By Nikki and Neil
16.08.2019 - 24.08.2019 20 °C
Gobi Desert, August 2019
Tuyukhuu took the guitar with a gleam in his eye. He tested out the sound of the E string, then ran up the bass string to an A minor chord. His gnarled fingers bending to push the strings. So many decades of tending his sheep and goats. So many horses ridden. We were sitting on the floor in his ger, a 6-metre diameter nomad home constructed of a wooden frame and felt made from the wool of his own sheep, decorated with his family’s possessions and his own old guitar.
He picked at the strings for a moment or two and then started to sing in low, guttural Mongolian:
“My mother was a young woman wearing green…”
His voice was deep, coming from low in his throat. He sang poignantly of his mother and the beauty of her youth in her favourite green dress. And how, after many decades of hard work and life on the land, she still looked beautiful to him wearing that colour. We sat, not understanding the words at the time, but feeling the emotion in his song. Our 23-year-old guide Sagua, raised by his grandmother in the Gobi Desert, knew every word of this traditional song and sang along with Tuyukhuu.
When he finished playing, Tuyukhuu stroked the guitar reverentially and then broke into a huge smile, saying (through our translator) “Such an instrument! Thank you!”
Toyukhuu playing Neil’s travel guitar, with his own instrument in the background – Family ger, Gobi Desert – August 2019
Toyukhuu’s wife and sons were there for the performance, serving the ubiquitous, slightly salted goat’s milk tea, which would be served as a greeting in every ger we entered on the trip. The only variation was the type of milk, sometimes also cow, sheep or yak – although never horse, which can only be drunk once fermented (a taste which requires some getting used to!) We were also served home-made biscuits, dried goat’s curd and, a new favourite, fresh goats cheese.
The traditional greeting of milk tea, biscuits and dried goat’s curd. Unusually there was also fresh goat’s curd, which was creamy and sweet. All washed down with goat’s milk vodka and snuff!
So, Mongolia and Spain is a bit of a strange combination. But then in 2015, we went to Bhutan and Italy. Nik has a real penchant for this part of the world and Mongolia has been on the top of her list since she went to Tibet 15 years ago. I asked her about why she feels such a draw to these remote and isolated countries…
As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the people, landscapes, culture and spirituality of countries like Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia. The remoteness, the harsh realities of life, the tenuousness and tenacity of cultures under threat, a deep spiritualism which connects them to their land all speak to me as something incredibly important that we are at risk of losing. Encroaching ideologies, outright eradication of culture, threats of climate change are just a few of the challenges they face.
I went to Tibet nearly 15 years ago and it is still one of my favourite places on earth. I loved the vast stunning landscapes, feeling my problems dwindle like me, into a tiny insignificant speck on the Tibetan plateau. There was a profound spiritualism that felt that every small thing that people did in some way related to their connection to the land, their culture and their faith. It felt like a lived experience rather than religion as we so often see it manifest in western cultures. This experience has stayed with me ever since, making it incredibly difficult to watch this beautiful culture be wiped off the earth by the Chinese government. I have always wanted to know if Mongolia would have a similar feeling, with its remote, nomadic, animist background.
So finally, after 15 years I finally found myself flying in to UlaanBaatar. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Mongolia! Finally! I didn’t know what I would find. With so much of the population moved into the urban sprawl of the capital city (over half!) would there still be nomads, people living in connection with the mongolian land, language and history? I was ready for anything, but was desperately hoping that some connection still existed, that not everything had gone the way of western capitalism or socialist ‘development’. It was so much more than we hoped….
Mongolia: Some first impressions
Nikki is a fabulous organiser. We joke that, on the Big Trip in 2017 (from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope) if it hadn’t had been for Nikki, I’d still be in Chile where we started. As we only had 14 days in Mongolia and wanted to see both the Gobi Desert in the south and Khovsgol Lake in the north (over 3,300 km round trip), a lot of research had taken place to make sure we could do everything we wanted to do, but in as authentic way as possible (little was I to know what ‘authentic’ would mean for my backside after 14 days in a bumpy truck!) But, sure enough, when we’d arrived at Ulaanbaatar airport from Melbourne (after a measly 20 hour trip), Sagua, our guide for the next 14 days, was there to greet us. So far, so good!
