I met one member of our tour group, John Bradley–
a retired judge from NY City – He and I went for a walk and had lunch at a small Japanese restaurant; I had noodles
and meat and he had meat with rice. The diet in this end of the world seems to
have large amounts of beet in it, what a change from Japan.
In the afternoon we met up with our guide Gaundy and the couple from Shreveport,
Louisiana – Harriet and Al Evans.
Ulaan Baatar, UB as it is knows locally, is a good sized city and contains over 50% of the Mongolian population of
about 2.5 million. Now our group is complete and we set off across the main square
to the Cultural Museum.
This is a very find museum about the Mongolian people. Then off for our first dinner of a good salad plus meat and potatoes.
This evening was special for there was a large rock concert in the main square with loud music and fireworks at midnight. This might not have been half bad but we were to be up by 4 AM to get our of the hotel
and make our 6 AM flight. I am sure glad I came in an extra day and had
time to rearrange my pack for the 6 day journey into the Gobi.
20060801 – In the Gobi
Well, we all made it to the plane for the short hour flight
to Dalandzadgad in southern Mongolia.
The plane was full since it is the only flight of the day to that location. We
even had one of the Mongolia members of
Parliament on board. Now it was only about a 2 hour drive to the Three Camel
Lodge. This place certainly had Gers for us to stay in but it is nothing less than a four star class resort with most the
amenities. The only item not in line was the fact that the toilets were located
in the main lodge. The Ger (same as the Russian Yurt) where I am staying is a standard round structure of sticks covered with
felt and appointed inside very nicely with table, two beds, and even hot water for tea. It was cool but not cold so we did
not need the stove. The guide said that this year was cooler and has more rain
than in the past.
After breakfast, a rest, and lunch we were off to see
a bit of the local Gurvansaikhan National Park. Well, after about an hour’s ride
across the plain, and what a plain it is, then up into the hills to the Park. We
were told it is about 3,000 meters in altitude. At the end of the road was a flock of tourist vans. We were off now on a little 2 KM hike down this canyon. Well,
it became narrower and deeper when all of a sudden we came across left over winter ice. Now this is interesting and unexpected. Back at Park HQ we went through a small but good natural history museum.
Now it was back in the van and back on the dirt roads
with all the ruts and bumps. I must have been tired for I almost went to sleep. After another great dinner finished off with
strawberry mousse, we listened to a performance of Mongolian music and singers. Now it is to bed for we have an early morning
and a 5 hour ride to our next destination of sand dunes and a camel ride.
Note – Gobi Experience:
As we flew in we could see the “highways” below –many two rut dirt tracks. For the next number of days we were to come to know these tracks quite well, with feeling. From the airport and the following days we sped across the plain on (or in) these dirt tracks. At times
there were 3,4, and 5 parallel tracks that looked like a plowed field where vehicles each took a different way depending on
the “mud” conditions and mood of the driver. We could see some very
deep ruts where during the rainy season vehicles plowed through. As we sped along
orthogonal to the desert stream beds we needed to slow down to a crawl to take the ups and downs. Needless to say, sitting in the back seat right over the wheels, there were several times when my vertebrae
took the brunt of the wheel finding a large bump at about 50 mph- ugh. Clearly,
one’s kidneys must be strong. On the other hand, since some of our trip took several hours I just let the wind blow
in my face, put my head to the head rest, and was actually able to relax and almost fall asleep. Now, one important thing to consider is passing an oncoming vehicle. But, of course, we could see the oncoming
vehicle well in advance. When taking into consideration that most of the roads are ONE lane it always caused me wonder as
to how they would pass. Well, as both vehicles approached each other at 100 mph
(50 mph each) we had confidence in the drivers – sure enough at the last moment each vehicle seemed to pull to the side
just enough to pass. Then there was the time when we saw three vehicles
at once and an “intersection” at the bottom of a riverbed – well we passed one and the other shot in front
down another track just soon enough for us to keep going without changing our speed.
So much for vehicle traffic in the Gobi.
The vastness of the Gobi plain is mesmerizing, just about like crossing
Kansas. There seem to be a row of mountains in almost every
direction, but far off. We often see sheep and goats grazing and when we approach
they scatter making every attempt to stay as a group – hence, some of them on one side run like the heck to make it
in front of our vehicle, which does not even slow down, just in time. I wonder how many times there is fresh meat on the track?
