Khovsgul


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July 25th 2006
Published: August 3rd 2006
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Herder's Camp - 2nd NightHerder's Camp - 2nd NightHerder's Camp - 2nd Night

Herder's Camp - 2nd Night
Adam, Debbie and I met up first thing on saturday morning and went down to the train station to buy our tickets for the night train north to Erdenet, after which, Adam sorted out tent and equipment hire while Debbie and I went food shopping to buy supplies for the next 7 days. We returned laden with bags of rice, pasta, instant noodles and Haribo, which we sorted out and packed up with the tents and other camping equipment organised by Adam before we took a taxi to the station and boarded our 20:55 train for Erdenet. Having spent many, many hours on these trains previously, the 12 hour ride north was a complete sinch, and before we knew it, we were being woken up by the carriage supervisor and asked to get off the train before it turned around and returned to UB.

We took a taxi to the bus station, where we found a furgon heading west to Moron at 12:00. With a few hours to kill, we left our bags with driver Trojan and headed to a cafe for a breakfast of Kushuur and Tsigh (milk tea - a Mongolian staple consisting of hot water, a little
Herder's Camp - 2nd NightHerder's Camp - 2nd NightHerder's Camp - 2nd Night

Herder's Camp - 2nd Night
bit of milk and salt). At 12:00 we boarded the furgon and then waited for 90 minutes whilst Trojan found some more passengers - 22 more passengers to be precise. Packed to the rafters with people sitting on people who were sitting on people, we set off 25 strong, bumping and grinding each other as we headed out onto the dirt-track 'roads' of the northern Mongolian steppe. In all, the journey took 19 hours although it included at least an hours break to replace a flat tyre and another hour at about 3am to help out another furgon which had broken down. We finally arrived into Moron at around 07:30am, where we waited for the bank to open, withdrew some cash and then chartered a jeep the final 3 hours to Khovsgul in which all of us slept. The jeep dropped us off at MS Guesthouse, which had been reccomended to us by Uugi and they gave us tea, food and a hot shower whilst arranging horses and a guide to take us off on a 7 day trek that evening. We decided to head up the eastern side of the lake which, because it is royally slated by the
Lake Khosgul at SunsetLake Khosgul at SunsetLake Khosgul at Sunset

Lake Khosgul at Sunset
Lonely Planet guide, we decided would have far less tourists than the more popular western shore. Cleaned and refreshed, we spent the afternoon lazing in the sun and purchasing final supplies and more instant noodles.

Shortly after 19:00, our guide Tsenge arrived with his horses. We loaded up the packhorse and I put aside my Turkish-found fear of equestrian beasts and jumped onto Bez's back. (Thats the name I gave him - obviously a Mongolian would not name his horse Bez!) We had ridden for just over three hours, through a pretty little forest and down the side of the stunning lake Khovsgul before Bez decided he had had enough and promptly sat down - with me on his back. Having asked for a quiet horse it seemed I had been given the most feral. I decided that was enough riding for the day and led Bez the final half kilometre to where Tsenge said we should camp - right in the middle of a bog. We managed to find a reasonably dry spot to pitch the tents while Debbie lit a fire and cooked Spaghetti. After eating, Adam and I washed up in one of the wetter areas
Picnic by Lake KhosgulPicnic by Lake KhosgulPicnic by Lake Khosgul

Picnic by Lake Khosgul
of the bog and then we cracked open a bottle of vodka. Tsenge showed us the Mongolian way of drinking in his very broken English - dip your right hand ring finger into the liquor, flick it once to the sky, once to the air and once to the earth, then touch it to your forehead for good health before downing the shot in one gulp. This process must be repeated until the entire bottle is empty. We finished one bottle and thought better of opening another one. We headed into our tents and fell asleep shortly before the rain started.

