Mongolia #6 Day 2 of the Trek (27/09/15 am)

DSC01615 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01615 © DY of jtdytravels

I slept comfortably and warm through a cold night and very cold morning  There was a fine frost on my tent when I took courage and poked my head out.  There was a little high cloud overhead.  We were told to stay in bed so I didn’t get up until 07.45. 

Breakfast was at 09.00 and consisted of a plate of steaming hot porridge, muesli, which I added to the porridge to make it a bit more interesting, scrambled egg with chopped bacon in it and some bread.  All the usual spreads were available including Vegemite.

DSC01618 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01618 © DY of jtdytravels

We didn’t need the frozen edges of the stream to tell us it was cold

– our fingers and toes already knew.

DSC01619 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01619 © DY of jtdytravels

To warm up we left the crew to pack up camp and started walking.

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DSC01621 © DY of jtdytravels

This is when you feel small in such a vast landscape.

DSC01623 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01623 © DY of jtdytravels

The vehicles picked us up and we drove on to the village of Urgamal.  (Lat. 48º 31’ E, Long. 94º 17’ N)  The dusty wide main street was lined with colourful homes and shops.

DSC01622 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01622 © DY of jtdytravels

A ‘corner store’ Mongolian style.

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DSC01625 © DY of jtdytravels

For us, the bare essentials were available, like sweets, chips, potatoes and toothpaste!

Otherwise for the locals, basic household needs were on the shelves.

DSC01627 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01627 © DY of jtdytravels

Notices were posted on this town board.

Unfortunately I have no idea of what they said… my Mongolian is not so good!

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DSC01629 © DY of jtdytravels

Our convoy of vehicles just stopped in the middle of the street

where they caused no disruption at all.

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DSC01630 © DY of jtdytravels

Our arrival created some interest for the locals.

DSC01631 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01631 © DY of jtdytravels

Many families prefer to live in their gers in their backyards

DSC01633 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01633 © DY of jtdytravels

Back into our vehicles after stocking up on a few essentials for ourselves and on the catering side of things and off we headed again.  We stopped at a Turkic stone, all wrapped up in a triangular fence decorated with a couple of blue scarfs called ‘Khata’, which originated in Tibetan Buddhism, are symbolic of purity and compassion.  Mongolian khata are usually blue which depicts the sky.  Turkic stones date back millennia and are usually associated with burial sites.

DSC01645 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01645 © DY of jtdytravels

It is a dusty landscape!

DSC01634 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01634 © DY of jtdytravels

The main beast of burden for Mongolian nomads is the Bactrian camel.

Unlike the one hump Arabian dromedary camels, Bactrian camels have two humps. The humps store fat which can be converted to water and energy when sustenance is not available. As their fat is depleted, the humps become somewhat floppy and flabby. They can endure long periods of travel without water, even in harsh dry conditions like these.

DSC01635 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01635 © DY of jtdytravels

Bactrian camels have thick, shaggy coats that protect them in winter. This ‘wool’ is shed as the summer temperatures rise. Bactrians rarely sweat. This helps them conserve fluids for long periods of time. During the long winters, they may take enough moisture from plants to keep them going for several weeks without water. But, when a camel does get a chance to refill with water, it can drink up to 135 litres (30 gallons) in a very short space of time.

DSC01639 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01639 © DY of jtdytravels

Perhaps not the most attractive of beasts but they have adapted to survive. Their nostrils close to keep sand at bay. Their bushy eyebrows and two rows of long eyelashes protect their eyes.

During this trek, we would come to welcome the camels assistance in carrying our gear to places cars cannot go! Their big, flat footpads help them to cross both rough rocky terrain and shifting desert sands without sinking under the weight of heavy packs.

 

DSC01642 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01642 © DY of jtdytravels

At around 15.00, we finally stopped for lunch at this attractive place on the edge of Khyargas Nuur (lake). Here we made the acquaintance of the other beast of burden in Mongolia, the sturdy Mongolian horse.

DSC01650 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01650 © DY of jtdytravels

Horses are a practical necessity in the life of Mongolian herdsmen. It’s said that there are many more horses in Mongolia than there are people. Horses are not expensive to care for as they are just allowed to graze, summer and winter… no fuss. Saddles are often colourful.