Our guide Sagua, pointing out the image of a deer (which can be seen vaguely on the stone by Sagua’s right knee) on a marker stone dating from the Bronze age. The deer stones are dotted throughout this particular region of the central highlands on Mongolia, always near rocky formations thought to be burial mounds. Their purpose is not clear but shows a connection to that land that has existed for millennia.
Oh My God! Mongolia! Where to start? Ok. I’m an engineer. It’s got to be with a map:
Okaaay. That would be Nikki deleting my lovely world map and replacing it with one that reflects a less China centric version of the world and acknowledging Tibet as an autonomous state. That said, this blog is about Mongolia and so, as you can see, there’s Mongolia, between China, Russia ... and Tibet. It does however show the historic boundaries of greater Mongolia which extended into Northern China. Known as Inner Mongolia (here southern), this part of Mongolia did not form the independent state of Mongolia (otherwise known as Outer or proper) when it was formed in 1921. With Mongolia and China changing leadership between the hordes and dynasties numerous times over millennia, China had subsumed Mongolia as a whole in the 17h century (after many years of Mongol rule). When, after pressure from the then USSR, China relinquished this control, only Outer Mongolia became independent and Inner (or Southern) Mongolia was retained by the Chinese.
And I like a map that shows the actual elevation of a country. Note that very little of Mongolia is below 1,000 metres elevation.
Nikki has written about why she was drawn to Mongolia, let me write about what hit me between the eyes during our trip. Nomadism. AND NO FENCES! I’ve never, and Mongolia is country 87 for me, been to a country that doesn’t have fences.
3 million people. 1.5 million square km (3 times the size of Victoria (our home state in Australia) or France), and 85 million livestock (40 mil sheep, 36 mil goats, 60K camels, 30K horses and 9mil cows - roughly).
And then this. A Ger. A Mongolian home. A meeting place. A community and, despite all appearances, the warmest – both from the perspective of temperature and personally - place you could stay.
Ger camp from our first night. The family lived in four gers and the rest had been set up for tourists and other guests. We stayed in camps like this for most of the tour, where additional gers had simply been added to the family camp with no additional facilities etc. A couple of nights we stayed in tourist camps built specifically for that purpose and on a couple of lucky nights we stayed in a family camp, including our guide Sagua’s. However, every family camp seemed to have a spare ger or two for family or guests.
A ger is built from a lattice of wood, wrapped in a layer of felt from camel, sheep, goat, horse or yak wool to insulate it, and then covered in a layer of canvas. In southern Mongolia, where it was still warm, the top of the ger was open all of the time, allowing the warm air to escape and a breeze to sneak in. As we moved north, each ger would have a stove in the middle both for cooking, but also to keep us warm at night. A little too effective, we often were sweltering once the stove got going and had to step outside into the chill to wait for it to cool down!
Our ger home at the White Lake. Here you can see the lattice work frame. The felt is covered in the colourful fabric for decoration, but in some gers was visible. The floor covering was directly onto the ground and was usually vinyl, although in one ger we had carpet!
The roof of a ger, left open to allow fresh air and the stars in at night. In colder areas, the outer canvas would be pulled over the opening if it rained or was very cold.
Nik took a panorama of each ger we stayed in! Here are a couple for you to find the Neil with! As you can see they would have between two and five beds in each, some with stoves (up north) and some without and with a variety of decorations! The wonky roofs are the camera not the gers!
