Mongolia #26 Day 14 of the Trek (09/10/15)

DSC02437 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02437 © DY of jtdytravels

It was a warmer night – with no frost.  For the first time, I slept under the sleeping bag rather than in it.  Mind you, it was still only a few degrees above freezing.

DSC02438 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02438 © DY of jtdytravels

Soft pre-sunrise hues over the bay beside our campsite.

DSC02440 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02440 © DY of jtdytravels

Finally the sun hit the far side of the lake.

DSC02444 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02444 © DY of jtdytravels

 …then it was our turn to receive some warmth from the sun

DSC02447 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02447 © DY of jtdytravels

The sun highlighted these fluffy seed heads.

There was an option this morning to go for a walk and be picked up along the way… or to stay in camp.  This came about because we had to wait for two of our vehicles to return from Olgii where the con-rod in one and a broken leaf in the other car’s suspension were being fixed. Some of us decided to stay in camp and have some time-out.  We kicked the remains of the camp fire into life and sat around it, chatting and relaxing until midday. The vehicles reunited, we drove on until we found the walking group. Our destination for the day was Khovd where there’s an airport. This would be our point of departure from far west Mongolia; the end of our trek.

DSC02451 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02451 © DY of jtdytravels

On the way, we came across a rather impressive, very Russian styled memorial.  As with many things with a Russian influence, there appeared to be plenty of money for building, but nothing ever set aside for maintenance.  Built and then forgotten.

DSC02452 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02452 © DY of jtdytravels

Yaks grazed contentedly on the wide open steppe.

DSC02454 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02454 © DY of jtdytravels

Our cars left a dust trail as we drove down into the town of Khovd.

(Elevation 1405m, 48.02N, 91.57E)

Khovd is the capital of Khovd Province, approximately 1580km (982mi.) from UB. The town’s population of  81,479 (in 2015) is made up of more than 17 nationalities and ethnicities all of which have their own traditional dwellings, dress and cultural differences.

The climate is harsh with the summer temperature regularly reaching 40°C (104°F) and falling to as low as -30°C (-22°F) in winter.  The weather is dry with an annual rainfall of only 122.8mm (4.8in.) per annum. Despite this harsh climate, over two million livestock are herded here and, quite amazingly, the area around Khovd is famous for its watermelon production.

At present Khovd is connected to the Russian electricity grid and its prone to blackouts if the town falls behind in its payments! So generation of hydro-electricity from the abundant snow melt is becoming more important.  It’s hoped that new projects will generate enough electricity not only for Khovd’s needs but also for the power needs of the adjacent aimags (Provinces) of Uvs and Bayan-Olgii.

DSC02458 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02458 © DY of jtdytravels

We drove a short way out of town to find a camp site beside a swiftly flowing stream. This was our last camp site for this Mongolian trek with Tim Cope.

Dinner tonight was a bowl of soup followed by a lamb dinner with potatoes and carrots. It was cooked in a pot with hot stones.  Really delicious.

DSC02465 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02465 © DY of jtdytravels

After dinner we were entertained by three Kazakh performers in national costumes.  

DSC02463 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02463 © DY of jtdytravels

The instrument played was the traditional morin khuur. I say traditional, but under the Stalinist regime, musical instruments had to be standardised and ‘modernised’ using different materials and construction methods. The top and bottom of the traditional morin khuur was made of skins. The sides had ‘sound holes’. Today, the instrument has a wooden soundbox, f shaped holes and a soundpost. Bows were traditionally made of horse hair. Todays strings are made of nylon.

DSC02467 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02467 © DY of jtdytravels

The firelight flickered over the face of the throat singer.

DSC02470 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02470 © DY of jtdytravels

These performers brought to an end the final night of a memorable trip.

DSC02472 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02472 © DY of jtdytravels

Before I turned in, I repacked my bag. And now, I have to let this biscuit have the final say in this diary of our trek.  I bought it in a pack of biscuits way back on my first day in China on 6th September.  That biscuit pack lived in my backpack, all day every day, one or two biscuits being nibbled at from time to time. They were not overly hard, nor overly sweet, yet at the same time rather nice in flavour.  I wasn’t hungry between meals during the Walk on the Wall, nor between meals in Mongolia. So now, after all of that time, there was still one biscuit left in my pack. And it was not broken! There must be something very special about those biscuits!!!

And there had certainly been many things special about our trek. I was able to muse over them as I fell asleep in my tent on my last night under the Mongolian stars.

David

All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

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Mongolia #25 Day 13 of the Trek (08/10/15)

DSC02405 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02405 © DY of jtdytravels

It was another cold morning, -10℃, (14℉) with frost on my tent. My toes were still frozen! The sky was almost cloudless above our picturesque camp site.

DSC02404 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02404 © DY of jtdytravels

The sun began to creep over the hills and into our valley.

DSC02407 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02407 © DY of jtdytravels

Breakfast was the usual scrambled eggs with bacon but with a few extras in the form of orange slices and dried apricots.  Very nice.

DSC02408 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02408 © DY of jtdytravels

Before we set off for the day, our driver, Pujee, posed with my travelling companion, Michael from London, alongside Pujee’s trusty Toyota HiLux.

DSC02410 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02410 © DY of jtdytravels

Leaving our drivers to pack up camp, we began to walk for about half an hour to the site of four standing stones… well, two standing stones, one ‘leaning’ stone and one definitely tired, lying down stone! There’s a growing problem in the steppe areas of the standing stones being stolen and sold to museums, smashed or indeed used to help get a car out of a bogged situation. Perhaps, respect for the stones is waning. 

