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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars


Mongolia - 3 August, 2003



Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Camp on steppes just southwest of Ogii Nuur town N47º37.707' E102º28.782' 1,357 meters .
Tsenkher . . . .
Tsetserleg . . . .
Taikhar Chuluu . . . .
Finish Camp on the Chuluut River N47º53.503' E100º21.996' 1,914 meters 221 km

Total (by train):

5,991 km

Total (Mongolia):

639 km

Total (Kamchatka):

1,339 km

Total (other):

199 km


8,148 km


Weather: Mostly clear, sunny, very hot and with a cool breeze.  In mid-afternoon became mostly cloudy with occasional sun and scattered showers and cool.  Overnight very cold and windy with a brief rain shower.



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We have what will become our customary relaxed start and after packing up and having breakfast, we are off just before 10 AM.  We spend the morning driving across the steppes.  We make a brief stop along the way to pump petrol.  We find a new station pretty much in the middle of nowhere, with petrol at an inflated, but acceptable, price.  Even though the station is brand new, they are still using a hand pump to fill the vehicles as they have no electricity.  The attendants at these stations certainly earn their keep as they have to crank the handle pretty hard to pump the petrol.


The terrain is now becoming more rocky and sharp or pointy.  When we were on the open steppes, you could point the jeep in any direction if you wanted to, and just drive. Nothing to stop you.  All the hills were just gentle and gradual, rolling up and down.  Now there are more rocks and the hills have pointy, rocky tops.  Still no trees though, until we arrive at the town of  Tsenkher, with a major river passing through it.  The river is lined with trees and we decide to make a short break here.


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After about another 45 minutes drive, where the trees once again disappear, we arrive in Tseterleg, the capital of this aimag (or district).  It will turn out to be one of the more pleasant towns that we have visited on our trip to Mongolia - one certainly does not come to Mongolia to visit the dusty, dreary towns that, fortunately, only dot the countryside on an infrequent basis.  First order of business is shopping, but the market is closed as it is Sunday, so we will have to survive with our existing supplies.  Then it is off to the town museum.


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The museum of Arkhangai Aimag is located in the temple complex of Zayayn Gegeenii Süm, which was first built in 1586.  The temple only survived the Stalinist purges of the 1930's (more on that later - the destruction was immense) as it was turned into a museum.  While Lonely Planet describes it as one of the best museums in Mongolia, we were very disappointed.  Nothing much on display and no English captions.  We will see much better.


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The buildings themselves are interesting and where, along with one room decorated like it would have been when the monks were in residence, we spend most our time. No pictures inside or out, unless you pay an outrageous fee.  Back out on the street, we look up towards the large cliff overhanging the temple, it certainly is in a wonderful location, and the small abandoned temple that sits all by it self up there.


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Time for lunch - Gerlee takes us to a small local place tucked in some back corner.  No menu in English, but we are quickly learning how to communicate in a basic way and we order one of the local specialties - tsuivan (fried noodles with meat - more on that later) and a plate of beef with potatoes.  And what portions they give us.  They are huge and we are not able to finish everything and have to pass a large part of it on to our driver (remember, he is a large, former wrestler who likes his meat).  We pay about $4 for the three of us. There is no petrol at a reasonable price, so we head on.  As we drive, we notice a huge flock of vultures.  We stop and see how close we can get, but they are very shy and fly off once we get too close.  But some local nomads ride up and have a chat wit Gerlee while we are off chasing the birds.


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In mid-afternoon we make a stop at Taikhar Chuluu rock formation.  In the middle of the flat plain is a huge rock outcropping that juts out from the ground.  There are some legends about it relating to how a local baatar (or hero) killed a large serpent by throwing this huge rock on it.  There is now some religious significance to it, with an ovoo (more on these later) on top.  It does not take long to walk around it and check out the mass of Mongolian graffiti on it and then head back to the jeep.  Along the way, we take some photos of the many yaks hanging out here.  Yaks are interesting - Mongolians consider them in the same class at cattle (and there are even cross breeding that has occurred and interesting animals with a mixture of both can often be seen).  Yaks are much better looking than cows, covered with long hair that hangs down from their sides and stomachs.


