Camp 12 – Back to Ulaanbaatar (End Gobi journey)

It was difficult to sleep with the noise of the German and Korean tourists partying on all night. The bed in this camp is also the most uncomfortable we have had, which is a pity as it was our last night out before UB.

We had a little visitor who had managed to cut a hole in the soy milk overnight with his little teeth. We have fed much wildlife this trip.

It seemed to be cooler today with an overcast sky as we left the camp for the curious journey back home.

The camp guides suggested we take the local roads back to UB as the main road is not good. This entailed a rough instruction if just keep to the tracks and follow a north easterly direction and you will eventually find your way to UB. We had previously vowed to keep to the main roads as we kept getting lost in the unsigned posted tracks that litter Mongolia. Never the less Unench set off over the mountains and up and around rocks and barely visible car tracks. At one point the ‘road’ disappeared completely at a ger camp. We were then sent off on another ‘track’ that came to a group of horses and people.

This aw a very special day, it was a full moon and the day the local ger camps meet to try out for Nardam. Nardam of course being the most famous and important festival held each year in July in Mongolia. Nardam is a horse race run over 25 kilometers and mostly by young children, it is spectacular for traditional costume and more horses than people. We were fortunate to attend one two years ago when we we’re last in Mongolia. So we understood a little of what we saw.

There we’re two lines set up on poles which the horses were hitched too. A very famous horse trainer was here giving the young ones special instructions, a couple of family groups mostly in deel and a monk ringing bells and saying prayers for the racers with beads.

We stopped to ask the way and were immediately invited to share some airag. We had pulled up just as the monk was doing bit and the adults were preparing the vodka and milk drink. A small table was set up in the green field with cloth and a bowel of sweets and milk products. I watched as one of the woman poured milk in small dishes and vodka into a silver dish she first offered the priest the vodka of which he took a drink, then it was offered around and to us first. The vodka was then mixed with the milk product and we were each given a dish to drink. Tugsoo kindly offered to drink mine after I took a polite sip. I am unable to drink dairy and in this country that is a difficult thing to negotiate. After the airag came the fresh made yoghurt. I am finding this a little more palatable and actually enjoyed the small sips I had before passing it over. I am not sure how mvuh I can handle… And as far as vodka, I have been sworn off it after my last ‘taste’ on the last day of the exhibition with the museum director at lunch. Never again…

We stayed here for what seemed like quite a while. I was. Ross I had run out of memory space this morning and rattled through scan cards to see what I could delete so I could take some good photographs with the canon camera. This was a photographers treat and a privilege to be here at this special occasion for the Mongolians. We hoped we brought them luck, the foreign visitors I’m their patch. We were still more than two hundred kilometers from UB.

Eventually we left the party of beautiful horses and outfits. I will always remember the Mongolian horse, it is a wild horse yet living with families. They are wild in their nature and not shy to fall down and roll in the dirt and standing grunting and snorting and rubbing each other affectionately. They seem the often stand head to end with each other and shot flies for each other with their tails. They are the most beautiful of creatures in their carefree manner of abandon. The colors are both rich and creamy and the most beautiful cream horses, chestnut and darkest of chocolate brown.

We continued on our road across the steppe of grassy tracks and rocky outcrops. We have now pretty much left the Gobi and entered the Steppe country. The grass is greener, thicker and the scent more heady with the early summer flowers. We saw several groups of one to three cranes, some flying, some just hanging around a water patch. Wedge tail eagles were hovering over a haul with the. Implant of black crows and a myriad of others. Hard to photograph. The sky was a deep indigo with rain shadows creating random fingers of brushstrokes behind us, it was raining, hard, somewhere, the storms have been on our tail for days and reports of damage, let us pray we beat it to the city,

And the highlight of the day, well, equal with the horses was down in a w unite valley the discovery of a white camel; and baby, the camel appeared to have been separated from her herd as she was quite unkempt. Her hair long and left over from winter. She looked well enough with her most gorgeous little white baby camel, perhaps three months old. The innocence and shyness of the baby as it stayed behind mother. We stopped for a cuppa here and to watch them watch us. We kept a reasonable distance and the mother was aware and watching us but showed no sign of leaving her place. She let us come close enough to photograph well and we too respected her space and didn’t her to feel threatened or try to attack us as they can.

We left as the heavy clouds groaned and rumbled warnings and sent little sparks of electricity to get us in our way,

Not far from our camel Unench stopped the car. He had heard a strange noise. We were now on top of a rock hill with a herd of goats and a distant ger with smoke rising from the chimney.