DSC02411 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02411 © DY of jtdytravels

A nearby small lake reflecting that huge blue Mongolian sky.

DSC02417 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02417 © DY of jtdytravels

After our vehicles caught up with us again, we drove on to see a “Silent Village”. It looks like a village in the distance but it is in fact, a cemetery… hence ‘silent’.  Tim had told us that these villages had tricked him when he was on his big trek. Can you imagine, trekking along on your own and you see what you think is habitation… people… company…  and a chance to share a meal. But no! Not here.

DSC02415 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02415 © DY of jtdytravels

We ventured closer to have a look. These were relatively new graves within a walled area.  The ground is very hard and rocky so a mound is built over the body.  At a later date a stone surround might be built.

DSC02414 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02414 © DY of jtdytravels

 An older grave with surround.

DSC02413 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02413 © DY of jtdytravels

A much more substantial grave site.

DSC02420 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02420 © DY of jtdytravels

Now there’s a grave site with a pretty spectacular view.

Pity the incumbent isn’t able to enjoy it!

DSC02419 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02419 © DY of jtdytravels

There wasn’t a lot of vegetation except for a few tufts of White grass.

DSC02421 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02421 © DY of jtdytravels

Wonder of wonders… here in the “Silent Village” one of our drivers managed to get phone reception!  The driver was still vertical so it wasn’t a call on the “royal telephone”!  The silence is broken! Modern technology.

DSC02422 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02422 © DY of jtdytravels

We drove on through stark countryside under the clearest of blue skies.

The sky here really is amazingly blue.

DSC02423 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02423 © DY of jtdytravels

When we came to an ovoo on a pass, of course we had to make the obligatory stop and perform the, by now, well known ritual of walking around the ovoo three times clockwise, each time adding another stone to the ever growing pile.

DSC02424 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02424 © DY of jtdytravels

Oh oh! More vehicle problems. And no habitation in sight anywhere. Just as well our drivers were fairly knowledgable as mechanics… at least we hoped they were.

Up and running again, we set off back to Olgii.  We stopped there for a while, long enough for me to finally get to a bank that had both power and people, both at the same time. Finally I got my hands on some more Mongolian money. 

With local money in my pocket, we wandered off to the Italian coffee shop… I’m not sure whether the coffee or the free WiFi was best! Nonetheless, we partook of both.

Others managed to find some shops!  We had lunch at a restaurant, climbed aboard our vehicles and set off towards the town of Khovd… but not for long. 

DSC02433 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02433 © DY of jtdytravels

On the very outskirts of Olgii, one of the cars dropped a con-rod, or something like that, and it wasn’t going anywhere fast.  The passengers from that car were unloaded and shared around the other cars… a bit of a squash but that’s how it had to be. We drove on leaving the ailing car stuck on the side of the road looking a little ‘down in the mouth’.

It was around 19.15 before we came to a lake where we could camp for the night. As I got out and walked around our vehicle, I could hear hissing from a back tyre.  A rock we’d driven too close to, just before we stopped, had sheered of the valve!  This was the only problem our vehicle suffered throughout the trip due mainly to Pujee’s careful driving and the good condition of the vehicle when we’d started.  The corrugated and rock strewn roads really do punish vehicles in these parts.

The light faded but it wasn’t too cold… there was a good cloud cover. So, after dinner, most of us sat around a fire while Tim read from ‘The Silent Steppe” by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, a first-hand account of the genocide of the Kazakh nomads during the 1920-1930’s under Stalin.  It was 22.00 before we went to bed after what had been another eventful day in the far west of Mongolia.

More anon

David

All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

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Mongolia #16 Day 7 of the Trek (02/10/15 pm)

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.

DSC01964 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01964 © DY of jtdytravels

Our four cameleers rest after their busy few days trekking with us.

DSC01965 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01965 © DY of jtdytravels

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.

DSC01982 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01982 © DY of jtdytravels

A cameleer and his camel… ‘led by the nose’ takes on a new meaning!

DSC01980 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01980 © DY of jtdytravels

This camel seemed to shed a tear at our parting.

DSC01989 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01989 © DY of jtdytravels

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.

DSC01987 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01987 © DY of jtdytravels

The camels looked a little lost without our red duffle bags.

Still work to do for the lead camel.

DSC01969 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01969 © DY of jtdytravels

We also thanked the horseman in the traditional way, again with a blue Khata. 

DSC01973 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01973 © DY of jtdytravels

He seems happy enough with the tip!

DSC01991 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01991 © DY of jtdytravels

A handshake of thanks from Tim, and we went on our way again, by car not by foot.

DSC01997 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01997 © DY of jtdytravels

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.

DSC01995 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01995 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking ahead, we could see, in the distance, a lake known as Achit Nuur. 

DSC01999 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01999 © DY of jtdytravels

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.

DSC02003 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02003 © DY of jtdytravels

With no wind the clouds were reflected perfectly in the lake.

DSC02009 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02009 © DY of jtdytravels

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. 

DSC02010 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02010 © DY of jtdytravels

Not a lot grows on these stoney plains.

DSC02011 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02011 © DY of jtdytravels

Where there’s some water, the larch trees grow, small in size but in abundance.

Location of Oglii

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.

Weather Chart for Oglii

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.

DSC02012 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02012 © DY of jtdytravels

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.

DSC02144 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02144 © DY of jtdytravels

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.

DSC02430 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02430 © DY of jtdytravels

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! 

David

All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels