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 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 11 – The Gobi to Baga gazriin chuluu

Storms seem to be following us around but never quite connect. We had good weather this morning for our trip further northward towards Ulaanbaatar. As we retraced our first miles back towards Mandalgovi for fuel the weather heated up again once more towards 55 degrees celsius.
The wind was strong and the dust blew off the roads and many willy willys raced across the plains. Sometimes the wind and dust was so strong we could not see the road.

Eventually we arrived back in Mandalgovi and refueled and decided this town was not good to us and we should leave immediately. The last time was the drama with the drunk who ran into us and we had the police involved. We bought water and explored a soviet style shopping centre and for s second time a car almost backed into Unench. He had to shout st the driver to stop.

Finding our way out of time towards the mountains was also eventful. We took what we thought would be the correct direction and Unench decided to stop and ask a man walking along with large bag which way we should go. My intuition heckles were immediately raised as I remembered the other directions strangers had given us… To my dismay the man hopped into the car and said he would take us to s man who knew the way. We drove up the hill to a man in a shed and some conversations were clearly animated. I wanted Tugsoo and Unench to drive on. It they waited for the man to come back. He hopped back in the car again and said he would take us to the right road. I sensed trouble and more so as we headed into the ger district and drove through with locals looking us as if we didn’t belong. The man gave directions to the top of another hill with an ovoo and directed Unench to stop the car. He then pointed at the road ahead and proceeded to ask Tugsoo for money; because he had been taxi and gave directions. She gave him a hand foul of money. He was not happy and demanded more. He stood with the door open and we did not understand the language between Tugsoo and the man but it didn’t feel good and I asked Unench to drive off in English. We seemed to stay there for quite some time with the argument passing back and forth between Tugsoo and the man until she eventually said good buy to him and told Unench to drive on. It certainly was not a good town for us.

We continued on towards our destination using compass and map and intuition to find the roads. Passed a coal mine and noted that the map had the mine on the other side of the road, so once more we were off the track. Up and down and round about and hills and cranes and small animals and we arrived at a camp set amongst another rock location. When Mongolia tuns on wild landscape she does it really well. Once again these hills of rocks were sculptures of all shapes standing up on each other and leaning in precarious positions.

In amongst these hills was an old ruin of a monastery that had been destroyed about 100 years ago. The walls were thick and blue silk was tied amongst the hidden garden. The monastery was hard to find and we searched several Gorges before we discovered it. It was like a secret garden with many flowers growing through the rocks, and while the skies were black and thunderous with the approaching storm it was warm and quiet in this valley. There were many small makes and birds also living here. The monks may have gone but life was thriving here. We found a birds nest nesting tucked in between some rocks at a level surely predictors would find. The nest had three beautiful eggs. Many ground herbs including tyme grew here, smelt more pungent than the type in my garden, but the same herb.

This was indeed a special valley. The ger camp is set amongst the rocks and looks out over s plain where a gers camp with a herd of goats and horses is happily grazing. A small family of tailless mammals is visiting our ger, probably used to visitors.

The wind has dropped and the generator is roaring. Some German tourists have arrived in a bus, it was the one we commented on earlier today as driving very slowly. It had apparently broken down somewhere. Tomorrow we drive back to the belter smelter of UB.