That’s the physical side of the ger. But the community side, the Connection side, is very important. Every camp we went to, other than the tourist camps, we would immediately visit the family ger for hot tea and biscuits (and inevitably curd of some description). Guests sit to the left of the door and family to the right, in descending age. Despite assurances of the development of gender equality in Mongolia, the patriarchy was evident in the elder male of the household taking pride of place at the head of such gatherings and the women being present but not in a formal recognised way. That said there would always be some interaction with the family and many were happy (albeit surprised) to answer questions. We got the feeling many tourist guest would not try to make much conversation.
When we stayed at the Flaming Cliffs in the north of the Gobi Desert, we stayed with just such a family. An elderly couple both were hobbled with age, but clearly still spry and loved a good chat with both guests and friends (a constant stream of whom arrived on motorcycle and horse throughout the afternoon). The couple set up the first Ger tourist camp at the Flaming cliffs over 20 years before and were relaxed in welcoming us to join them for milk tea. The tea is served in individual bowls which everyone sips while reclining on the floor. As old friends Uugi (our driver) and Sagua happily settled in for the afternoon. With the tea served and stove fired up, our host pulled out his small bottle and then offered it to each of us in turn. We had no idea what it was!
“This is a special ritual” Sagua told us. “You must accept the bottle by outstretching your right hand and supporting your right elbow with your left hand to respect the gift. You then pull out the stopper, sniff it, close the bottle and return it”. I raised it to my nose and had a sniff. Almost like snuff. It smelt like, hmm, incense. It wasn’t unpleasant and at least I didn’t sneeze all over them! I handed it back in the same way I’d accepted it, thanking our host.
Mongolian Snuff Bottle. One lifts the flat part of the ‘stick’ part up to the nose and, well, sniffs…
While his wife chatted with Uugi and Sagua, our host then put a huge pot on the stove and started to carve a very dark looking meat into it. Sagua confirmed that this was horse meat which they were going to share together later that evening. We stayed in the tent asking some questions about the changes they had seen over time (our host had after all joked he had been there since the flood) and heard about the recent efforts to replant the indigenous saksaul trees to prevent further erosion. This welcome was repeated in many of the places we visited.
This sense of welcome, community and connection, was throughout Mongolia and for me, made the biggest impression.
The Gobi Desert
Many people have heard of the Gobi Desert, but what is it? You’ll see from the map above that the Gobi covers all of southern Mongolia.
The low rainfall in the Gobi, 42 mm per year (versus 230 mm in Broken Hill, Australia), is due to it being in the rain shadow of the Himalayas.
We started with a 280 km drive south, half on black top roads and half off road with Sagua and a temporary driver (the father of our driver to be Uugi who was finishing another tour). It took about 2 hours for it to click what was weird. Our vehicle was driving on the right-hand side of the road. No, that’s not weird. It being a right-hand drive vehicle was weird. And made for some interesting overtaking!
UlaanBaatar is 1,300 metres above sea level and Mongolia varies between 900 and 4,300 metres in altitude. The temperature of the country, however, is not moderated by the ocean, since it is landlocked. We’d got within 250 km of Mongolia on the Big Trip when we’d visited Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, and we had been amazed to hear that the whole lake freezes over in winter. Mongolia is not very far north - it’s southern most point is at around latitude 41 degrees (the same as Pamplona in Spain) and the northernmost point is 50 degrees, (the same as London), but the weather in winter is a tad more chilly. In winter it can drop to between -30 C and -50 C with the wind chill! When we were there, it promised to still be warm in the south (low twenties) dropping to the mid teens at night. Up north, it was already getting cold (at the end of summer!)
On day one we visited Baga Gazriin Chuluu within one of the few special protected areas of Mongolia. These spectacular granite rock formations emerge from the green undulating plain in beautiful hues of red and burnt orange, creating a spectacular gorge and viewpoint to watch the sun setting. It is also the site of the ruins of the Choir Monastery, a 17th century Buddhist temple that was destroyed in 1938 by soviet and mongolian forces.
Spectacular cliffs and gorges of Baga Gazriin Chuluu emerging from the plains of the Gobi.