Yes, it was a flat tyre. The last day of our trip and the first flat tyre. Luckily he had an air compressor at hand and the tyres had been filled with some goo a year or too ago that helps heal small holes. Fixed and on again. A further check didn’t seem to be of concern a few kilometers later.

Hours later and much track hopping, grass growing taller and more paddocks more fertile, animal herds more abundant and somehow we reached the main road. This was still gravel. And worse be ause of the heavy vehicles and trucks breaking it up. Then a small section of a few kilometers of brand new bitumen which we were not supposed to drive on. We, like the other traffic did until it too ran out. [of money?]

Back on the gravel and periods of sandy holes and stones and then the tyre. It was completely flat this time. The sky was threatening and lightening flying all around, the blue bruised clouds visibly thickening all around. No choice, Mervyn and Unench had to change the tyre. It was like a miracle as we watch the rain fall on the hills all around and somehow miss us.

Before we knew we were back st the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and the smell of fumes and noise of traffic and faces of hopeful politicians everywhere. What has changed, not much except from every available billboard and orifice was a poster of a politician. It took exactly one hour in traffic to get home.

Back in our apartment by 7.00pm and life goes on.

Tomorrow we begin to organize the second exhibition for the Desert Sharing Project.

the traffic to get home.

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Camp 3 – Gobi Desert Suvarga (White Stupa)

Interesting sleeping arrangements last night in the Mangagovi hotel in the middle of the Middle Gobi. As there was only one small bedroom left with two bunks to share between four people we had to be creative. Unench pushed the two bunks together so there was just enough room between them to squeeze a body and just enough room for HM to sleep on the floor between the bed and wall. Mervyn and I sleep crushed against the wall on one bunk and Tugsoo had one whole single bed to herself. There was much noise in the street below our window; it was Saturday night and we were in a hotel, of sorts. At least we could check the car for retribution as it was parked beneath our window.

Breakfast arrived, a fried egg, cold rice and gherkins. I had sudden memories of 1979 when I visited Moscow on a contiki bus tour. at least I still had my coffee pot and fresh coffee to brew in our room on the portable gas stove. We are pleased we bought the second stove on route.

After yesterday’s fiasco with the rear bumper bar there was a first revisit to the police station where a meeting had been arranged for the culprit, the poor vodka affected driver, Tugsoo and Unench to meet the police for a handover of money for the car damage. Apparently the culprit only lost his license for a few months and not two years as first mooted and he did spend the night in the lockup.

A visit to the market to buy a bucket with lid, a basin for ger washing and some more food. We have enough food now to open a roadside stall.

Then it was time to get out of town as quickly as possible. Started to follow the road south and soon realized this may not be correct. A road to our right began to look more promising. We tirned around and headed back to town, after first trying to drive across the desert plain until a small creek stopped us. Start again and this time road pointed south west towards wherever Tugsoo was taking us on the map next.

Mongolian roads are usually just gravel tracks that criss cross the countryside in the general direction of the next place. Often we would come to a clear fork in the road and decisions wild have to be decided depending on the point of the compass in the dashboard. There was a lot of traffic on the road today; large trucks, Russian army jeeps, four wheel drive vehicles and us. As the land became more hilly and the dunes grew in number we needed to guess which track approaching vehicles were using. Sometimes there maybe a dozen or so well used tracks and the keep left or right rule did not apply on the desert roads.

Dust began to build up, at first just made by vehicles and then odd spires of whirling dust grew into another constant dust storm whipped up by the increasing strength of the wind.

The earth became drier and stonier as we headed south and vegetation sparse. Strangely we still seemed to be following power lines. This time brand new silver towers of steel marching along in an uncanny straight line up and over the dunes. The roads snakes both sides of the lines and occasional distractions where the line may disappear. The silver towers were so new they were without wire. We met the linesmen much further south coming up perhaps from china connecting the wire.

We drove for many hours before stopping for lunch at a disused camp we saw off the road and away from the dust stream of passing vehicles. From the mirage came two black goats. They were some way off and I wanted to photograph them and hoped they would not run away. I took some bread with me and walked towards them. The largest goat looked at me and was unafraid. I keep walking towards them and soon she came towards me and I held out the bread. She ate hungrily from my hand. She was Al’s limping and seemed very hungry. The young goat as dark as the mother shed away and would not let me approach. The female then followed me a little more but not approach the vehicle. I came back to our lunch camp and announced I would give my lunch to the goat instead of eating. I took some more food back to her and she ate as hungrily. Mervyn then came down with some popcorn which she ate from the bag. And then she was happy to follow us back to the car and wanted to get into all the boxes of food. I gave her some water and felt sad we had to leave her to continue fending off this harsh desert land. She had obviously strayed from a herd for there was no sign of other goats in our sight.

