Tsetserleg and Tsenher Hot Springs, Mongolia

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of Mongolia  , Arhangay,
Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tsetserleg was perhaps the nicest town we passed through in Mongolia, with a temple in town and one high on a mountainside on the outskirts of town, a British-owned guesthouse and cafe that serves delicious coffee and baked goods, and a museum that would have been very interesting had the power been on in town or had I at least gotten there before two of my truckmates who got the museum's only lantern to use in the buildings.  Hmmm, maybe I should start carrying my flashlight in my daypack for occasions like this.

We spent the next two nights at Tsenher Hot Springs, a small resort of several ger camps a short distance south of Tsetserleg via a dusty road that took us over two more rickety wooden bridges whose ability to survive Tonka's weight I seriously questioned.  Now that we're in central Mongolia, areas within several days drive of Ulaan Baatar (the capital) we're actually starting to see a few other tourists, unlike the remote northwestern parts of the country which seemd like the ultimate in adventure travel.  Among the other guests staying at the ger camp at Tsenher Hot Springs were a group of French engineers, a few Israeli's fresh out of the army, some Swedes, and a large group of British army officer trainees, giving us the chance to mingle with other Westerners for the first time in almost two months. And the ger camp was well-equipped for it with a big bar with several pool tables that became a disco late at night.

I think I was a bad influence on our Mongolian guides, Vanya and Tamir (still a college student when not guiding during the summers), teaching them about American college drinking games like quarters, hour of power, Hi Bob!, and golf/progressive drinking parties.  They were very impressed.

I can only soak in hot sulfurous water for so long and prefer to do so at night when it's cold out, so I decided to go for a full day walk from the ger camp up the broad grassy valleys between the rolling larch-covered hills of Central Mongolia's Khangai mountain range.  Even though Vanya assured me there were no real dangers in the area, I nonetheless managed to "almost get killed" twice during my nine hour hike.  I dont' necessarily think I used up any of my nine lives but experienced a still experienced a couple of small frights.

I was first sitting down on a rock eating my packed lunch from the ger camp at the edge of the a forest largely of dead trees killed several years ago by a locust plague (like many in Mongolia) when the wind picked up.  A loud cracking sound followed the sound of a strong gust, and the enxt thing I realized a dead tree fell to the ground about 15 feet to my right.  Fortunately, I picked a safe rock to sit on, but the indicent does raise a question for all my readers to ponder.  "If a tree falls in the forest, and it happens to fall on Warren, would anybody ever notice?"

Having escaped from the killer trees, I continued my hike up to a broad grassy saddle between two valley drainages where a picturesque herd of 50 to 60 rather wild-looking horses was grazing.  I continued along the trail past the horses stopping and snapping photos, trying to zoom in on some of the foals, when I noticed the horses suddenly becoming very agitated and moving swiftly together into a circular formation with the foals towards the center.  As about eight horses were facing me threateningly on one side of the formation, heads bobbing up and down, nostrils flaring, grunting, tails wagging wildly, the entire mass began moving towards me.  "Oh no, they might stampede and trample me to death," I realized as I started moving towards the nearest trees I could see, still a good distance across the meadow.  "Maybe I should stand my ground, make myself look large and yell at them as I back away.  No, that's what you do with mountain lions," I reasoned.  I know horses have no desire to me, but these looked like they were going to attack me anyway.  "This isn't going to work, I know horses can't climb trees, but they can outrun me before I get to one I can climb," I thought.  Then, just as suddenly as they moved into their defensive formation, the savage horses abandoned it and went back to their business of grazing, probably realizing I wasn't a predator after all. 

I encountered only one other person the entire day on my hike.  I had gotten most of the way back to the ger camp when a traditionally-dressed man in a long coat and a pointy hat whistled at me and then came galloping towards me on his horse from the other side of the valley.  "Oh no, more danger!"  He pointed at the small herd of horses he was with, then made a sweeping motion towards the valley and hills from where I came, clearly asking me if I had seen any of his horses up in the hills.  I nodded in the affirmative, to which he responded by flashing the fingers on both hands several times as if to ask how many.  I indicated 50 and pointed in the direction of where I had seen them.  He thanked me, "Bayerla Laa", and galloped off in the direction I pointed before I even had a chance to ask him for his picture.

When I got back to camp I gave Vanya a piece of my mind.  "What do you mean there are no dangers in that forest?  I tell you, it's haunted - first the trees tried to kill me and then a ferocious herd of horses tried to eat me!"

"Maybe you should stay in the city," Vanya replied.

Vanya would be leaving us the following day at Kharkhorin to start another tour guiding a trekking party, making Tsenher Hot Springs the last opportunity we'd have for the third competition between us, the "mutton busting" we agreed to at Khovsgol Lake, to take place.  However, there were no sheep in the area, so the tie breaker was unable to take place.  This unfinished business is just one more incentive I have to return some day to this magical country.

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