Prayer flags waving over Baga Gazriin Chuluu.
There are lots of eagles, hawks, and falcons in Mongolia, and this nest was really impressive.
That’ll be an eagles nest. I know. I found a feather.
Then it was time for our first Ger camp (see photo of the first camp, below is us wandering out at sunset to watch the view).
It was at this point that the ‘basic facilities’ of the trip we were on kind of sank in. Pit toilets, sometimes with a door, sometimes without. No showers (because there is no running water in a temporary camp out on the plateau). Sleeping bags. The beds looked fine. Frames. Mattress. No. Hold on. That isn’t a mattress, it fabric spread over a wooden board!
It was pretty uncomfortable the first night. And the second. And then we learnt to strip the other beds to pad the beds we were sleeping on and occasionally a real mattress would turn up and we would draw straws for the luxury of sleeping on it. But we did get used to it. And as Nik (repeatedly) pointed out, it was only for two weeks and is a part of the authentic experience that we had asked for!
And the scenery really was stunning...
Camels at sunset
Waking up the following morning, our full-time driver, Uugi arrived with the real wheels! A Russian UAZ 452. Been in production since 1965 (although its predecessor, the UAZ 450, started production in 1958). It’s produced by the Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod company in, surprisingly, Ulyanovsky, which is 705 km’s east of Moscow.
Couldn’t wipe the smile of my face. I have ALWAYS wanted to ride in one of these!
Now we’re talking! I love people who do stupid things. Like Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman when they rode motorbikes from London to New York, the Long Way Round, i.e. through Russia, including up the Road of Bones. They took a UAZ 452 on their trip and so I was very excited. It has 4WD. It is, I was going to say unbreakable, but it isn’t. You can break them. But then they are dead easy to fix (as we discovered), if you know how....
Sagua is from the Gobi region, and day two took us to his home near the Tsagaan Suvraga, also known as the White Stupa. This escarpment is 60m high and 400 long, in amazing hues of red, orange, purple and pink. It used to be a seabed and the different layers project different colours as they have eroded. It was a spectacular (if hot) hike...
The Tsagaan Suvraga escarpment...
Sagua’s ‘Home Ger Camp’, could be seen from the top of Tsagaan Suvraga and consisted of 4 gers. In his absence (while guiding during the summer) it is cared for by his aunt and nephews. We arrived to discover his aunt had gone away for a few days and his nephews, aged 14 and 8, were looking after the camels. Camels have offspring every 2 years and there were three calves at the camp. They had been tethered there to ensure that their mothers would come back to feed them and in turn be milked.
The feeding and milking of the camels, up close!
After milking we relaxed in the ger and played a game of ‘knucklebones’ using, well, real knuckles! The most original of Mongolian games, called “shagai”, knucklebones are played with sheep and ibex knucklebones. We played the most common shagai game, “horse race”. It was pretty close stuff there for awhile, but the boys eventually wiped the ger with us!
Playing ‘Horse Race’ with sheep knuckles! As you can imagine Nik was completely grossed out by the whole thing...
And then Nik was roped, yet again, into the inevitable cultural destruction episode. Yes, the Mongolians now know all the words and actions to the Wiggles ‘Rock-a-bye-your bear’!
After the Wiggles, the boys and Sagua sang a traditional kids song for us in return. It was a lot of fun.
The evening rounded out with a visit to Sagua’s uncle’s camp where more milk tea followed, along with, I think, goat vodka.
Neil nerds out - Third World leap-frogging the First World
Africa has 1.2 billion people and in 2017 I believe there were 700 million mobiles phones. In the first world, for telecommunications copper wire was run to each house. Then Mobiles got introduced and mobile towers were put up. The Africans, however, leap-frogged the whole copper wire bit, and went straight to the towers.