We drove on into what was becoming a dustier landscape and the track grew to a kilometer wide with unsignposted options All the way. We passed two roadside ger camps that Tugsoo and Unench said were restaurants, at least places we cough have horshoew made. They were terribly black and desert affected looking institutions.

After one hundred kilometers Unench became worried because he had thought we needed to turn left somewhere about now. We stopped an oncoming vehicle and asked directions. The driver said he did not know, he was a bus with several passengers. He said he only stuck to the main road and we should not take any left turns in the middle of the desert as it was too dry and harsh and remote and we would get lost. So we kept on and stopped again at a well. We had been watching another Russian vehicle heading parallel to us some distance away turn left at the well. It was time again to have some discussion and Mervyn and I thought we should be heading to the left as we had seen two more distant vehicles driving fast, must have been a good road.

Unench decided to drive strait ahead and we found some linesmen who indicated keep straight for twenty kilometers, looking out for three gers and a well and take the difficult to see track left a d ahead will be the place we are looking for. So we did and he was right, we saw in the distance a ger camp of three and a little away a well. The track was about three vehicle tyre markes in the dust. At least we could now see the rocky outcrop we were looking for and kept heading for them across the stony plain.

Then a small marked wooden sign said ger camp with a arrow. We were traveling through undulating gentle rock outcrops now, rising in soft rounded mounds from a flay ancient lake bed. At least that is what it looks like. The idea of ancient dinosaurs buried in the crust of the hills and deep beneath the lake surface comes to mind. Then Tugsoo said she had been here many years before when archeologists had been first exploring these parts and there were many many boxes of bones found.

The dust storm had blurred the countryside and the sand was a deeper orange than the earlier grey of the desert. The landscape seemed more familiar to the Australian deserts I have been. I imagined the very flatness and amount of dust in the sky could produce a lovely sunset.

Finally we reach a very remote and basic looking ger camp. A number of gers sat in a tight group together in the dust. An ablution block looked out of place with the gently flapping canvas covered gers. Brightly decorated orange doors were welcoming as traditional gers are and we hoped we could stay. This is not luxury but the way these gers sat on the flat plain remote and inviting was strange. Tugsoo went to ask about gers for the night and it seemed these were not the ones she had in mind, they were further up the track a few kilometers. These were cheap, only 12,000tg each, had water, shower and available.

We had a look and decided these would do, the showers were clean and we were here and the only visitors. When the wind dropped, in the evening or tomorrow the owners would take us out to the interesting spots in the hills.

Tonight we have separate gers for Mervyn and myself and Tugsoo and Unench.

I am now laying out of the wnd writing. I have had a shower, wet my har and feel great. The wind is howling outside. We have closed the flat on the roof as the plastic cover is non existent, and it is dark, cooling. I would love to share the rhythmic sound of the wind as it whips around the ger. the felt softens the howl which can be heard in the distance. I don’t think the wind will drop tonight. But then again it might just stop. Last time the wind stopped the rain came. There will not be any sight seeing today. We are here at camp now and battened down. And it’s lovely, a soft bed, stove, (our gas one) and I am making banana pancakes. The batter is resting as I write.

…later

After a feast of banana pancakes with cherry jam we ventured outside as the wind had dropped considerably as the day began to close down. This time of year the wind picks up after lunch and dies down in the evening and morning.

We noticed the owners began to move around now as they were able to work out of the debilitating dust and wind. The afternoon glow of the sun was stunning- a 360 degree view mirrored the gers. A round ger on a round landscape. The shadows were long and the wind had made little furrows against the low tough vegetation that reminded me of the plains in the Flinders Ranges and around Lake Eyre.

I took many photographs of the gentle landscape bathed in the golden evening light. As I looked around to the east the land seemed to have a both a purple and gold glow together. The wind was a gentle chill on my skin. This afternoon heat was the first time I wore a summer shirt, the temperature had risen well over 34 degrees Celsius, according to the car temp gauge.

Out here in the middle of the Gobi desert at this quite camp we were able to recharge our batteries between 8 and 11pm while the generator was running.

We have made plans tonight to visit a special place with the owner of the camp tomorrow. About 32 kilometers away in the rocks are many cave paintings some 4,000 years old.

Camp 4 – Gobi Desert White Stupa

During the night the wind dropped completely and the air was still, and silent. In the morning it was chilly and I didn’t want to get out of bed. It was lovely to sleep in the womb again of a ger and with room. We have everything here, food, stove and a mattress.