I had to get up to use the toilet very early in the morning and walked
to the men’s head under a most beautiful sky full of stars clear as could be. There was no moon so I could see many
constellations. There was a nice breeze making the jaunt pleasant.
The Lodge where we are staying is first class and seems out of character
as to how the Mongolian nomads really live. The lodge uses wind power to generate electricity – quite modern. I was hoping this tour, as advertised, put is in or near real families but maybe that is yet to come. Sometimes the young guides get anxious about moving their tourist group from here
to there and back again. I am learning that foreign “tours” and not usually what they pretend to be but I have
heard of some good ones. The tour agent for this one has a great deal of experience, connections, and knowledge about Russia
and Mongolia and is able to arrange for travel tickets and lodging very effectively, but the company does tend to focus on
the TOURIST travel leading each step my the hand and without much real in-depth information
given about the culture, nature, and geology of the area as well as photo opportunities, but the guides are relatively fluent
in English. As a scientist I do wonder about some of the geology of Mongolia and it must have a very rich history as I have been
reading in the book Genghis Kahn (recommended) given to be my Carolyn D. I think
giving tours is tough and wonder how American tours for our visitors are viewed. Since I am an intelligent TRAVELER and not
a tourist, my view of visiting another country is quite different from many. Ah,
well, truly, I am seeing the Gobi Desert
as real as it can be. We stopped along the roadside in one place today and I
saw first hand where the water comes from – the well was only about 15 feet deep and you could dip the leather bucked
attached to the end of a pole down and get the water you wish. However, I only washed with it not feeling it was really drinkable.
We carry plenty of bottled water with us at all times.
Our first stop, after about 3.5 hours of driving across the plain
and through a small range of mountains is another “lodge” within sight of the longest sand dunes in Khongoryn
Els in southern Mongolia. I am sure Genghis
Kahn went this way about 600 years ago and I doubt if much has really changed. It is strange to see a Ger with a satellite
dish, however. We had lunch and a rest then we will go down to the dunes and climb them as well as ride a camel – clearly,
mandatory when in the Gobi.
This was a real first for me, to ride a camel, these had two humps
so it was easy to get on board and sit (don’t know how one would negotiate one hump). It seem a great deal like a big
horse but with only one rain for control and I am used to two. Well, the rope
goes to a peg in their nose and one only needs to pull in the direction you wish to travel or pull back to stop. I didn’t
learn what reverse was or how to get the camel to get up from his kneeling position or back down. I can tell you that as the
camel walks along it is does so gently so you just rock back an forth.
Just prior to camel ride the camel “master” invited us
in to his Ger for some mare’s milk with goat cheese and bread – not bad, but …
Now we were on our way via camel to the large dunes in the twilight
which made it nice and cool. Upon reaching the dunes we dismounted and climbed half way up – a great experience. Naturally,
with the guide yelling at me to “don’t do that” I had a great time coming down the steep face of the dune.
Of course, she was worried about me walking the trail the other day too as if I had never done any climbing before; well,
I guess I am getting older and should be more careful. We returned to the camels
and road back to the camel Ger camp and were driven back to our lodging. That evening was just great with a nice desert breeze
so we just sat outside and sipped a drink, mine was tonic water. My day time
is sort of messed up since the sun comes up early, about 5 AM and it is light until after 10 PM. We tend to eat lunch at 13:00 and dinner at 19:00.
Driving back to the Three Camels Lodge we spotted some Gazelles and
turned off the road and the chase was on. Well, we almost caught up with them before they scattered. This was easy because the plain out here is big and flat, but it did occur to me that there just might
be a rut along the way. We could see many shallow stream beds where water does
come down in torrents when it does rain. – typical desert.
After lunch we set out to visit the Flaming Cliffs where the first
dinosaur eggs were found in 1922. We viewed a movie just before we left about the 1920’s expedition which was fascinating.
There have been many paleontological finds here. I wondered just how many other bones were probably still buried here. Apparently,
the dinosaur was caught in quick sand and drowned. We saw some bones in the little local museum.
We returned to our Ger camp for dinner of the toughest meat I have
ever not eaten. I guess the locals like their meat tough. For lunch we had mutton that was also not the easiest – now
I know why we eat lamb. On the return trip we stopped and saw a rear vegetable
garden; there seem very few out here. The growing season is May to October and it is not easy to get water so I can understand.
