Friday, September 22, 2006

The Wonders

After spending some days taking my sweet time in Ulaanbataar, I happened to pass a woman in the guest house talking about her impending departure to the countryside. I asked her about her plan, and it turned out that she was leaving on a tour with two British people who would be arriving two days later. The number of travel days scheduled was 18. The number of people involved if I joined would be six, four tourists, a guide, and a driver. The price per day would be 39 dollars, all inclusive. And the route, cutting a loop including northern, central, and southern Mongolia, was scheduled around two temples and four scenic spots.

I wanted to spend most of my time in the countryside, and knew there were plenty of points of interest out there, but didn't want to do much planning, so this itinerary suited me just fine; I signed on.


The first major destination, where we planned to spend three nights, was lake Khovsgol, near the border with Russia. Due to the distance, nearly 24 hours by car, we stayed near Amarbayasgalant temple on our first night, and the river Selenge on our second. About four hours away from the lake, Harry lost her bag, or rather, her bag was lost, so we ended up spending a night in Moron in hope of recovering it.

When we awoke on our second morning on the road, it was snowing. It was suprising, crisp, and lovely. None of us were dressed for it, but we soon geared up, and the unexpected chill gave us a great excuse to keep the fire going in our ger.

Khovsgol Nuur

We spent three nights at Lake Khovsgol, despite the earlier delay, during which we took a two day horse ride.

a typical lunchtime panorama

After the first lake, we headed to another one, Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, further south. This meant another two days overland, but the journey was never without its interests, pleasures, and oddities, and I wouldn't have chosen to travel any other way.

Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur was warmer, in terms of weather and character, than Lake Khovsgol. The first lake, thought to be one or two percent of the world's fresh water supply, was inconceivably large, but the second one I could have walked around, given two days. Also, the second lake was swimmable, given slightly warmer weather.

sunset at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur

We spent two nights at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, where I took several very long walks to shake out my head and my legs after spending so much time in a tourist tank and nomad tents with five people. I also hand-washed my clothes into a relatively clean state. I wouldn't want to do it every day, but at that moment, it was deeply satisfying.


Our next major nature destination was Bayanzag, or The Flaming Cliffs, so named by an American dirt-digger, tall tale-teller, and adventurer who found a lot of dinosaur bones there in the 1920's. Again, the distance was immense, and on the way we spent one night at a hot spring, where I had a "whey manipulation massage," basically a massage with smelly milk, and another night near a temple.

Bayanzag was beautiful, and hot. Apparently there are dinosaur bones there, and if you lick them, they stick to your tongue. There are a lot of livestock bones there too, deserts being easy places to die; since I opted to chart my own route that day, rather than walk with our group and guide, I missed the authenticity testing by tongue.

clearly not dinosaur bones

Khongoryn Els

Our last, and most stunning stop, was the Khongoryn Dunes. They were magnificent, and none of my photos reflect that. So, all you get is this dune and two camels on a screen. If you want some wonderment, you'll have to go there. We stayed at the dunes for two nights, and then drove nine hours the next day to get to a goat farm and evict a family from their ger. They usually have a guest ger, but as they were preparing for their winter migration, they had taken it down the day before. The next morning, we drove another four hours to reach Ulaanbataar.

You who live in the land of pavement may not think that nine hours is a long drive, but it definitely is if there is no road. We drove about 4,000 km (6,400 miles) and an estimated 70 hours. About four of those hours were spent on paved roads, and the rest were a bone jarring adventure.

I'm not complaining; if there's one thing I learned it's that everything is easier when you relax. I knew that already, but I sure had a lot of time to practice!


Blogger Clay Bethelbridge said...

I dont know where you are but wowwwwwwwwwwwwwww. Great blog. Please keep giving us pictures.

10:39 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Desiree said...

I'm in Mongolia. And thanks, I will!

1:30 AM GMT-5  

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