Same in Mongolia with electricity. The nomads want electricity, so they just bought a solar panel or two and a battery and Bob’s your Uncle! Lighting in the Gers? Battery with a light. Fridge? 12 volt fridge off a battery. Hot Water? Put in a solar hot water heater. Gers often have TV, fridge, DVD player, and light.
That’ll be your Mongolian shower heater and water storage….
Love it. So cool.
If any of you have not been living under a rock for the past 2 decades, you’ll have some sort of awareness of the character above.
The Yol Valley is a highly shaded chasm with a stream running down it. And there are lots of these:
Northern Mongolian Pika…
They look pretty similar to me!
There were also some very scared tree trunks. So scared they were petrified. (What? I’m a Dad! I can do Dad jokes!).
Petrified Tree Trunks…
Walking into the Yol Valley
While a lovely walk, the Yol valley has traditionally been a tourist site for the boulders of ice that remain in the chasm all year round due to the lack of sunlight reaching the bottom of the gorge. However, about 5 years ago the ice completely melted for the first time that anyone could remember. Vans and cars full of tourists continue to turn up each summer in a vain hope that this year the ice would have remained, but when we visited the ice had melted over two months before.
On the way out of the valley we visited the local museum that, while small, was quite fascinating, including the very scared trees, taxidermy of the local wildlife and dinosaur fossils, such as the eggs below.
Dinosaur eggs! Yes! Really!
Looking back towards Yol Valley from a lookout above our ger camp.
On day four we set out for the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, also popularly known as the "Singing Sands". The dune formation lies within the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park and extends over 965 square kms. Located in the extreme south of the Gobi Desert, the dunes stretch for over 100kms, are up to 26 kms deep and can reach up to 300m at their apex. The dunes can make humming sounds on windy days hence the name the "Singing Dunes".
However, on the way, we had a couple of stops to make. One was to play guitar with Tuyukhuu and the other to drop in on an old school friend of Saguas. Who happened to be breaking in a young horse. This only happens once a horse is two. Enter all young men including Sagua and Uugi, out in the dust, whooping and chasing the horse in order to bring it in. It was a very manual affair which involved grabbing the horse around the neck, being dragged around on your heels for a few hundred metres, falling to the ground and then trying again!
Sagua’s mate, with his arms around the neck of the horse, feet dragging on the ground, trying to bring the horse to a stop…. Which he did. On the fourth attempt.
Until the horse finally gave up and the boys decided to try and ride it. All I can say is that the horse got the last say. Below is the outcome of Sagua’s attempt to ride the horse - at least he didn't fly as high as his whip!
“Righto Sagua. Let me hit the horse on the arse and see how you go…… Oh dear !”. That’s Sagua flying through the air!
One of the most striking features about the Khongor dunes is the lush oasis that runs along their front, fed by a small river. As the water is trapped between the river and dunes, it has created a band of green and luxuriant vegetation, which is an amazing contrast to the pristine yellow dunes behind. From our ger camp we were able to take a camel ride to the oasis and river to relax.
Prince Charles is noted for this quote “Camels are the only animals I know that produce foul odour from both ends”. This is indeed true. Each to their own I say, and I know Sagua rode a camel to school when he was young and that they are an important part of Mongolian society and economy. However, that is the very last time I get up on a camel. I don’t know what was worse - the smell or the vertigous rolling gait that made me think I would fall off with every step. Not my cup of tea! Nik doesn’t ride animals and so made the smart choice of walking along behind - a long way behind...
Camel riding? Er, no….
And then onto the sand dunes. That evening we drove out to one of the highest points on the dune to climb to the top for sunset. We didn’t quite make the sunset. Our guide is 23. I think he made his assessment based on healthy, twenty somethings. Not a forty and fifty something! 50 minutes to get to the top with Nikki and Sagua helping to haul me up the final 75 metres. However, he got us to the top and it was amazing. And we didn’t die! Hoorah! (And for those in the know, it was harder than Namibia!)
Upwards, and upwards… (You can see the green oasis in the background abutting the dunes).
