Northern Mongolia – Maybe, I Don’t Know :-)
Time for our next trip organised through the UB Guesthouse, 426,000T each, this included food, travel, accommodation and the wonderful Jack and the added bonus of his 13 year old boy aka Mini Jack.
We set off early back up the road we had only just come back on to Karakorum, as we were just there the other day we did nothing and waited with anticipation for the next drive to our next stop Tsetserleg. It wasn’t a great drive, Jack told us the scenery didn’t get interesting for a few days so we spent our time getting to know our fellow passengers Sandi and Vanessa, they’re both American but born elsewhere, Vanessa, Hong Kong and Sandi, Thailand.
We got to Tserserleg early so we headed to the Museum of Arkhangai Aimag. It is housed in the temple complex of Zayain Gegeenii Sum which was first built in 1586 but expanded in 1679, when it housed 5 temples and 1000 monks. The monastery escaped Stalinist purges because it was already a museum. It was very beautiful and very interesting to see the old Mongolian artifacts, Tony really enjoyed being told how to stroke a stuffed horse but some mad Mongolian woman.
After a very uncomfortable nights sleep including T falling out of bed and my bed having a plank of wood right down the middle, we headed to Terlchiin Tsagaan Nuur via a wonderful gorge (Chuluut Gorge) where we had a spot of lunch.
Terlchiin Tsagaan Nuur is a national park which is full of volcanic craters and the white lake, our destination for the next two nights. We were treated to having a walk up the Khorgho Uul Volcano to its crater with stunning views of the white lake. This lake was formed by lava flows from the volcano that errupted many millennia ago.
After the volcano Jack decided to take yet again one of his roads that ended up with us being stuck in a deep pond with water streaming into the van, after many attempts Jack expertly got the van out and told us to jump the next bit while he drove, making the point that we were all fatties and weighed him down!!!!
So we all took it in turns to jump over the next stream, everyone expertly landing except G who managed to land flat on her face in a dried cow pat with her glasses about a foot away, this brightened Jack’s and every else’s day up no end, all wishing they had a video of this!!! Ben got photos, maybe they might appear on facebook, maybe…
We got to our ger quite late after the above eventful afternoon to find someone else was in it, so without any hesitation the whole family who run the ger camp we were staying at vacated their downstairs living quarters in their tiny wooden house for us to sleep in….This was one long massive bed, Sandi and Vanessa were lucky and got beds offered to them in a ger where some Koreans were staying, leaving us and Ben to get cosy in the one massive bed!!!!!
The next day, we spent all morning chilling out, we headed along the lake to the shop at the far end, ending up having a wonderful lunch of rice and meat and buuz, (Mongolian meat dumplings) and of course a beer or two (cold by the way!!!!). After our stroll back we had a bash at horse riding, g was again nervous but didn’t chicken out this time and enjoyed all of it apart from when the horses were eating, which was pretty much most of the time!!!! At the end of 2 hours, T got off his head banging horse sporting a very wet bum indeed and later he noticed he had two huge bum sores!!!! No more horse riding for T then!!!!
After a sweaty ride on the horses T and Ben decided to be brave and have a dip in the lake which looked far too cold for G, she was right, they behaved like women trying to get wet, very amusing, we then headed back for food and an early night by the fire in the ger and watched the amazing stars and shooting stars the bright Mongolian sky had to offer.
Next was time for the massive road trip up north to Moron, pronounced Muroon. It was a 12 house jobby which entailed us passing Mongolia’s number 1 bridge (according to crazy Jack), we wondered what G’s dad would make of it!!! We also passed a 12th century burial site with deer stones. Deer stones are found across Mongolia, they can date back to the bronze age. The ancient steppe tribes believed that after death a soul departed this world and ascended to the sky on the backs of deer. The deer carved on the stones are representational of this, of 700 stones in the world 500 are in Mongolia.