After breakfast our ger host Batsaihan came with us in the car to lead us to some 4000 year old rock carvings hidden in the valleys in the surrounding hills. We would never have been able to find the places he took us to today without his help.

First stop Was a visit to the stunning White Stupa Cliffs. These are cliffs of ochre and washouts with wonderful sculptural forms. The colored cliffs were a little similar to the painted desert in south Australia. A myriad of cliffs with washes of red, brown, yellow and white.

Second visit to the slate cliffs with ancient carvings.

Along the way we saw an array of animals to photograph including herds of horses, camels, goats and sheep. We saw a small herd of gazelle grazing on the planes as we left camp.

Two young children on horseback were herding a flock of sheep to meet another flock of horses and camel. We watched them bring all of the animals together and in an orderly manner bring all of the animals together in their separate groups up the valley. It was as if the whole school of children were being marched off in along a road together by age groups.

I was excited when I saw my first camels in the distance and Tugsoo kept assuring me I needed worry we would see many more. She was right. We passed several other camel herds and stopped at one large camel camp to watch the family milking the camels. It was an incredible picture, dozens of camels either loose or tethered to iron hooks in the ground and many young camels nearby. As well as the camels the family kept a large flock of colorful goats and sheet together. They were so grand all in together. Young goats were playfully jumping all over the pen and playing head butting games while the young sheep did the same in their sheep fashion. The goats were all colors, greys, white, brown, multi-colored and black like the goat I met yesterday. I have really fallen for these creatures. The camels were all brown and in a state of malt which made them look quite ridiculous and untidy. Unench says the winter camel is a striking animal with his thick coat. The wool from the camel fetches a lot of money and is not untidy to the family.

The milking went on the large camels stayed together until they were finished and all just wandered off into the sand hills in a leisurely manner, untethered. They will feed all day as far as they like and when it’s time come home to feed their the young camels tethered back at camp.

We took many photographs and the family invited us to return for tea on the way back. Hmm, I thought that will be the milk tea of which I am not particularly fond.

We kept driving on through sandy tracks which merged into sand and shale and then quite thick shale. The Flinders Ranges comes to mind. This landscape could easily be in the Flinders Ranges, except the vegetation is shorted than the salt bush and low mulga scrub.

There are beautiful grasses that have fine seed stems that appear soft in the light like spinifix except without the thorns.

We Have been privileged today to have our guide. He took us to the slate hills and walked the paths to the ancient carvings. There were all kinds of images spread for a twenty kilometer range through the hills. As he said, they appear to be carved into the edge of a book.

Unfortunately there were some carvings that looked as if they had been made in the last ten years. And places where they also looked as if they had been chiseled out altogether; removed. I would imagine in time this place will probably be closed to any visitors because the site is so important which such ancient relics.

One of the interesting things about this region is the rapid change in the landscape, the way there are sandhills, slate hills and amongst this mounts and layers of quartz. Apparently the mining companies had taken out a license in this region and the government had revoked it because of the importance of this region. The region has now been set aside as national park. We were fortunate enough to see some wild sheep in a valley. This is a very special sighting we were told, very rare. We saw them again later and tried to video them but they ran too fast. The wild sheep ran like the wind and more like the gazelles! Not like the sheep we are used, and they had the longest horns.

We called in on the camel family on the way out of the valley and the woman had prepared some goat milk tea and camel curds for us to eat. I apologized as best I could and said I could not drink milk. At least Tugsoo relayed my message. The woman then brought me a large cup of camel milk instead. I gingerly sipped and to my surprise it tasted like a yoghurt with a hint of coriander; somewhat spicy, sweet and tart all together. I did not experience the immediate bilious sensation I usually have if I drink cows milk. I am sure I could be gently led into enjoying camel milk. Then the plate of white marshmallow like curds arrived. Again these squares had the same sweet tart flavor.

We were treated with the most lovely hospitality. The ger was so beautiful inside. Decorated with fine tapestry work and rugs made by the woman. It is difficult to equate the inside beauty and outside camel yard as the same place. I felt so grubby in my dusty clothes, to sit amongst the woman’s clothes and neatness. Then from nowhere she magically presented two bowls of sweets and chocolate arranged beautifully in glass. How do they keep their gers so neat. Our ger back at camp is looking like a Ferrell camp, living out of suitcases and bags and boxes of food everywhere, and our camping pots and pans. And for is it’s just for a week or two. The camel family have everything they own in these two gers, and ever so neat. Simple presentation and exquisite beauty.