We woke up in the drizzle and luckily the tents had held the rain off and our stuff was, for the most part, dry. We packed up the tents and loaded up Lobster the pack-horse before setting off just as the sky opened up. We rode for 2 hours in the pouring rain, before Tsenge decided he had had enough and we stopped at a herders ger to take shelter. We were invited to stay the night and as the rain showed little sign of letting up we accepted this kindly invitation. We dried ourselves of by the
Drinking Yak Vodka with the localsDrinking Yak Vodka with the localsDrinking Yak Vodka with the locals

Drinking Yak Vodka with the locals
stove and warmed ourselves with countless bowlfulls of Tsigh while the grandfather sat on the floor, chainsmoking and laughing continuously. By the time the evening came around, the rain had stopped and the sun was popping out between the clouds but having already accepted an invitation to spend the night we could hardly pack up and leave. Debbie cooked up a vegetable curry for everyone and I think the family were a little flabbergasted by what they were eating. In the evening Adam and Debbie both disappeared on their own for a bit of 'me' time, so the son of the family we were staying with offered to take me on the horses to the lake for a spot of fishing. The lake was visible from the ger and it really didn't look that far so I agreed, always partial for a spot of fishing. We set off, crossed a fairly deep river which wetted my ankles and then rode on for another 75 minutes to the lake. As we put out our lines, the sun came down, casting majestic shadows accross the large mountains on the opposite bank and a wonderful reflection on the surface of the water. Our
In the Hot Springs - BulnaiIn the Hot Springs - BulnaiIn the Hot Springs - Bulnai

In the Hot Springs - Bulnai
fishing was cut short due to the sun set and without having even registered a single bite, we rode back to camp, herding up the family's cow herd before arriving back in the dark.

Wednesday was a beautiful sunny day and we bode a very fond farewell to our hosts before riding for 4 hours through the beautiful extending meadows, lush with wild flowers and brimming with small streams. We stopped after 4 hours for lunch at the edge of the lake, which although it was a spot completely infested with flies still proved to be a beautiful picnic spot. We rode for 3 more hours in the afternoon before finding a wonderful little spot just underneath the treeline to camp. As we were pitching the tents, it seemed we were arousing a lot of interest from the local herders and after a while we had an audience. One of the herders brought a few bottles of Mongolian Vodka (not as strong as Russian vodka, about 4% but it is made from fermented yaks milk and tastes like cheesey water) and we spent a few hours attempting to converse through hand signals and entertaining our visitors with our poor
With TchimbaWith TchimbaWith Tchimba

With Tchimba
yak-vodka drinking skills.

The following day was another scorcher and after leaving camp at 12:00, we rode for 3 hours to the Bulnai hot springs. On arrival, we were greeted by a french-speaking Mongolian lady who gave me an information sheet about the springs which I translated for the others before leading us up to the cafe for some food. As we walked around the hill the most bizzarre sight came into view - an entire holiday village of Mongolians, playing basketball, table-tennis and relaxing in the afternoon sun. Not what we were expecting at all, but we were so flabbergasted by this that we put it to the back of our minds while we ate some Buuz and drank some Tsigh. After lunch, we headed down to the valley floor, over the most rickety bridge I have ever seen to where we could pitch our tents. Once they were up, we chilled out for an hour or so, I rubbed some cream into the 40-odd mosquito bites I had acquired on my feet the previous evening and then we headed down to the hot springs. Once again, these were not quite what we were expecting - I was
A load of drunken Mongolians - BulnaiA load of drunken Mongolians - BulnaiA load of drunken Mongolians - Bulnai

A load of drunken Mongolians - Bulnai
thinking more of a geyser in the ground - the 'springs' were situated in little wooden huts and were basically just a rectangular hole cut in the wooden floor containing very hot water. The baths came in temperature grades of 38, 43 and 48 degrees centigrade and although you were not permitted to take in soap or shower gel, we spent a good 30 minutes just soaking and trying to expunge the dirt we had accumulated from the previous few days' riding.