We arrived late at our ger for the night in non descript Moron, after a late meal of surprise surprise soup, we were treated to the most amazing thunder and lightening storm ever. We couldn’t get photos but got some wicked video footage.
Next stop was the Khovsgol Nuur National Park. This park is known as the blue pearl of Mongolia and has the second largest lake in Mongolia, 2760 sq km, 262m deep and is the worlds 14th largest source of fresh water. It contains between 1% and 2% of the worlds fresh water, thats 380,700 billion litres!!!! It was formed by the same tectonic forces as Lake Baikal but is slightly younger.
We arrived early so we dumped our stuff and Jack took us to a place to eat, for 2000T (less than a quid) we were treated to yummy beef, gravy and rice!!!! He then took us 45km up the West side of the lake because mini Jack wanted to see the reindeers herded by the Tgaatan people.
There are only about 300 of them and their entire existence is based around their herds of reindeer which provide milk, skin for clothes, antlers for carving and medicine, transport and occasionally meat. They are part of the tuvan ethnic group which inhabits the Tuvan Republic of Russia. They have small encampments of Tepees (Orts) and move around every few weeks looking for special types of grass and lichen needed by the reindeer. To visit them in their natural habitat is very hard but tourism has brought them to the shores of lake Khousgol. This is a bad thing for the reindeer because the lichen they need to survive on isn’t at this lake so every year lots fall ill and even die.
As Vanessa said to me, Ignorance is bliss, should we not have known about this we would have enjoyed seeing these beautiful creatures in such an amazing back drop but we weren’t happy contributing to the decline of them so we stayed at a distance, watching mini Jack totally love them, taking photos of the Caribbean looking lake and sampling the local smoked fish.
Next was a night out in town for some beers in the local “bar” if you could even call it a bar, it was more a room with 3 tables in and just us. To go to the loo you had to walk through the kitchen, past the family ger, through their garden and use their double squat long drop loo.
We also discovered the most amazing snack, fried meat dumpling, 300T each (about 20p). We tried to order more but after half an hour of waiting we guessed they weren’t coming so we paid the bill and headed back to the warm ger.
The next day we spent most of this chilling out, we went for a walk along the river towards the lake but the weather turned so we darted into a ger camp which had a bar and camped out there till it passed. Once the rain got slightly lighter we headed back to the ger where everyone else was and enjoyed a relaxing evening drinking and chatting.
Well the rain got no better through the night and after us thinking we were not going to be able to leave the next morning, the sun eventually shone and off we went to our next stop Khutag-Ondor, this place wasn’t in the LP sp we didn’t know what to expect. It as another monster drive but we finally made it at 9pm, it was beautiful, just 3 gers by a river in the middle of a valley. Dinner was going to be a while so we sat down by the river taking in the stunning views with a beer. The fire starter (Vanessa) got the ger fire roaring ready for us to sit in the warm for dinner.
The final leg of our journey was finally here, and our last stop was Amarbayasgalant Temple. It was again a long drive and a bit of a squash, Jack had offered the ger family a lift to the nearest town (6 hours away) so with 3 people in the passenger seat and the rest of us in the back we headed off. Stopping for some Mares Milk on the way mmmmm nice!!!!
The Amarbayasgalant Khid monastery is considered to be one of the top 3 Buddhist institutes in Mongolia and the country’s most intact architectural complex. It was originally built in 1727 to 1737 by the Manchu emperor Yongzheng and dedicate to the great Mongolian Buddhist and Sculptor Zanabazar. The communists ‘only’ destroyed 10 out of the 37 temples and statues.
It was a lovely monastery and very peaceful with amazing views of the surrounding valleys.
So after 9 days on the road and a wicked drunken last night together in our ger with more torrential rain we were finally back in UB. One last listen to Jack’s Russian Dance Tape and a sad farewell to him, our Mongolian ventures had just about ended.
Well just about, once we got into the hostel we were told there was no hot water….can you believe it, only one shower in 9 days and we get back to no hot water!!!!!!