I watched the old man collect camel dung to burn in the iron oven. He looked very old, was stooped and moved very slowly. It is a hard life out here. There is no retirement. What is there was. Where would they go, the hell chaos of Ullaanbaatar? How to swap the beauty of the Gobi and a herd of camels for anything else. Image also what this must be like in the winter? Up to minus forty, forty-five? The land would be so beautiful covered in snow. How harsh for the people and the animals. They have summer camp and winter camp but even so, each season is so intense, extreme. We are at the beginning of summer now, the windy time. It has been dust storms and wind. In a month the temperature will rise to the high forties and may even reach fifty degrees. Nowhere to hide for the people and the animals and they still need to be milked, watered, fed. The gers also have winter and summer clothing. Winter gers have a double thickness of felt.

After our extraordinary tour of The ancient art gallery and return visit to the camel family we came back to our ger camp as the wind and rust was beginning. The wind has not eased off since and flurries of dust storm have been keeping us inside. After some lunch we needed to rest but the heat of the day was too much. Was it better to leave the ger roof and door open, at least there was light but the dust was coming in. Better to close door and roof, and then it was dark but close. I tried to sleep, too hot. Decided on a shower. Didn’t
T matter the water was barely warm, it was wet and satisfying. For a while. Back in the ger I thought the best place was to hang out in the bathroom. At least it was made like a refrigerator, thick insulated walls and four inch doors and I am sure warm in winter.

Somehow we got through the afternoon siesta and went off again at five o’clock to the white stupa cliffs we had visited in the morning. This time we frove to the bottom of the cliffs rather than where we viewed them this morning, stunning. Stunning. The wind has eased marginally and the dust flurries not as intense.

As I have not yet put brush to paper I was determined to paint. I packed a bag of paints and paper and decided to try my luck with the wind at the bottom of the cliffs amongst some small cliffs and look up at the wild forms. There were rain washouts to follow as paths. The wind seemed at first easier here, until I had set up and begun to paint. Everything covered in sand and chasing my hat. And Mervyn and Tugsoo coming back and saying how amazing the d cliffs around the corner were! At least I managed to get the paints wet and make my first attempt of a painting, also a small sketch on color fix paper which the gouache. Too hard and I wanted to photograph the red cliffs around the corner. Unench made coffee for all of us and brought into the gully. Oh what a life, sand, coffee, wind, sky and little black beetles crawling into my sandals. I don’t know what they thought they would find.

Back at camp this evening I showed the camp family photographs taken during the day and they were fascinated by the iPad and wanted to look at all of the photographs in it as well as th e photos from home.

The best sunset tonight, ger silhouettes against the red sky and fireball setting beneath the horizon. The wind is still blowing and there is a forecast for storms in the Gobi tomorrow. We are going to leave in the morning, early. Heading to another stunning camp. Tugsoo says there is a frozen lake, still, now in the summer gobi.

Looking forward to it, and arriving safely and finding a camp for the night,

Camp 5 – Khanbodgd – Gurvansaikhan National Park

After a good nights sleep full of iridescent dreams I was a little reluctant to leave the flat plains. The morning was perfect for travel. Still, soft light and cloudless. Storms had been forecast in the Gobi according to the camp people. However, rain is often forecast but rarely falls.

We left our kinds friends about 9.00am. There is much to pack up for four people, all our food, clothes and painting gear spread through our two gers.

On the road again… Another long day travel slowly on gravel roads and tracks leading all over the country. Just as you think you are on the right track it suddenly splits again and have more decisions to make. The road map is pretty much just a guide with an intention between two airmags. There are always options and we stopped many times along the way to ask directions to the next place and each time we would get a different interpretation.

It’s hard to remember much about today other the continuous movement bounce over corrugated roads and uncertainty of where we were going. Early in the day we met the power lines we had seen on earlier driving days and we caught up to the men laying the cable. We had to drive other the heavy steel power cable. Unench wanted to touch the lines and feel the weight of the steel. We asked the man at the line the way and he sent us off up one road. Sometimes their are many roads up to a kilometer across going generally across the stony land together. The cars traveling weave across one track to the other search for the smoothest ride.

Exposed upon a Sandhills was what looked like a human skeleton laying straight under the sun. All of the animal skeletons we see have four legs, this skeleton was just a straight spine and head and I dot know of any other animal that looks like that, the size do a human. I understand it is not uncommon to find skeletons that have become exposed in the moving Sandhills. There are thousands of years of history of mankind living here so it should not be a surprise to find the odd skeleton lurking about. Yesterday in the hills we came across a grave that had been marked with thirty-two bodies buried in it. The grave site was in the river bed where the rock carving were.

