Before we left in the cars to travel onwards, we took time to farewell our cameleers and horsemen… and of course the camels and the horses.
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Our four cameleers rest after their busy few days trekking with us.
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On behalf of all of the group, each cameleer in turn, from oldest to youngest, was given some goodies, a tip and, most importantly, a blue silk scarf known as a Khata … also known as a Khadag or hadag. The Khata is a symbol of peace and well being and is the highest symbol of respect, well wishing and greeting in Mongolian culture. It’s always presented to the oldest or most distinguished person first.
The colour blue is also very important to Mongolians. It represents the eternal blue sky in this ‘Land of the Blue Sky’. We had all certainly enjoyed those wide blue skies.
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A cameleer and his camel… ‘led by the nose’ takes on a new meaning!
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This camel seemed to shed a tear at our parting.
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But as for this one…. the smile says it all… no more packs to carry for awhile!
By the shape of those humps, a long drink of water wouldn’t go astray.
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The camels looked a little lost without our red duffle bags.
Still work to do for the lead camel.
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We also thanked the horseman in the traditional way, again with a blue Khata.
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He seems happy enough with the tip!
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A handshake of thanks from Tim, and we went on our way again, by car not by foot.
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And just as well we weren’t walking! We were back into the vast open landscapes so typical of Mongolia. After a couple of hours we had reached this vantage point… and a well earned leg stretch. Ahead, the multiple tracks that crossed the steppe were obvious. Each driver had chosen his own way but, generally, the latest set of wheel tracks were followed.
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Looking ahead, we could see, in the distance, a lake known as Achit Nuur.
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Achit Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the Uvs Aimag of Mongolia, in the far west of the country. It’s at an elevation of 1,435 m above sea level. It covers an area of 290 km²; is 28 km long, 16 km wide, and 10 m deep.
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With no wind the clouds were reflected perfectly in the lake.
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Further on, we passed a nomad’s ger with the modern essential, a Russian ‘box-on-wheels’. The van’s Russian name sounds something like “oo-warz-ik” (phonetic). Although Mongolians still love their horses and camels, many have this form of transport as well.
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Not a lot grows on these stoney plains.
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Where there’s some water, the larch trees grow, small in size but in abundance.
Our destination for the day was Olgii (Olgiy). It was near here that we were scheduled to witness the Golden Eagle Festival over the next two days; a much anticipated event.
Olgii (sometimes written Olgiy) is the capital of Bayan-Olgii Aimag (Province). It experiences a desert climate with long, very dry and cold winters and a short warm summer.
Nestled beside the Khovd River near the Altai Mountains, Olgii is 1710m (5610 ft) above sea level. In 2008, its population was 28,496, mainly of Kazakh origin. The area is known for the annual Golden Eagle Festival held in October, and also for embroidery and Kazakh music.
Olgii is 1600km (994mi.) by road from UB, and 1000km (620mi.) of this distance is unpaved. You can travel between the two cities by bus. Even under ideal conditions, that journey takes 48 hours; and under not so ideal conditions, it can take 3 to 5 days. There’s no rail link but there is a small airport with one paved runway. Flights to UB are said to be ‘regular’… to other destinations they are irregular, whatever that means!
Because of this relative isolation, Oglii hasn’t developed as quickly as more eastern parts of Mongolia. Much of the city centre was built during the 1950-1980’s and has only had a spurt of growth since 2005 when many new apartments, shops, restaurants and hotels were built.
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We had dinner at one of those restaurants; a bit of a treat and it gave our cooks a rest. It was a Turkish restaurant and dinner consisted of tasty and very tender marinated lamb cubes with grated carrot, coleslaw, potato balls and rice with a dob of tomato sauce on top.
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After dinner it was a 25 minute drive to our ger camp – not the place that we’d expected to be staying at in town; Tseren had decided that was too noisy and not suitable. So we ended up at a temporary six ger set up much nearer to the site where all the activity of the Eagle Festival was to take place. This was supposed to save travel time and be much safer and quieter.
However, there was no running water here. And, as Olgii offered the first chance since leaving UB of running hot water and a SHOWER, some of us decided to go back to town for just that reason. So, at 21.00 it was back into the vehicles for most of us for the run back into town to the public bath-house. It took a bit of a Cook’s Tour around town to find the place but, at last, our vehicles pulled up outside a low-set building.
Inside, there were two rows of back to back cubicles, ostensibly males on one side and females on the other; but, in the event, we were all mixed up. Who cares? Running hot water gushed from the shower head and it made no difference that the place needed a good upgrade to fix broken tiles and leaking and rusted fittings. A wooden duck-board bridged the hole in the floor down which lots of brown water washed as the clean water from the shower head and the dust on my body mixed. No need for a shampoo when you’ve got a No. 1 hair cut. I just stood there luxuriating in the almost forgotten experience of hot water over body.
Olgii has a bath-house because the Russian era demanded that the collective approach be followed when it came to hot water. Quite rightly. It’s so much cheaper to produce hot water in one place and pipe it around the city than for everybody to have smaller individual water heaters. We were therefore rubbing shoulders with the locals who use the facility all the time. I’m not sure how often the locals strip off in the middle of winter when the temperature can be as low as -40ºC (-49ºF) even if the bath-house is steamy.
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The large Stalinist era central powerhouse still provides the town’s hot water.
After the shower it took another 25 minutes to drive back to the gers. By then, those we had left behind at camp, were fast asleep in their grubby skins! I, on the other hand, felt good and clean and was ready for sleep. Once again, all of the others opted to sleep en masse in the six gers. Not me. I opted once more to sleep in my own tent. I went to sleep thinking with much anticipation of the Eagle Festival that would be our lot on the morrow. And I did sleep, and very well, in my own tent, under the Mongolian stars!
All photographs copyright © DY of jtdytravels
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