought was a dirt track with huge ruts and pot holes (ravines and valleys, almost impassable) but in fact it was a main thoroughfare with juggernauts passing all through the night.

Driving here in this remote valley we pass three teenage girls wearing what my daughters would wear, looking as if they are on their way to a club. Globalisation is here too.

At about 8.30pm came a tap on the side of the car and when I opened the door I was greeted by a nomad with his horse. He spoke no English or Russian and I no Mongolian. We made noises and he motioned to his mouth which I thought meant food but then he produced some cigarette papers and baccy. He rolled, I lit, and after a while I mentioned the only universal word marijuana?. I quickly add that I did not partake but gave him some of the biscuits, we had received earlier in the day, which he quickly stashed in his coat, and I watched him finish the smoke, involuntarily inhaling some of the fumes.

27th August 2014 Didn’t get going until about eleven and we stopped at a roadhouse for lunch, which smelled of mutton. The hostess greeted us and came out with an artistically crafted dumpling, shaping it right before our eyes, so we agreed to this for lunch. A thermos was produced and into a bowl was poured the Mongolian, warm, salted milk drink which may well have been mare’s milk, not as bad as it sounds, although Judy could not drink much of it. After a while lunch was served. It was just a kind of raw pasta with mutton, not quite what we expected but it tasted OK doused with soya sauce. On the up side, it only cost five dollars total.

We drove on towards Tsetserleg and blow me down if we didn’t get 80k’s of beautiful tar road which was like a small holiday in itself, after all the bumping around of late.

At Tsetserleg we found Fairfield Guest House, owned by an Aussie couple, Murray and Elizabeth from Hurstville in Sydney, just a few short kilometres from where we live back home. We have booked a room for tomorrow night, as tonight it is booked out, and hope for a night out on the town, as there are a few pubs around. Fairfield offers steak and chips so this will be our start. Looking forward to a shower.

Tonight we are camped by the river, five k’s out of town, another beautiful spot.

Our night at Fairfield didn’t turn out as expected. Judy was up all night vomiting with what we thought may have been food poisoning until the next night when I copied her, must have been a bug. So we just took it easy doing only a few miles per day and sleeping in. All better now.

 

31st August 2014  Arrived at Ulaan Bataar or UB as hip travellers call it. It is a large and fairly modern city on first impressions with a dual carriage/toll way, still with potholes, leading into the city for the approaching 20 k’s. In fact it has been tar a lot of the way from Erdenesant.

 

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