20070804 – Moving north
in the Gobi
From the Three Camels Lodge we headed north across the Gobi plain.The wether is treating us nice with a coolness of a little more than 20 C. I am really getting used to bumping along the dirt road now. As we went north we began to come into some
hill country which since there has been rain is now quite green passing over the Togrogiin Shiree plateau. As we go about
every 5 miles is a sheep – goat herder’s Ger, often in groups of three to accommodate the whole family. These families move in the winter to more sheltered quarters in the mountain foothills. There are, however,
some rock or wooden more permanent structures that are used during the winter. I imagine that the winters here are much like
the US great plains, cold, windy, and
with snow. We finaly arrive at the Ongiin River Ger Camp where we are to stay
for the night. This camp seems quite full including about 30 Dutch campers at the river’s edge. After lunch I went for a walk with my roommate John and I scrambled to the top of the nearest hill. From
here I could see the Ongiin River
curving down the valley. Upon return and getting a cool drink we watched while a hapless soul was trying to get his van out
of the mud after trying to cross the shallow river. They must have worked for 3 hours before our driver pulled our four wheel
van over and pulled him out.
We took a short jaunt a local monastery that had been destroyed some
80 years ago by the Russian Communists during the religious purge. Hence, the 1,000 monks there scattered or were killed. What we found were only a few standing walls of adobe, but since Buddhism is not allowed
to be practiced there are a few monks there restoring the monastery. The spot
is beautiful just above the river on the edge of a hill. We were shown around by a docent whose monastic story was translated
by our guide; there was a small museum of found relics.
Now back to the Ger Camp relaxed and had dinner – I finally
realize where we had been staying these nights, contrary to the tour flyer that led us to believe we were staying with native
nomads, we were really staying in one of many Ger Camps that consist of Gears (sleeping huts) and central dining and toilet/shower
facilities that have been set up all over Mongolia for travelers … i.e. the Mongolia “motel”. – The
food is ok and the meat this time was not too tough. Of course, in a place like
this one cannot expect to always have hot water so a cold shower had to do but it was not bad since the sun had warmed things
up. One has to be careful what you lean on too – I leaned on a basin that
really was not attached to anything and it just rocked on it’s pedestal, ah, well – at least, I had a shower.
We could see the north an approaching thunder storm and sure enough
came the winds then the rain with great claps of thunder – exciting. Hence, we just turned in and slept thorough it.
By the next morning all was clear and no signs of much water coming down.
20060805 – Moving north
from the Gobi to the next Steppe
Today turned out to be a special day. After a few hours of driving
we passed through a regional community where we toured a small medical facility and grammar school. Of course the medical
facility had a line of patients to see a doctor for mainly diagnostic purposes. We were told that this facility could treat
first aid issues plus maybe a minor operation, if there were a doctor around. Who really knows what would happened if something
serious happened; I was told that medical planes could come in for evacuation. On
the other hand, the herders live quite in isolation with only a few who have CB radios or cell phones. The school was neat
and clean and we could see some of the preparations for lessons on the classroom
walls, like how to use the English verb ‘to be’. There seems to be
a gasoline “station” at these places too. Watching them take the gas pump cover off to hand crank the gasoline
was interesting, but the job was done.
As we drove on the plain had turned into rolling hills and because
of the water the hills were covered with a large carpet of little white flowers among the green grasses. Arriving at the top
of one little hill we could look down on a most beautiful scene with the dirt road winding through this meadow. We stopped
several times. During one of those stops a local herder who had seen us came over an invited us to visit his home.
Naturally, the first item of business was to pass the bowl of fermented
mares milk around with a chunk of goat-sheep cheese, followed by the vodka. I showed the family of several adults and a bunch
of kids my family photos and an Oregon tourist booklet that
I gave to them. Then it was outside we went for photos. One of my traveling colleagues had a Polo rid camera that was a big
hit since we could take the photo and give them the result ( I strongly recommend taking such a camera on travels to provide
instant feedback to the family) Everybody wanted their photo taken. As this was being done I doubled taking as many digital
photos as I could. We then went over to the horses where I captured a shot of the wife milking a horse for the mares milk
drink – she first got things started by getting a young horse to initiate the milk flow and she then took over. The family seemed quite content and happy, especially with their solar driven TV and
stereo.. The man of the ger was dressed in Mongolian dress which is quite stunning with his tall black boots. We bit them farewell and were on our way once again.
