…and some of the bridges have seen better days.
Another long driving day for us. The first order of business was to drop our traveling companions off at Kharkhorin’s bus station this morning so that they can travel back to UB and catch a different tour. Amy and I will continue for days 9-13 of the tour on our own. This bumps the daily price up to US$82 per person per day but it is the price we must pay to visit the lakes. The next destination on our itinerary was Terkh White Lake which is another 300+ kilometers from Kharkhorin. Fortunately, most of the distance is paved. Yes, that’s right, I said PAVED!
Along the way we stopped in Tsetserleg for lunch and grocery shopping. Tsetserleg is a pretty large town by Mongolian standards and it is the seat of the province. Nevertheless, one is never far from the heart of soul of Mongolia. Case in point: as we rounded the corner on to the town’s main street there was a man trying to get his small herd of yaks out of the center of the road. A short while later I was admiring the cows who had set up shop in the city park.
The drive after lunch seemed longer because there was a larger percentage of unsealed roads but we did pass through some amazing scenery. At one point we stopped next to a spectacular canyon (Chuluut Gorge) for photos.
Our ger for the next two nights
Arrival at the ger camp was a little bit awkward today. When we pulled in a family was in their ger enjoying some yak milk tea. I was promptly served some milk tea and was offered some pancakes that had made earlier in the day. The sweet pancakes were flaky and delicious and they perfectly balanced the salted (yak) milk tea. Actually, I didn’t know it was yak milk at the time nor did I ask. For me, it is often better not to known in these situations! Here in Mongolia I have learned that you need to just assume that all dairy products can come from any animal (sheep, goat, horse, yak, camel, etc.) or often a mix of many. Really though, the yak milk wasn’t all the different from cow milk and since it wasn’t fermented it was quite palatable.
The awkward bit came after we had finished up our yak treats in the family’s ger. We found out that we would actually be staying in their ger that night and that the family would go someplace else. We sort of felt as if we were running them out of their home and in a sense we were. Apparently the family has a number of ger closer to the lake that are using for tourists but those had already been packed up for the year. Instead, we were given their home for two nights and they went to stay with another family! Did I mention that their ger came complete with a flat screen TV and the BBC?
As our tour assistant was preparing dinner I went for a short hike in the hills west of our ger camp. The family’s herd of sheep and goats were on the far side of the hill and they made a good effort at staying away from me. One thing is certain, they are much more proficient at clambering around rocks than I am!
Guess what? Goat butt!
Minivan odometer at end of day 9: 1835km (301km today)
Wow, it’s hard to believe that we are already into the tenth day on the tour. We didn’t have extra blankets last night but managed to stay warm thanks to the plentiful supply of wood. This part of Mongolia is forested so wood is easy to come by. Getting up every two hours to tend to the stove was a bit annoying but it certainly beat freezing!
Another Mongolian toilet with a fantastic view
Today’s main activity was horseback riding and I am happy to say that it was more successful than my last attempt at the sport. My last attempt was way back when I was a kid and I believe it ended with my aunt’s horse using the nearest tree branch to scrape the clingy little brat (me) from its back. Today was much less eventful.
Amy suited up in her del
Before we went out on the horses, our tour assistant Ultzi offered Amy and I dels to help us stay warm. The del is the traditional Mongolian dress that sort of looks like a robe. Apparently if you have one of these and some nice high Mongolian boots then winter here is a piece of cake. I don’t exactly buy that line of reasoning but the del that they gave me was certainly warm. Much warmer than anything I had in the backpack.
Sporting a del and ready to go with my short-and-sturdy Mongolian horse
The first thing you notice about the Mongolian horse is how short they are! They shouldn’t be underestimated though, Ghenghis Khan conquered most of Asia on these formidable creatures! The one that I rode was mild-mannered and responded very pretty well to my commands, especially as compared to the stubborn camels we rode earlier in the week.
Another surprising aspect of Mongolia horse riding are the saddles. The common materials for making saddles here are wood, iron and fabric. Sounds comfy, doesn’t it? In all honesty, it wasn’t that bad at least not for the 90 minute ride that we completed.
We rode around 6km from the ger camp to a nearby volcano, the youngest in Mongolia I was told. The horses stayed at the bottom while we hiked up to the rim of a small crater and then a much larger one. The volcano was active about 7,000 years ago and the ground was covered in volcanic debris. The best part of visiting the volcano were the views of the surrounding countryside and the White Lake.
Khuushuur and salad
Lunch today was Khuushuur, a large fried dumpling that is traditionally served during the Naddam festival. The vegetarian version that Ultzi and our driver prepared were filled with potato, onion, carrots and turnips. The simple dough (just flour and water) was kneaded briefly before being rolled out and formed around the filling. The resulting dumplings were fried until golden brown and delicious. A pickled vegetable salad accompanied the dumplings to make a tasty autumn lunch.
Mongolian beach in September
After a brief siesta back at the ger we donned our dels again and went for a walk down to the lake shore. There were plenty of yaks and yak babies (calves?) to stare at and we even befriended a dog along the way. There are many ger camps near the lake shore but most of them appeared to be shut down or in the process of being dismantled for the winter months. This made for a nice quiet afternoon at the lake.
Minivan odometer at end of day 10: 1835km (0km today)