DSC01646 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01646 © DY of jtdytravels

While I checked out the horses, the horseman relaxed on the stony ground.

DSC01649 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01649 © DY of jtdytravels

Much mended and nailed up boots. I think he has lost his soul! Not many shoe shops around here.

DSC01652 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01652 © DY of jtdytravels

This was one photo op. I couldn’t miss.

I thought that I might have to ride one of these horses later in the trek… perhaps.

But more of that anon

David

All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

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

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more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

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Mongolia #2 Beijing to Ulaanbaatar (23/09/’15)

I left my Beijing hotel at 07.00 and was at the gate by 08.15 ready to board my flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar on Mongolian Airlines (MIAT) Flight OM 224. The plane arrived about 5 minutes later so all was looking good for an on-time take-off. And so it was.

Actually the flight left nearly 10 minutes early.  Everybody must’ve been in a hurry to get to Mongolia!  Then there was a 30 minute taxi and wait before we actually took off.

DSC01397 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01397 © DY of jtdytravels

Leaving Beijing.

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DSC01399 © DY of jtdytravels

Green farms on the outskirts of Beijing.

DSC01406 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01406 © DY of jtdytravels

How quickly the scenery can change! Mongolia is a dry and brown country at this time of the year; there’s not much rain in those small fluffy clouds.

As the plane approached Ulaanbaatar, I spotted some ‘green house tunnels’ on the out-skirts of the city.  These turned out to be protecting an important crop for this dry climate city -locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.

Even though it can be -30°C (-22°F) during the winter, ‘tropical’ fruits are being grown year-round here.  According to a Ulaanbaatar paper, ‘The Mongol Messenger’ of Friday, 24 July, 2015, “Over 30 greenhouses of the Nogoon Sor company create a favourable climate for growing fruit and vegetables year-round.  Crops are grown organically and watered by drip irrigation, the water coming from two artesian bores.  Sheep manure is the main manure used and there is a beehive in each greenhouse.  The greenhouses are kept at +30°C (86°F) during the winter even though the temperature outside can be as low as -30°C (-22°F).  Between 20 and 40 people are employed, the number depending on the season.”

Last year the company produced 62.6 tons of strawberries, 1.6 tons of grapes, 36.5 tons of cucumbers, 27 tons of tomatoes, 1.2 tons of watermelon and 11.5 tons of nine different types of vegetables.  The company earned a profit of Tugrit 280 million. (280mT =191,000AUD or 141,500 USD). Impressive!

DSC01411 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01411 © DY of jtdytravels

We arrived at Chinggis Khaan Airport in Ulaanbaatar (UB) on time…. there was an hours difference in time.  Not sure whether that put me nearer OZ time or further away.  Did it matter? The pre-landing info told me to expect a temperature of 9ºC when I hit the fresh air… a bit different from the mid-twenties I’d experienced over the previous two+ weeks. In the Arrivals Hall, my name was prominently displayed on a lolly-pop sign… my driver was there to take me to my hotel; the system of pre-arranging a transfer worked.

DSC01430 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01430 © DY of jtdytravels

My room at the Tuushin Hotel, a Best Western Premier 5-Star joint lived up to that rating.  The usual ploy of travel companies is to start and finish a tour on a high note… and yes, we were to return here at the end of our adventure. I doubted whether any accommodation for the rest of the trip would match this place! And neither it should. This was a trek!

I was told when I checked in that Tim had checked in only minutes earlier.  I was given his room number so rang it in the hope that I would catch him before he hit the shower.  I did. Although he wanted a shower, he didn’t have clean clothes … his bag hadn’t arrived with him!  ‘Maybe tomorrow’ was his comment.  He knows Mongolia better than most!  Tim told me that there were to be 16 in our group and six had arrived on his flight.  I guessed the rest would straggle in sometime … our first get-together wasn’t until 14.00 next day.

DSC01428 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01428 © DY of jtdytravels

The view of UB from my hotel room on arrival.

I’d tried to get onto the net all afternoon without success.  What was wrong? Just silly, silly me!  The TP_LINK modem power point hadn’t been turned on!  Boy, it was fast when it was working!  And, unlike in China, no problem with using Google in Mongolia!  