At the top, at last, of the 400m high sand dune (Reports of height varied. We are going with the highest. Of course!)
View of the dunes from the top.
Bayan Zag (Flaming Cliffs)
So, this is all very nice, travelling around, seeing stuff, experiencing lots of new things, seeing Mongolia. Well yes. And bloody uncomfortable beds. And pit toilets. And showering every 2 – 3 days. In a town’s shower house. And lastly, there are very few roads. So it’s a track. And a really bad track. And have you ever been in a tumble dryer? For 6 hours? Ugii did a great job of making it as smooth as he could make it, but Neil was, as Nikki would put it a “Sooky La La”. Ok we had 57 days on a truck in Africa on the Big Trip, but this was so much harder. **Um Nikki just threatened to delete the entire blog if I didn’t pull it together and stop being such a complete snivelling tit and appreciate the incredible opportunity in front of me - so I take it all back - except about the toilets. And the showers. And the, okayokayokay - its all awesome!!!**
I mentioned earlier about the vans being able to be repaired. The bright green one below had blown a, I think, bearing seal on the front differential. 1 hour was all it took for the van to be back on the road.
Nik went for a walk during the repairs and took this photo of the three UAZ vans.
Nikki also went off to look for flowers. They really are quite stunning!
You remember this character don’t you?
He was actually based on a bloke called Roy Chapman Andrews, who came out to Mongolia in the early 1920’s to prove that humankind originated in Mongolia. That got a big raspberry. But he also followed up on some dinosaur fossil discoveries that had been undertaken in the 1800’s.
He found lots of fossils in the Flaming Cliffs...
Dinosaur City, Mongolia
Dinosaurs. Bayan Zag…..
The cliffs are an amazing shade of red (closer to the top photo) and you can walk out to the edge along the top of the formation. To be honest we were a little worried about the lack of preservation and restriction on where people were allowed to walk too! Sagua is a keen environmentalist and spoke many times about the need for greater protection and his desire to set up eco camps to increase knowledge and regenerate the Gobi.
There is little knowledge about the original diggings in the area which came as a real surprise. Despite the wealth of findings, no one has sought to undertake more work or local the site where Andrews dug. Much of his findings were taken out of the country, although we were promised some highlights at the dinosaur museum in UlaanBaatar.
Now we come onto one of the funniest ‘What the?’ moment of the trip. There’s a massively famous South Korean (don’t know who) and she/he came to Mongolia on holiday about a decade ago. They posted about how amazing the country was and overnight Mongolia fever broke out. Now there are THOUSANDS of Korean young people aged 18 to 28 coming to Mongolia. And they are very ……exuberant. They are always jumping up and down, singing, dancing, you name it, with all of this captured on their mobile phones and posted online. The photo below is just a taster!
Koreans in Mongolia…. No, I don’t know what they’re doing but I do know it’ll be posted online…
The view from our ger at Bayan Zag, where we had the warm welcome we spoke of earlier in the blog.
What on earth is this all about? Neil listening whilst walking through the Gobi trees.
Bloody Hell it’s quiet around here!
I’ve developed wind farms in the past and in outback Australia your background noise level is very low, say 35 dBa. However, I’d noted that the Gobi, it was VERY quiet, maybe 25 – 28 dBa. And it wasn’t until we’d travelled to the Flaming Cliffs and walked amongst the Gobi trees that I’d connected the dots. Trees are really noisy. And so are birds. And cows. Hmmm….
The Ongi temple. Originally home to 2,000 monks until 1937 when the Soviets came in and murdered them, along with 17,000 other monks from around the country. The number of monks in Mongolia dropped from roughly 110,000 in the 1920’s to just 110 in the 1990s. There are many ruined monasteries in Mongolia and we understand that some are being bought and restored by the younger generation in a hope of protecting this history. Buddhism may never hold such a significant place in Mongolian society again, however we saw many remnants of it in our travels, with small shrines in peoples gers, ovoo rock cairns nearly everywhere you look, and prayer flags.