When we got back to our camp site from the baths, Tchimba, Darakhan and Batatin, three of the herder kids who had joined us the previous evening had appeared and were drinking Tsigh with Tenge. Although pleased to see their friendly faces, it provoked an argument between Debbie and myself over dinner arrangements, although due to her constant attention seeking, obsession with only talking about herself and self-righteousness, this was probably something which had been brewing for a few days already. Either way, I retreated to the cafe for a cold beer and to avoid saying something I would later regret, followed by Adam who, bless him, begged me to keep the peace. I agreed to be
Tchimba (L) and Darakhan (R)Tchimba (L) and Darakhan (R)Tchimba (L) and Darakhan (R)

Tchimba (L) and Darakhan (R)
polite for his sake and then we bought a cratefull of beer to take back to camp. We sat around a fire drinking with an increasing number of curious Mongolian visitors and after 22:00, Tchimba told us that this evening there was going to be a disco up at the holiday camp. Curious to see how there could possibly be a disco in this reasonably isolated spot and slightly due to the alcohol already consumerd, we agreed to go. We walked back up to the holiday camp and into this large wooden hut where we were greeted by a load of Mongolians all seated around the edge of the room with a 'DJ' in one corner with a with a ghetto blaster and a pile of tape cassettes and alas, no bar! The 'Disco' turned out to be more like ballroom dancing with Mongolian folk music the order of the day rather than some pumping techno and no alcohol on sale - although most of the men had bottles of Mongolian vodka hidden in their Dels (traditional clothing a bit like a dressing gown). I was invited to dance by an older lady who turned out to be rather good
Adam tries it on with the local ladies at the Mongolian 'Disco'Adam tries it on with the local ladies at the Mongolian 'Disco'Adam tries it on with the local ladies at the Mongolian 'Disco'

Adam tries it on with the local ladies at the Mongolian 'Disco'
at the whole dancing thing and although at first I thought I'd done ok, by the end I realised that I do actually have two left feet. After a couple of jives I decided to call it a night and headed back to the tents at 00:00 to be greeted by Tsenge who, while we had been at the disco, had been drinking with some friends and was now very very drunk.

The following morning we woke up in the pouring rain and headed up to the cafe for some Tsigh and milk cookies for breakfast. We waited a few hours until the rain turned into drizzle before taking down the tents, packing up Lobster and setting off at 14:00. We were joined by Tchimba, who after 2 hours riding suggested we stop in at his family's house for some Tsigh and to dry off a bit. The fire was roaring and soon enough we were dry and warm and ready to head off again. We bode a fond farewell to Tchimba who now seemed like part of the furniture and continued for another hour before stopping at another ger to dry off and drink more Tsigh. The way
Trying on Tchimba's DelTrying on Tchimba's DelTrying on Tchimba's Del

Trying on Tchimba's Del
Tsenge kept on stopping to dry off suggested to us that he really wasn't so keen on the rain and after a further 2 hours riding we arrived at the house of a shamanic family who offered us refuge for the night from the now driving rain and strong wind. We put all our wet clothes and boots next to the hot stove and they dried off pretty quickly. We had some noodles for supper and then, just as we were getting ready for bed there was a knock on the door and as it opened and a young man walked in wearing a cap, we presumed it was one of the shaman's kids but alas, it was our now good friend Tchimba who had followed us just to spend one more night with his English friends. I fell asleep that night listening to the logs crackling on the fire and the wind howling outside.

