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.