DSC01436 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01436 © DY of jtdytravels

The view from my room a few yours later – storm clouds brewing.

DSC01431 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01431 © DY of jtdytravels

After watching the Pope apparently bless me and the trek, I emptied everything out of my distinctive old, red World Expeditions duffle bag. I’d used it when I travelled in Bhutan with WE in 2004.  I needed to get some idea of just what I could take with me on the trek.  I’d needed some ‘glad rags’ in Beijing to satisfy the dress code for the UoN reception in Beijing at the end of the Great Wall Walk.  These at least I would be able to leave behind in UB until my return at the end of the trek.  (Oh… and just for the record… I won’t be repeating that Great Wall Walk again… not until at least during the ‘after-life’ … and even then I’d think twice.)

Four o’clock rolled around and I thought I must have been in Singapore as rain thundered down.  Hail and all.  Dark clouds had been building on the surrounding hills all afternoon and, sure enough, they couldn’t hold their moisture-laden contents any longer.  Short and brief … the storm cleared as quickly as it came.

I knew that I’d need to change some of my USD into Mongolian Tugrik, (Togrog colloquially). So I asked the Concierge for directions to the nearest bank.  He not only pointed me in the right direction but decided that, the best way to achieve a 100% success rate, was to take me there.  Admittedly it was only a block and a half away.  But as it was still raining lightly, that offer was even more impressive.  I also asked him where the nearest supermarket was and that was pointed out also … it was just a slight detour on my way back to the hotel from the bank.  The bank process was painless, except the exchange rate, and who has any control over that?  I stopped off at the supermarket and found a carton of 3.2% fat full-cream milk – much better than the “CoffeeMate” in my room.  Cost me T2,420 for a litre (a little under AUD2). I’d have to get used to the big numbers.  Not quite like the ‘shoe-box’ territory one enters when visiting places like Laos and Vietnam where USD100 can render you a millionaire for a day.  ‘Real’ Monopoly money becomes a distinct possibility in those places.

Waiting for the lift, milk in hand, who should walk out of the lift but Tim.  He was heading off to do some preliminary organising for the trek.  I was heading back to my room to write up my diary notes… and have that cuppa with real milk. 

DSC01442 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01442 © DY of jtdytravels

The rain and clouds cleared as the sun set over the town.

DSC01443 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01443 © DY of jtdytravels

It was time to venture back to the supermarket to grab a bucket of noodles and a bottle of beer for tea.  I’d managed to finish the whisky I bought for the Chinese portion of my time away, and, in all fairness to myself, I couldn’t start the next lot of whisky until the Mongolian trek began… and that was likely to begin a day later than planned due to changes in aircraft schedules. It looked as though the contingency day built into the programme for later on in the trek might already be used up.  Would there be further delays?  Ah; why worry? Time to take life as it came… just relax, go with the flow and enjoy!  More anon.

David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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

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Mongolia #1 Preparing to Trek with Tim Cope

After finishing the Great Wall of China Challenge with the team from the University of Newcastle, I took a week of R&R with friends in Kunming, in Yunnan Province in China (musings for that week to come later!) After that, I prepared for another challenge; a 17 day exploration of the outer north west region of Mongolia with adventurer Tim Cope.

So these musings comprise my recollections and thoughts of that trip. If there’s anything factually wrong, I’d like to hear from you.  Otherwise, it’s just as I saw it and perceived it!

DSC02236 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02236 © DY of jtdytravels

I was actually heading to Mongolia for the second time, having been there first in June 2008 when I travelled overland from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, to Novosibirsk in Siberia.  I fell in love with the place then.  I love the wide open spaces, the people and the fact that I could travel for days on end without seeing mobile phone antennae, high tension power pylons or even aircraft con trails; all of this appealed greatly.

Apart from thinking about the place on the odd occasion since – it was still a far away place.  Then the September 2014 edition of Australian Geographic magazine arrived in our mail box. And in there I spotted an advertisement telling me that Tim Cope was to lead a World Expeditions tour to the western parts of Mongolia in September-October 2015.  In a flash, I was on the phone booking my place.  At the time, World Expeditions couldn’t give me a price as it was so far out from departure date… but that didn’t matter.  I said, “Put me down and where do I send my deposit”?  I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to travel with someone I admired so much and who obviously could give an extra special insight into Mongolia and its people.  Because Tim has spent many, many months in the country, learning the language and getting to know the people.  He would be in a very special position to impart an in-depth and personal understanding to our experience.