One of the highlights of today’s travel was the number of camels we saw grazing along the roads. We took many photographs of the ungainly creatures. The camels were quite untidy looking with their scraggy long costs. The young ones are very cute. Very often the whole mob would be facing one direction and maybe a young one or two facing the other way, facing the mothers. The herders separate the bulls from the cows because the male camels are so aggressive. Especially in the wintertime.

As well as camels we came across some beautiful mobs of horses also feeding close to the road. When we stopped they came over to inspect the car and we were able to get good photographs of them too with their young.

We are now in the South Gobi Desert. The landscape did feel quite different. Withon a relatively short distance we have changed several landscapes. We stopped in a town for some fuel and paracetamol before venturing onto what was supposed to be our camp for the night thirty-two kilometers out of town, at the base of the southern most point of the Alti Mountains.

A man Tugsoo had spoken too in town said we could follow him to the main road. He took us to the edge of town and left us at a ovoo. We then followed the instructions he had given to Tugsoo and thus began an eternal saga of traversing hills, valleys and criss crossing roads, asking people in way off gers and find roads that seemed to be formed enough to lead somewhere and …
And it was interesting country driving up into the amazing mountain gullies and find a family ger tucked into a gorge, or on the edge of a series of river crossings. We drove a good couple of hours finding the elusive camp for the night. We literally drove up creek, without the paddle. We stopped a Russian van with tourist on the side and he pointed one way and said to drive until you get out of the mountains and their will be a ger camp. That was ok until again we reach the eternal fork or forks in the road and of course we were way once more. On our travels theough valleys and mountain tracks we saw a woman in the distance walking alone on top of a hill. We drove ocross to her and she said we would need to follow the bile that just past us in the distance, He will know… So we gave her a lift to the man on the bike. He pointed down the very steep hill I was hoping we could avoid. He indicated with his arm a snake like fashion of steep hills and valleys we needed to traverse to the main road to the ger camp. This just led us into a more chaotic adventure. One of the first stops to ask was at a ger we could see in the distance and what looked like a clear paddock was a series of creek and river crossings. When we reached the very extreme remote ger an old lady said she could give directions to the next ger in the area, but beyond that had no idea.

Somehow we drove a good hundred kilometers in round about before finding a sign that said camp 3 kilometers. That looked smoke enough until the track indicated then went on and bloody well split again into three. Up and down, more gers and about and there it was. Sitting hidden from the world as if it didn’t want to be found was the camp I am sitting in and wring fr of now,

No sooner had we pulled up four people rushed to the fence to greet us. We negotiated two gers, a meal, hot shower and a stove.

No sooner had we unpacked our many bags and the storm arrived. It was another day puts storm of a ferocious speed blinding all view of the mountains and plains. It suddenly became cold and turbulent. We were very pleased to be here and have decided to camp here for two nights and eat in the Restraunt each evening.

All is well in the mountains tonight.

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Camp 6 – Mountain Ice in the Gobi Desert

We sleep well in the ger. There is something special about the comfort of a well set up ger, and a good stove to keep the space warm. The stove we had last night was extremely efficient while it was hot, but once the wood had burnt we had the hole in the roof and the night chill crept in, just a little. To wake up and look around, first thing at the walls of a ger is really great. Don’t want to get out of the warmth. Know it will be cold as we are high in altitude and in the mountains.

Mervyn lit a small fire with the wood left from last night and we made tea and coffee and slowly worked our way into the new day. It has been a longtime since i have relaxed and I think I am just beginning to remember how it is. Knowing we have another night here and a day exploring the wild mountains we traversed late yesterday in an attempt to find this camp…

Tugsoo and Unench came into our ger for a pre breakfast Italian coffee. My coffee pot is the only one I have seen in Mongolia and am pleased I bothered to pack it. Remember from two years ago thinking it would be possible to buy a coffee pot anywhere in the world, but I was wrong. I have been looking and still none on stores, only filter or electric machines. My little coffee pot is stainless steel and if we make the coffee strong enough can be shared between three. I will gift the pot to Tugsoo and Unench who has become addicted to the Italian coffee.

After breakfast we drove to the Gurvansaikhan National Park. What a wild place. We were early and felt like the only people around. The single lane track meandered high through the wild rock outcrops of multicolored hard rock. We don’t know what the rock type except that is is not like anything I have seen in Australia. Most of it is a dark grey or green with quartz lines running through. Occasionally there are red rocks or seams of various colors.

It was about seven kilometers to the edge of the ice and then a three kilometer walk to the end of the valley. There was only one fork in the road and we chose well.