The following morning, the rain wasn't quite so heavy but it was still very grey and drizzling slightly. We packed up Lobster and before we left the Shaman chief offered us a blessing. We trooped into his small wooden house, where he was dressed in traditional clothing and chanted some prayers before passing a small bowl of burning insence around each of our bodies three times. Although I didn't understand a word of what he was saying, I appreciated the fact that he had given us such a warm welcome and wanted to bless us for our forthcoming journey. We left the shaman behind and rode for 30 minutes before Tsenge located one of his friend's gers and we stopped for a good hour while he drank yak vodka with his mates. By the time we left Tsenge was in very high spirits and we set off, approaching a river whose waters had been swelled by all the rain. We approached to cross and Tsenge, Adam and I all made it accross safely, albeit with soaked ankles. Debbie's version of the river crossing was somewhat different however. Her horse had some aversion to the water and after she persuaded it to try and cross, it bucked, throwing her into the freezing cold water fully clothed. Adam and I both tried hard to contain our laughter although we did sing the chorus of Culture Clubs' "Karma Chameleon" a few times. Although it sounds harsh, this was highly deserved and the look on Debbies' face as she trundled out of the river, water dripping off her was a sight I will not forget for a long time. To her credit, after letting off some steam, Debbie got back on her horse and we rode on in the rain while Tsenge kept falling asleep on his horse after his earlier drinking session. We rode for a good few hours, stoping off at one more ger for Tsigh before we reached the same herders ger we had stopped at on our second night. They seemed really pleased to see us and once again offered us refuge from the weather and to stay the night. Debbie once again toook charge in the kitchen, not even letting Adam cut a cabbage, but to her credit, she put aside the events of earlier in the day and made a delicious mutton and pasta stew. After 6 days riding, we were all pretty pooped and hit the sack as soon as we could without being rude.

In the morning, we woke up to find that Tsenge had decided that the river right next to the camp was too high to cross and that he wanted to stay at the ger camp for another night. Our itinerary disagreed however and we pushed that we really had to be back in Khatgal that evening and could we at least try to cross. Tsenge said that it might involve swimming over and although Adam and I didn't mind this prospect, Debbie put her foot down. Before leaving at 13:00, I gave the grandfather a bottle of vodka to thank him for his hospitality, which was returned by a beautiful wood carving of two stallions fighting. What wonderful, generous people these Mongolians are! We left the family behind, although the boy who had taken me to the lake to fish on the previous visit joined us to help us find a good place to try and cross the river. In the end, it proved to be no bother at all and we crossed with water only coming up to our ankles. We said goodbye to the herder boy and continued back to Khatgal just as the sun began to pop out through the clouds. We stopped at one more herders' ger while Tsenge topped up his spirit levels before riding for about 4 hours straight until we reached the river which seperated Khatgal from the lake. This was to be the final telling point on whether we would reach Khatgal that evening or not. We crossed trough 5 rivers, all caused by swell from the excessive rainfall but none of them caused us any trouble and we reached MS guesthouse around 20:00.

We ate some food and drank some nice cold beers before venturing into a political discussion with Debbie. Not suprisingly, it turned out to be her point of view against ours and ended up with her storming off. No great loss! The following morning we were up early to try and get back to Moron. The rivers connecting the two towns were still pretty hight and as we approached one, we saw a furgon stuck in the swell with a load of topless Mongolians attempting to push it free. Eventually they succeeded and so di dwe and we managed to make it back to Moron in good time, despite the 4 river crossing we had to make through waters with very strong currents. (An American couple had seen their jeep washed away the previous night while trying to cross!) We arrived into Moron and managed to negotiate a fare back to UB in a jeep. We left at 16:00 and it transpired that our transportation was one of two jeeps making the journey - the drivers however turned out to be boy racers and seemed to be racing each other the whole way, taking the bends and large holes in the poor roads very very quickly. At numerous points, all 4 wheels were airborne and one time we took off so violently, I bashed my head on the roof, coming out with a large lump. Not suprisingly, sleep was a luxury we did not manage - until we broke down at around 05:00, when our drivers decided it was too dark to do anything, so we had about an hour to catch some shut eye before daylight arrived and we were off again. We finally hit the tarmac at around 14:00 and I was so relieved, I got out and kissed it. From there it took us about another 2 hours to reach Ulan Baatar, after being stopped by the police numerous times on our way into the city. We finally arrived at 16:00, tired, dirty and for me, relieved - relieved because now I didn't have to spend another second with our new 'friend', Debbie.

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7th August 2006

Loving you always
All my love and safety towards the end of yours and Adams journey together xxxxxxxx Loving you always xxxxxx

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