I had some inkling of what to expect from Tim, because, back in 2004, I’d thoroughly enjoyed listening to him telling his story during live crosses by satellite phone broadcast on ABC Radio. That was at the time that he was travelling on horse back, in the footsteps of Genghis Khan, from Mongolia to Hungary, a distance of approximately 10,000km. (6200mi.).  Then came the doco on television – what a place, what a man, what an adventure! Then came the book which I read with delight.

Book Cover

Book Cover

The publisher’s blurb for this book by Tim includes the following:

Inspired by a desire to understand the nomadic way of life, Australian adventurer Tim Cope embarked on a remarkable journey: 6,000 miles on horseback across the Eurasian steppe from Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Ukraine, to Hungary retracing the trail of Genghis Khan.  From novice rider to travelling three years in the saddle, – accompanied by his Kazakh dog, Tigon – Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaux, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathians.

Along the way Tim was taken in by people who taught him the traditional ways and recounted their recent history: Stalin’s push for industrialisation brought calamity to the steppe and forced collectivisation that in Kazakhstan alone led to the starvation of more than a million nomads. Today Cope bears witness to how the traditional ways hang precariously in the balance in the post-Soviet world.

Five years in the making, On the Trail of Genghis Khan is Tim’s personal story of adventure, endurance –and at times tragedy-, and eventual triumph. Intelligently written, it is a narrative full of romance, history, and drama that ultimately celebrates the nomadic way of life —its freedom, its closeness to the land, its animals, and moods.

I recommend this book as a good read.

Tim Cope; photo of himself

Tim Cope; photo of himself

Perhaps this photo of Tim on one of his Mongolian ponies at ‘blue lake’ near Kharkhiraa Pass, self-taken during his epic trek, will give you some idea of why I wanted to go with him on this trek. I looked forward so much to this adventure. I thought….bring it on!

Map of Mongolia

Map of Mongolia

Mongolia is a vast country in east-central Asia bordered by Russia to the north and China on all other sides. It’s the second largest land-locked country in the world after Kazakhstan, which has an area of  2,725,000 sq. km. (1,052,000 sq. mi.)  Mongolia’s total area is 1,565,000 sq. km. (604,250 sq. mi.). To perhaps give a better of idea of comparisons to places you may know, it falls between the size of Queensland (1,731,000 sq. km.) and the Northern Territory (1,349,000 sq. km.).  It’s a little smaller than Alaska, (665,380 sq. mi). 

DSC01418 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01418 © DY of jtdytravels

With such a large land mass and small population it’s one of the least densely populated independent countries in the world with just 1.92 people per square kilometre (4.97/sq. mi.) Approximately 30% of the population are still nomadic.

DSC01426 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01426 © DY of jtdytravels

Another 45% of the country’s total population of 3 million people now live in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. ( “Ulaanbaatar” is the way the Mongolians write their country’s name; so that is the way I’m going to write it.)

Mongolia is a parliamentary republic, a country that has, in the past, been ruled by various nomadic empires. It has also spent time under Stalinist communist rule.

Buddhism is the predominant religion which has been revived since the lifting of a ban on religion that was in place during the rule by the Communists.  Historically Mongolia has very close ties to Tibet.  A small group in the far north of the country still practice Shamanistic traditions while around 100,000 Kazakhs in the far west are Sunni Muslims.

DSC02240 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02240 © DY of jtdytravels

So, this is the first of a new set of my musings and photos, another armchair adventure, this time to the vast landscape of Mongolia, known as the Land of the Blue Sky. I’ll show you spectacular scenery of wide open spaces and lots of snow covered mountains. I’ll take you to meet nomadic tribesmen and horsemen and families who live a very different lifestyle to that which most of us know.  We’ll trek in one of the ‘highest’ countries in the world; through snow and ice, dust and wind… and no two days will be alike! 

Why not join me for the journey!

David

All photographs copyright © JT  and 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