Now that we had left the Gobi
Desert we entered the mountains of green valleys and low mountains. Again,
a storm moved in and we had a bit of wind and some large rain drops. We finally
arrived at our destination of KaraKorum, the 14th century Mongol Capitol city founded
by Chinggis Kahn, but moved 40 years later to Beijing where
the Mogols built the first “forbidden city”.. Now settled in a new get camp we took a real hot shower then had
dinner. Once again we had vegetarian dinner since the meat was so tough that few could eat it – I wonder how they are
able to do this on a regular basis – ah, well.
Tomorrow we look around the city, a real one – not just a village
– and they even have a paved road.
Alas, the 16th century capitol of the Mongolian Empire. However, all that is left is a stone tortoise.
There is a nice river that flows by our Ger Camp and this evening we had a good wind and thunder storm. We had quite a drive north through very interesting countryside – big and expansive but now with
hills. We wound our way up the wonderful green valley with a meandering stream
at the bottom. Dotted along the valley are white Gers with cattle, sheep, and goats in the pastures. This is a real scene. We ate still bumping along dirt roads that seem to go in every direction and it is
a wonder our driver knows which one to take, no GPS either.
Our dinner was lamb/mutton and it was served on the bone – how
to attack a foot long leg bone gracefully. The food is really quite good and
their salad appetizer was sliced apples in mayonnaise. This camp seemed to be
full of tourists – one Japanese Ger near by seemed to party until after midnight then the Ger Camp staff were up at
5AM talking and doing their thing so I did not get much sleep – ah, well.
Up and going with bread, jam, eggs, and coffee. Our first stop was
at the top of a local hill where there was a large monument to the Mongolian Empire – they really liked this guy, Chinggis
Kahn. Of course, there were tourist vendors lined up and where I made on purchase of a neat silver bracelet with turquoise
stones in it ($5 US) and traded a US gold dollar coin for what appeared to be a genuine US silver dollar with the date of 1872 – we shall see.
This morning we visit a large monastery that has 108 Stupas around the edge and which was spared, for the most part, the Communist religious purge of the 20th
century. This a large compound with a number of different temples used for prayer and focused on one or more aspects of Buddhism. The color of all the works is astounding and complicated. We were able to see and hear some monks chanting their prayers in Tibetan language, page by page.
The core Buddhist prayers are carefully bound and stored in a cabinet near by. Out
the back gate we walked a little ways to see the tortoise stone statue left from the 16th century.
Now we were on our way and even on a paved road this time. Mind you,
the width of the road is not all the wide but trucks of wood, wool, and everything else imaginable pass by. Of course, if
a vehicle brakes down they just stop right there I in the middle of the road for repairs.
We stopped at an interesting hidden small Buddhist temple hidden in
the large boulder hills that had been recently reconstructed following the demise of the ancient adobe temple. Now we headed to out Ger Camp for the night. I took a walk before dinner up the slope just behind the Camp
where the breeze was just right and I could see the large expanse of valleys and hills for many kilometers.
UB is how the locals refer to UlaanBaatar. Well, it finally happened and on a paved road too.
We had a flat tire. It is a wonder we have not had more of them. Our driver quickly changed the tire and we were on
our way once again.
En route, we stopped at the Tkhi Hores Preserve and National Park.
This where the Dutch gave back some of these special horses to Mongolia
since this Mongolian species originate but had died out. We drove into the park
and tried to spot some of the horses up on a hillside but my eyes are just not what they used to be. Apparently people from
all over the world come here to study these horses. The headquarters has a nice small museum and a short film about the horses
which was enlightening.
Now we are on our way, finally, to UB. Of course, we had to arrive
at rush hour and drive all across town to our hotel. The traffic and surroundings
remind me of Mexico, yes, just like Mexico with busses, trucks, and cars all trying to get down the road. The van-taxis
liked up at the pick up stops along the way. IN the background you can see a Russian factory which now is but a shell.
We made it to the hotel and sure glad to stop bounding up and down
on the roads. Our next leg will be a flight to a Mongolian lake. But for the moment I we get a couple of days in one place.
I took the night off to nurse a case of stomach wog – well it happens.
I just took it easy this morning and rest up from my wog. After all
I have been traveling for over a month now and a break is needed. We will go
to see an art museum this afternoon and tomorrow we get some more time off until our evening light.