At the gate to the hike was a fence and several horses tethered which could be hired for a h Ike up the valley. A family was set up with a stall as well as the horses. It was a scene from an old Mongolian movie, all dressed in deel, even the young child. The family sat on the ground and seemed relaxed and at home. Most fascinating was the woman whom was selling and hand stitching embroidered fabrics of Mongolian life. I have not seen these thread paintings anywhere in Mongolia at any tourist or other stores. These were original. The man was selling carved stone and carved timber pieces of local animals. There were all kinds of artifacts laid out on a small table. I bought one of the fabrics immediately and a second one later as I had been taken with them in my mind as I walked. The fabrics were a little like my mother Grace’s thread paintings. Mervyn was taken with one of the small stone carvings. I took a short video of the woman working.

Along the road to the top of the range we passed many gorges as the track narrowed and opened. This country has many wild animals of which we saw none. We did see, however many small mammals that looked like guinea pigs, or hamsters. There were two kinds, one with a tail and one without. The animal with a trail was quite rat like, until it stood up on it’s tail like a prairie dog.

The wildlife we did not see include, Mongolian sheep, the native ones, wolves and bears. There are also rare sightings here of the snow leopard. Many birds seemed to hassle after the mammals and several wedge tail type eagles soared through the thermals above. There was much food for them in these ranges.

The vegetation was also very interesting with an array of scented herbs. Wild rhubarb was growing all through the mountain along with a ground hugging conifer. There were no trees taller than the conifer. A yellow poppy similar to the arctic poppy I saw in Greenland, though smaller and wild iris, a parsley like plant that tasted like parsley though spicier. I picked and smelt many of the herbs but without knowing what they were was not brave enough to taste.

A fresh water stream ran Along much of the track. Then we came across the first patch of frozen ice. And the temperature was cold. The whole mountain was cold and we we’re rugged up with several layers of clothes for the hike and still the wind was like an Antarctic summer on the face. But the spot where the ice was still frozen on the stream was unbelievable cold and windy. We kept on hiking until we reached the end of the gorge and the last weeks of the glacial winter freeze. It was still large and stained with the gravel from storms and landslides. It was visible melting with fountains of dripping ice water trickling into the creek below.

After we had reached the end of the valley and the ice we had coffee back at the car and hoped we could paint but the wind was once more far too strong to allow us to work.

We decided to explore the forked track and once again headed into wild country, up steep mountain tracks and down so steep you couldn’t see where the car was going. At the bottom we were in another river like yesterday’s convoluted jouney. We started to head down the river and after about five kilometers turned back so as to not end up driving to distraction again.

It was four in the afternoon by the time we returned ger camp. We had a rest and painted from the comfort of the ger. The ger makes a great studio!

The most extraordinary thing about where we are now is that we are still in the middle of the southern Gobi Desert. The cold, the ice, the mountains, easy to forget we are in the desert. Apparently the ice can continue for ten kilometers and there are waterfalls visible at times. We were this time unable to reach these parts. Tugsoo has been here twice before and this is the first time she has been able to see the ice. Most tourists come next month and by them it will have melted.

Camp 7 – The Great Gobi Sandhills

As I write I am sitting on my bed looking out of the ger door into the dying evening light. It must be after 9.00pm. I am sunburnt and finally reached the point of not knowing what day or date it is. Now I am in the desert. It has taken weeks to get here. There is no Internet, no wifi or much of anything commercial or western. It is wonderful. I can write and wait until we get back to UB to wifi and upload the last week or so.

It is also hard to reflect on the last couple of days because I am still in them. From what I can remember we spent a hell of a day yesterday (seems like days ago) driving a couple of hundred kilometers to where we are now.

Yesterday’s adventure included a petrol stop in a remote sum looking for diesel. After we asked and found the gas station a little on the edge we town we had to wake up the owner. When we pulled up there was no sign of any activity. We were out from the ger town. A passer bye tod us the owner lived ‘up there in that ger. he is probably asleep, it was a big night last night’. Tugsoo walked up to get the owner. She was told by one old lady that no such man lived here. A child told her her father was in another aimag and someone told her he was also not there. Tugsoo then suspected a lie and cried she knew he was there. After much conversation the poor man rose from his bed and come down, with daughter carrying the key. He could barely walk and I was concerned he would fall. Unench did the bowser bit and soon we were on our way. I gave the man some lollies which made him smile and he proudly let me take his photograph.

From then in we drove along very rough rocky roads. It took two hours to travel twenty kilometers. The road was so bad and once more there were many forks in the road to choose our route.