The mostly destroyed Ongi Temple.
The Ongi Temple is located by the edge of the stunning Okhon River. Well stunning apart from the Koreans partying until 3 am and the myriad of 10 mm long bugs that dropped on the bed all night…..
The Orkhon River where we spent the afternoon paddling, chatting with other travellers and generally relaxing for the day. It was a great break from the driving.
On the way to the Orkhon Waterfall we passed an elbow in the river called the ‘Elbow of death’ (Neil’s name for it - there is no actual proof that anyone apart from him has used this phrase). In 1938 Soviet soldiers rounded up monks from the local area, lined them up on the edge of the cliff and shot them. It is a very dark part of Mongolia’s history.
The stunning Orkhon River marred by the remembrance of the monks who were murdered at this site in 1938.
After a long day, with some especially bumpy bits made even more exciting by a huge downpour of rain, we reached the Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall. At first we could not work out where it was and assumed we would need to drive.
Our camp near the waterfall just after sunrise. The falls are in the distance BUT fall from ground level into a gorge so you cant see the falls until you walk up to them!
However, we set off across the field behind the ger, much to our confusion, as the hills were quite a long way away. However, we could soon hear the crash of water and then could see water mist - rising from the ground! It turns out these falls have been created where the river falls into a canyon from ground level. So you can’t see them until you walk to the edge of the gorge and look down! It was amazing - and such a serene place after a long day!
The stunning Ulaan Tsutgalan falls. You can climb down into the chasm to watch from the bottom but after a long day of driving we weren’t so sure of our feet, so just enjoyed the view from above.
After our stroll, we all agreed that the day would be best seen off with a bottle of red wine. So we got one (a saga unto itself). But it had a cork and we did not have a corkscrew! No problem says I. I’ll just get a stick, and bang the cork into the bottle with a stone….
“Just let me hit the cork into the bottle. It’ll be fine…”
It was, however, also the night when Sagua asked if I’d like to join in eating some goat and sheep with the owner of the camp. ‘Yum!’, said I. The night was looking up! Nikki declined and went to bed without wine or meat. She was strangely silent now I look back. However, it really was very good. And I may have had a little vodka to help it down…
A bowl of lamby and goaty goodness! Nik asked me if this was the bowl of leftovers! No - this was the starting point!
Tsenkher Hot Springs:
The Hangay or Mongolian plateau. Meandering green valleys at 1500m scattered with nomad families tending their livestock who roam freely in this stunning vista. We travelled through the Hangay in order to reach the hot springs.
While a very welcome respite, the Tsenkher hot springs were not at all what we expected! Located at 1800m above sea level, the springs originate from the side of a nearby hill and are fed, through a maze of pipes into drop pools in each of the individual ger camps! No bathing in the woods for us!
As we arrived nice and early, we had another day of lazing in the sun, bathing in the pools and then deciding to share a bottle of wine (opened with an actual corkscrew this time). It really was lovely.
And this is a local holiday spot. Many Mongolians would spend their summer holiday either here or up north at the Khosvgol Lake (next on our list). It was really nice to be spending time with local tourists as well!
Looking out on the Tsenkher Hot Springs from our ger camp (more of the touristy type here). You can see the springs coming out of the mountain in the middle of this photo...
The view back across the tourist camp. Ours must have had fifty gers, and there were about 20 other camps and hotels (the first we had seen) in the valley. However, despite the numbers it was still quiet and had plenty of room to spread out and relax.
Toe shot! And yes, I can see the sneaky look from down the hill…
At this stage we have been on the road for 8 days and over half of the tour. It has been such an amazing experience. Some of it challenging. Some of it curious. All of it awe inspiring.
We now head onto the northern lakes for the second week of our trip. The weather is meant to be getting cold up there now, only in the early teens during the day and below zero at night! Time to rug up and join us for part two!