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On our way we came across a large herd of sheep grazing away in the middle of a large patch of purple flowers.  It was a great sight.


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We carry on with the long drive as the weather begins to turn for the worse.  Dark clouds roll in and there is interspersed bursts of sunshine and rain.  It seems like nature just cannot decide what kind of weather to give us.  At around 5 PM, as we are driving along, we see in the distance a long band of white crossing the steppes that looks like snow.  But it is August, so it cannot be.  We drive closer and closer and head off the road to get a closer look.  It turns out a hail storm had passed through, leaving a narrow band of hailstones.  As they were laying on the ground for a while and were still the size of marbles, they must have been huge when the fell.  Glad we were not there at the time - that would have hurt.


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At around 6:30 PM, as it gets a bit dark and threatening, Gerlee drives off the track and heads over to a grouping of gers.  It seems he just wants to say hello.  An extended family seems to be living here and we get out and take a look around.  Many chores seem to be in progress and they want to show us what they are up to.  The men are tending to the horses and the women are milking the mares.


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We have brought with us our Polaroid, and it is a great hit.  It also allows us to more freely take pictures with our other cameras and is a nice gift.  The woman milking the mare wants her picture taken while she is in action, so we oblige.


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The men's pride is their horses, so they love to have their pictures taken with them.  A few droplet of rain begin to fall, so we all retire to the main ger.  It is amazing how many people we can stuff in there.  Maybe word has gotten around that we have a Polaroid, so even more people show up and they even bring the young babies.


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We are offered mare's milk tea and the usual snacks made form milk curd.  We do our best to be polite and sample some of each.  The problem with the mare's milk tea is that no water is used (or seems to be used).  The milk is boiled and then a few tea leaves are added and strained out.  The matriarch, a very elderly lady, then pulls out the airag that Mongolia is so famous for.  This is fermented mare's milk and this is not so bad.  The spirit drowns out the taste and smell of the milk.  This we can drink and be more polite in the amounts we drink.


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We spend quite some time there, trying to communicate with sign language and the few words that we are slowly learning.  Lots of pictures are taken and they all come out to bid us farewell when we finally leave.  We need to head off to find a spot to camp for the night.


Gerlee seems very intent on finding us a nice spot to set up camp for the night.  We make our way, totally off-track to the edge of the nearby Chuluut River.  He seems to want to cross the river and camp on the other side, but the river level is high.  He takes off his sandals, pants and shirt and wades into the rushing river.  When he gets up to his chest, he turns around, comes back and tells us it is too deep to cross.  We fully agree.  After drying off and putting his clothes back on (it must have been freezing), we drive off in search of another spot on this side of the river.  It takes about 30 minutes of driving - totally off-road - along some pretty rough spots.  We go up and down steep slopes, around rocks and trees, through ditches and all over the place.


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We finally find a nice, small spot on the side of the river and stop for the night at 8 PM.  We set up our tent (after clearing away the manure scattered around) and prepare one of our freeze-dried meals.  We have soup followed by pasta.  There is plenty of dry wood on the bank of the river, so we are able to build a nice, large fire that we warm ourselves by.  Gerlee dries off some of his clothes.  This is a great camp site - no wind, no bugs, on the river with water, flat and with fire.


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We head off to our tent just before 11 PM to go to sleep.  As we are starting to settle in, we hear a couple of drunken horseman approaching - we can hear them from afar due to their loud singing.  They make their way to the camp site and hail us in Mongolian.  We do not know what they are saying, but Gerlee says something to them from his tent and they carry on.  They break into a loud, drunken song and take their horses straight into the river we did not dare cross.  They sing all the way across and clearly make it to the other side safely.  We can hear them singing for quite some time.  In fact, there seems to be a bit of a party going on across the river somewhere, as we can hear snatches of singing throughout the night.  It also gets quite cold overnight - we are at about 2,000 meters elevation.  Mongolia is a very high country.


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