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Published: August 19th 2019
It takes one hour and 40 minutes with the plane from Ulaanbaatar tot Hovd. Hovd is a city in western Mongolia. When we arrive there is no taxi, no bus or whatsoever. Finally we find someone who takes us to the city. I ask how much we have to pay. The man begins to grin. ‘Nothing’, he says, ‘I just go in the same direction.’ Hitchhiking is normal in Mongolia.
Our hotel is called Uurgu Hotel. A nice hotel with a good restaurant. But there is one problem. There is no electricity and because there is no electricity there is also no water. ‘It’s in all town and it will take a week’, says the receptionist. The Russians are repairing it.’ Electricity comes from Russia, from Irkoetsk, just North of Hovd. The relation between Mongolia and Russia is fine, opposite to the relation with China, which is just south of Hovd.
“Khovd City is a pleasant tree-lined place…”, says the Lonely Planet. Maybe it was. Pavements and buildings are broken and the trees are withering due to lack of water. The people of Hovd however are absolutely nice, like all Mongolians we met during our trip. One of them
is Marima of Khovd Handicraft & Tours
. She is a teacher English, but during summer holidays she has her travel agency. We ask the receptionist to call her (9943 8849 9907 9485 in case you are interested).
After one hour we sit with Marima in the restaurant of our hotel, discussing the plans of our trip. Everything is possible, she says, but you have to stock food and water before you go. So we buy some packs of noodlesoup, pasta, tins with tuna, bread etc. and 18 liters water.
Our driver is called What. At least he says so. Probably his name is so difficult for westerners to pronounce, that everyone says: what? So finally he called himself What. Like Marima he is a Kazach. Muslim, but not very strict. And like Marima he is a teacher in normal life (geography). In summer he is a driver. He speaks just enough English for answering our questions.
Before we leave the city we pick up a tent and blankets at Marima’s ger. ‘It will be cold in the Altai mountains’, she says. She has a ger near the river, where she sleeps with family and friends during the
summer. Inside are colorfull wall clothes. Every cloth indicates a specific sleeping spot. ‘That one is for my mother, the other one for my sister… etc.’ The inside of the Kazach gers are more beautifull than those of the Mongolians.
We drive in eastern direction. The landscape is empty: no houses, no trees, no shrubs... Only now and than a ger, surrounded by cattle. All the gers are from Kazachs, as the chimneys stand eccentric. Those of the Mongolians stand exactly in the middle. So near Kazachstan some hundred thousand Kazachs live in this region.
After 70 kilomers we turn right into a dirt road. It leads to a ger camp near a river. Nearby is Tsenkherin Agui with its cave paintings. It’s hard to find the paintings inside the cave. But outside, just a few hundred meters driving along the road we find beautiful rock paintings of antelopes.
We sleep that night in a tent somewhere in the mountains. It’s a spot full of flowers, because there is water. In spring there might be a lot, but now it’s just a little stream. We use it for cooking and brush our teeth. A bird of prey
sits on a branch and is watching what we are doing in his nature. Well we come for the Saiga antilope. A rare animal of prehistoric times. If there is any chance to see it, it’s here, Marima and What said..
While walking around we find a horn of an Ibex, a wild goat which lives in the mountains. When we show it to What, he points to pile of stones, wrapped in blue ribbons. Inside are horns and skulls of Ibexes. ‘We give them back to nature’, says What. It has something to do with sjamanism.
In the morning at five we hear the steps of an animal near our tent. It takes some time before we have opened our tent. We look around, but there is nothing to see. ‘It was an Ibex’, says Linda. ‘It was a Saiga antilope’, I say. We’ll never know.
Next morning we drive to Chandmani, a village in the altiplano. It’s all day off road driving across the steppes. We pass the lake of Khar us Nuur National Park. Left and right of the river are gers with goats, sheep, horses and cows. In summer they are here, at
the foothills of the mountains. In winter they move to the lake as real nomads.
In Chandmani we sleep in the house of Tserendawa. It’s a big man with enormous hands. In the past he was a wrestler, but nowadays he is one of the famous khöömii, throatsingers who can sing several tones at the same time. In the evening he gives a demonstration. While singing he plays the Morin Khuur, the famous Horse Head Fiddle. We can hardly believe what we hear. When I try it myself, Tserendawa says I have a talent to learn it. Unfortunately there is no khöömii festival or competition in Chandmani anymore.
There is a bit water in the house, just enough for washing our hands and brush our teeth. The toilet is outside, which nothing more than a hole in the ground.
Next day we leave for Sertym g-osho. There, in the middle of the hills eight megaliths arise. They are from the Turcs from 7th – 8th century, says What. The landscape is beautiful, full of flowers in all colors. While we are walking, we smell the scent of thyme and salvia. Linda says the mountains here are a
country of 1001 landscapes. It’s all the time changing.
Then What takes us to a temple called Eb Eye. The landscape is even more beautiful. The temple is in balance with the nature around. Twelve animals stand in a circle around the temple. Every animal represents one of the twelve hours. Inside are the Big Five of Mongolia: horse, cow, goat, sheep and Bactrian camel. In the centre are three big statues: mama, Buddha and papa.
We are climbing higher up to 3000 meter in the Altai mountains. The highest tops are covered with snow. Finally we find a place to sleep. It’s a family campsite near a lake. It’s called Kazach Eagle
. You can better forget the name, because it’s terrible. No shower and just one toilet for the whole campsite. No food. And very expensive.
After so many days not showering we feel dirty and decide to go back to Hovd. On the way back we visit some Kazach families in their gers. For the first time in our lifes we see yaks. What points to one of them. ‘This one has nice meat’, he says. Near one of the gers sits a golden eagle.
It is used for hunting. The valley is full of alpine flowers. Even Edelweis. In one of the gers we get self made yoghurt and sheep cheese.
In an other ger we get a lunch with sheep cheese, goat cheese, yak butter and tea with horse milk. In a corner of the ger is a big flat screen, which shows some movie. Electricity comes from a solar panel. Like all Kazach gerst the ger is beautifully decorated. Inside is a kalligraphy of a koran tekst. The koran itself is wrapped in golden paper. Next to it hangs a pair of red boxing gloves. We ask the girls in the ger how old they are. The oldest is 25. She is about to marry, but she may not sleep with her partner. That’s why she sleeps with her parents in another ger. The second girl is 18. She wants to become a doctor. She is studying at a university in Kazachstan. The youngest is 10. She has blue eyes like her father. Both don’t look like Asians at all.
When we come back at the Urguu Hotel in Hovd electricity and water is working. Finally we can wash ourselves!
Next day we go back to Ulaanbaatar. Marima is at the airport. We hug eachother. Coming back in Lotus guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar feels as coming home.
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