Bumpy roads, mutton and magnificent scenery

Trip Start Nov 15, 2004
Trip End Nov 10, 2005

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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Saturday, June 25, 2005

We left Beijing early on the 14th - exactly 7 months into our adventure - and spent the first few hours watching the mountainous Chinese landscape pass by, complete with great views of the Great Wall. The train was very comfortable and we passed the time reading, eating and getting off the train at every stop to stretch the legs. When we woke the next day to our our first glimpse of Mongolia - flat grasslands and the occasional ger (traditional round house) and livestock.

Ulaan Baatar is surrounded by mountains and has an interesting mix of wooden houses and gers (the 'gerburbs' as we nicknamed them), it is tiny compared to any place in China we visited and easy to get around. Thankfully it is also well stocked with food other than rice so we feasted on pizza and checked out the main square on our first day, as well as enjoying a show of local music and dancing. We spent the rest of our time in UB doing the "hostel trek" as we dubbed it - walking back and forth between hostels trying to arrange a jeep and others to share costs - we were eventually set to go with 2 Danish (Leena and Dennis) and one American (Chris) joining us, on a tour of central and north Mongolia.

The first day was all driving as we travelled to the ancient capital, Kharkorin, now he site of a world heritage Buddhist monastery. We spent a couple of hours the next day looking around and then drove to the town of Tseterleg. Given that the sun doesn't set til 11pm we were able to fit in a hike up a nearby hill for great views of the valley and town below, as well as a game of basketball (Michael and Chris) against the local kids, who won easily, and a short musical performance by a local entrepreneur.

The third day we arrived at Therekin Tsargin Nurr (the White Lake and National Park), a picturesque lake at over 2000 metres, formed by a nearby volcano. Michael managed to get some fishing in, but despite being able to see fish everywhere, there were not at all interested in his lure. We also went horse riding around the lake and hiked up to the volcano crater (3000m). At this stage we were thinking that all the stories of terrible food and roads were exagerrated - but this was all to change.

Ten hours of driving along a mountain pass, which according to maps does not exist, was made bearable only by the impressive views, beautiful scenery and still frozen river. We arrived late in the town of Moron, a short drive from our destination of Lake Khovsgol, where we would spend the next two days camping and hiking.

Lake Hovsgol is a crystal clear lake surrounded by forested mountains and remarkably few people. Our first night was spent enjoying the tranquility and the most beautiful sunset we have ever seen. We hiked along the lake the next day and ate the rest of Kate's supplies (Michael was happy for the change from boiled meat - mutton, horse, yak, goat, beef...). We regrettably headed off over our drivers chosen side route to our next stop by the Selenge River. (There seems to be a habit in Mongolia of driving anywhere but on the main road, at times there were literally a hundred parallel tracks).

Our final destination was a remote and almost deserted monastery off the road back to Ulaan Baatar. We were also lucky enough to catch a mini-nadaam festival were we saw wrestling and horse races. Our arrival back was welcome as we had layers of dust to remove and a strong desire for some decent food. We spent only one night in Ulaan Baatar before boarding the train to Russia.
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