We traveling through many family ger camps with goats and camels. One of the most interesting camps had a number of buildings constructed from mud brick and dung. This I was really much more than a camp. Tugsoo says many camps in Western Mongolia are also like this, particularly where the Kazakh live.

We found some lunchtime shade behind a small building that seemed to be a storage hut. There were camels grazing nearby where there was also some green grass and a spring with real running water. This is the first water I have seen for days! And this was also the beginning of the Sandhills.

The Sandhills run for 185 kilometers and continue up against the mountain range. It is spectator to see the growing height of the Sandhills snuggled up against the wild rocky mountains.

After what seemed an endless journey we came to the place where the Sandhill camps begin.
We asked how much and what we can expect and decided to go to the next camp and asked. The cost here is much more than previous nights. Maybe because this is so much more remote. We had expected the camps to be closer to the stunning sand dunes. We wanted to sleep inside of them. Not to be, the next camp and the one after that was even further from the sands, and more expensive so we went back to the first. It is great, we have views of sand dunes from our bed, with camels walking outside our gers and hot showers.

What more would we want, camels, moving sands, sunshine and good company.

After we settled ourselves we took a short drive to as close as we could without getting bogged in the deep sand and walked up onto the dunes and watched the sun fade.

Feel like we have finally arrived at our destination. Travelled all this way to sit by the Gobi sand dunes as here we are. We are not going any further south west than this point.

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Camp 8 – The great Gobi Sandhills

We all slept in. This is the first day we have slept so late since being in Mongolia, or indeed at home for a long time. We all slept until after 9.00am. We blamed the long days travel yesterday over the rough rocky roads. Unench likened yesterday’s driving to a full day on a horse.

We were very slow getting going and had coffee and a leisurely breakfast. It was already quite ht in the morning. Very hot, I had to have a second shower to cool down.

When we finally got moving we continued along the sand hills towards where the staff had directed to find a natural spring. The water, we were told is very special and healing for stomachs and one of the boys asked us to bring some back for him.

After following some sandy tracks through the small sand dunes we came out at a river with water. Horses were grazing on the grass nearby, so strange to see water out here under the giant sand dunes. the horses stayed close and were not disturbed by us. They came down into the water and I was able to photograph and video the beautiful horses with foals going about their horsy business drinking and rolling in the shallow waters. We watched the water level rise and change direction as if by some affected gravity pull.

I found some bones behind a sand dune and some clippings from an unknown age of past. It is a. It like finding clippings in the Australian outback. If you look they are not there, they just show themselves when you are least expecting.

We had not found the spring, just a river. Two young boys came along on a motor bike. Tugsoo asked them where the spring was and they said they would take us. Off they set across the river. We had been a little hesitant crossing the river in case we became bogged and it may be difficult to get help out here. The boys took off in another spot along the river and we followed, safely, for if they could get across on their bikes we could manage in our car.

The sand was very soft and deep on the other side of the river. After a short distance we came across an abandoned camp of twigs, mud and dung. There was a sense of many many years occupation by herders. Small clippings of Chinese porcelain, broken bottles and glass.

… Later
I will have to write about this later as I am too tired.

Notes…

We come to rich green grass,
A spring of icy cold water
Horses everywhere
We stay for lunch and paint
The dunes from the luxury of our
Green cool undergrowth, with
The horses.
There are purple iris and small yellow
Flowers like dandelions.

Sandhills, dunes, singing dunes,
Tall, falling sands, walking, higher
Too high, out of breadth, will I make it to the top,
Encouraged, come on you can,
My lungs in pain, I am breathing fast,
my head is hurting
Mervyn is not any fitter
Tugsoo and Unench are already at the top
We make it and the view is on top of the world
Beneath us endless mounds curves and valley
Of sand dunes stretching in all directions
As far as our sight.
Then the wind comes and I am scared for my camera
Don’t like the idea of sand in my canon
Can feel the lens is stiff from the fine grains.

The downward trip is much easier and faster
If I keep my eyes at my feel it looks as if I am walking
On flat ground, the brilliance of the light on the dune
Washes out shadows.

a day of horses, cool damp thick grass, purple irises
Huge sand dunes
Blue sky
Camels and the baby camels at the camp.
Tugsoo has a friend at a ger camp we visited and I
Fell in love with a baby camel who kept trying to eat my shirt.
It was late in the day and the others were calling for their
Mothers.

How good it was to come back to camp and have hot showers
And how red I will be tomorrow.

In the evening we watch hedge hogs and hopping mice
Around our ger.

The sky was full of stars and life in the Gobi is good tonight.

We