A Jewel of Many Colours – 2013 Wild Treks Research Trip

Westward Ho! – 2013 Wild Treks Research Trip
December 19, 2013
Family Life in Rural Mongolia – Tuesday’s Snapshot
January 1, 2014
We’re lucky enough that here at EL we get returning clients. This year we had the pleasure of John’s company on our Wild Treks research. Having visited in 2009 and 2012 (I enjoyed the remoteness, the feeling of immense space, the secluded camping and the great balance between programmed experiences and the freedom to explore independently’), John decided that maybe he had time to make a final visit to Mongolia on our trip to the Altai  (‘the prospect of the ‘unknown’ certainly excites me’). John wrote wonderful updates whilst on the road, and having been kind enough to share them, this is the second in a series written by him.

Currently we are in the stunning Zavkhan Aimag…

The kettle is on! Buyant River views
A brilliant blue sky and warm sun welcome the day and thaw the ice after another freezing night. The route today continues to meander down the broad valley of the Buyant Gol to the small settlement of Buyant, a desolate little village, very exposed to the elements and bearing many reminders of the last Russian incursion in the 1950s.

Throughout the last few days we regularly come across burial mounds – by now probably numbering in excess of one hundred. The majority have four corner-stones and would most likely date back to the bronze age. Those without the corner stones probably date back to the Hunuu era from about the third century BC. Mongolians believe that their ancestors descended from the Hunuu (as did apparently Attila the Hun) and from which the Mongolian word for person ‘hun’ is also derived.

Mongolia’s ancient past

This entire area has, for the last two or three years, been in the grip of a hamster plague which have so degraded the pasture that life has been made even more difficult for the families living in these valleys.

We turn off into another valley and are making good progress on another short cut when a local marmot hunter informs us that the way ahead is too difficult. After our past experiences the mind boggles at the prospect. So it’s back to the main road for the longer but more assured route to Uliastai, the provincial capital or aimag of this province Zavkhan. After a long climb to Gantsiin Dava, another very high pass and the gateway to Uliastai. The town is tucked away amid a vast random expanse of peaks, ridges, spurs and valleys reminiscent of a huge crumpled blanket – quite a spectacular view.

The town itself is rather uninspiring and once again with many Russian relics but we find comfortable – by Mongolian standards at least – accommodation and enjoy a very pleasant meal at an adjoining hotel.

Aimag life

 The next morning is spent shopping and attending to emails in an internet café before lunching in another very nice restaurant. Then begins our afternoon journey of 120 kilometres to a lake that neither Jess nor Turuu has visited before. The road passes through familiar terrain but we are constantly rewarded with great views, amazing rock formations, and fleeting glimpses of the tough life of herders and their families.  Around many family camps we see scarecrow-like figures or manuukhai which are designed to discourage wolves from venturing too close.

As we bounce our way down a particularly boulder-strewn gully we are suddenly confronted with a breathtaking vista. The bluest of blue lakes nestled snuggly amongst dark rocky crags and flanked by golden brown sand dunes. A herd of Bactrian camels stroll lazily across our path and a pair of brilliant white whooper swans cruise gracefully along the shoreline. 

The truly stunning Khar Nuur

As we traverse the southern shoreline the colour of the lake changes constantly with the light – amethyst, jade, emerald, silver and turquoise, while from our campsite nestled between the lake and the dunes the soft  pastel pinks, blues and mauves of opal in the eastern sky at sunset are reflected in the mirror-like surface of the lake. The name of this gem is Khar, a very simple name for a simply beautiful place. We are lulled to sleep by the gentle lapping of small waves idling across the lake ahead of a gentle breeze.

Home sweet home!

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