Although we’re a small company (150-200 bookings per year) we receive returning guests. John Holman had travelled with us twice (‘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’), before deciding to return for a third visit including to experience Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Aimag (‘the prospect of the ‘unknown’ certainly excites me’). John wrote wonderful updates whilst on the road, and here we share some of his thoughts on his road journey to Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Aimag:
‘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.
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.
A very relaxing day is spent exploring the dunes, the lake shore and the surrounding hills, attending to some domestic chores and keeping Turuu company while he changes a couple of universal joints on the Furgon. The ability to carry out major mechanical repairs in the middle of nowhere – this year universal joints, last year a differential bearing – is testimony to both the Furgon’s uncomplicated design and Turuu’s mechanical skills. The day provides not only many ‘wow’ moments but also complete tranquillity, for we see no one else apart from a local fisherman until late afternoon when one of Turuu’s local driver mates, Basra, joins us. We are to enjoy the benefits of Basra’s extensive local knowledge for the next couple of days.
It is with mixed feelings that we take our leave the next morning – anticipation of adventures to come tinged with regret at having to leave this glorious setting so soon. We collect Basra and his crew from the ger camp on the other side of the lake then set out into uncharted territory.We pass through a valley where no families live for it is home to many wolves. They do not fear the wolves but rather respect them. They simply fear for their stock. The valley is bordered by dark craggy peaks wrapped in cloaks of sand and we cross several icy streams before climbing steeply to a broad grassy summit with many large outcrops of sedimentary rock sculpted into amazing shapes by wind, rain and ice. From a distance they resemble the ruins of ancient castles. The trail passes through a natural arch some seven to eight metres high in one such outcrop and before us we can see the way ahead – row upon row of sand dunes stretching away into the distance.
Our descent follows the course of a small stream emanating from a spring a little way above the trail, the green grassy terraces of which are under a mantle of ice and the water gurgles gently below a beautiful latticework of glistening dagger-like crystals. We lunch where the steam meets the foot of the dunes and discover that, not more than one hundred metres further on, the water simply melts away into the sand.
After crossing the dunes we emerge onto a sparsely grassed plateau and stop on the brink of a steep descent into a sandy, rock-strewn valley. Here Basra announces, “We find river.” Here? Really? In this parched landscape?
After trudging along the valley floor for a couple of kilometres we crest a small rise and there before us, to our amazement, is a river bed some 20 – 30 metres in width. A thin veneer of water ripples over the deep ochre sandy bed with the occasional deeper channel and upstream is a herder watering his flock of goats and sheep. Further upstream is a massive, very steep sand dune probably 100 metres tall which Basra informs us is the site of the spring which gives rise to the river.
It is a further kilometre or so to the source where we find ourselves in a huge amphitheatre about 150 metres wide encircled by the imposing walls of the dune which are striated with yellow, mauve, brown and greenish-grey and sculpted into weird shapes. The reason the river at this point is named Mukhartin, meaning cul-de-sac, becomes immediately obvious. There must be a high mineral content in the sand for the dune is much more colourful and much steeper than pure sand could form. There is no obvious spring with water just seeping gently to the surface around the entire base of the dune and quickly gathering into strongly flowing channels. We quickly realise that the sand by the base is like quicksand and to be avoided at all cost. So impressive is this spectacle that Ross names it the eighth wonder of the world, and I can’t help but agree for it is truly spectacular sight.
Unlike this morning’s stream the flow is sufficient to avoid being swallowed up by the sand and further downstream it is supplemented by other springs to form the Khangiy river which we will more or less follow into the Great Lake Depression tomorrow.’