Slowly Westward! – 2013 Wild Treks Research Trip

Mongolia’s Monasteries – A Snapshot
November 26, 2013
Small Group Adventures in Mongolia – Tuesday’s Snapshot
December 10, 2013
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 UB…

After sorting through my luggage – what to take, what to leave in storage – it’s off to the Granville Pub for brunch. Gentle little snowflakes are settling on the roadway as I venture outside and, although it doesn’t feel really cold, the temperature must be below freezing as the snowflakes are dry enough to scurry busily across the road ahead of a strengthening breeze. As I look ahead down the street the tops of the nearby hills are sporting a light mantle of snow. I have now experienced three different faces of Mongolia, the hot, parched, barren Gobi in 2009, the cooler Gobi awash and tinged with green last year, and now cold and snowing!

A short wait ensues as the pub doesn’t open until 09.30, but along with a few other early arrivals, we are soon enjoying the welcoming warmth, hospitality, good food and coffee on offer inside.

As midday approaches it’s time to return to the hotel and await contact from Jess who is returning today from one of her other adventures. I’ve not long to wait as there is soon a knock on the door and a warm, welcoming hug from a radiant looking Jess. A very quick update and exchange of information takes place before heading down to a broad grin, firm handshake and a another big  hug from Turuu. The broad plan is for a get-together at the Granville this evening to farewell departing friends and plan for tomorrow’s departure.

Street Art – UB style
Jess had as her guests Sue from the UK and New Zealander Ross, who will accompany us tomorrow. Ross seems as enthusiastic as I am about the prospects of the venture into the Altai Mountains and so, along with Jess and Turuu I’ll be in excellent company.

Our adventure to the Altai will be a little different as it is a voyage of discovery for all of us. Jess and Turuu are exploring the possibility of including this spectacular and remote corner of Mongolia in future itineraries – possibly for pack horse supported walking tours – and I guess, in a way, Ross and I will be ‘guinea pigs’ and hopefully able to provide some useful feedback and photos while also finding  lots of opportunities to ‘do our own thing’. So while there is a plan, there is no firmly set itinerary for the trip except for a much anticipated visit to the annual Eagle Festival. Turuu is concerned that in the first day or two we will be traversing some country already familiar to me but I assure him that it would not matter how many times I revisited these areas they would be just as captivating and full of interest as they were the first time.

Awake early to find that, while still cold, the ‘eternal blue sky’ has returned. By 10.00 we are weaving our way through suburban traffic on our way westward on the main, sealed road. Our destination is Khongo Khan a beautiful and remote area  – it is both locally sacred and an historic site of significance, with the ruins of a monastery which was destroyed during the last Russian incursion.

Just one view of magical Khogno Khan
We stay in the same gers that provided such welcome shelter from a raging thunderstorm last year and as usual we are made to feel most welcome by our hosts. The camp is nestled snugly between some magnificently sculpted granite peaks and part of one of the longest chains of sand dunes in Mongolia through which a sparkling little stream of crystal-clear water meanders its way. 

The following morning brings a clear sky and a sparking, frosty ground. Nestling on the banks of the Orkhon River is our first objective, Kharhorin (Karakorum) the legendary supply centre for Chinggis Khan’s armies and the capital of Mongolia under the rule of his son Ogedei. From our vantage point overlooking the city it is easy to picture Chinggis’s armies setting out westward across the steppe on another of their incursions into Europe. The splendid Museum, funded by Japan, traces the history of this renowned site from early stone-age ruins through to the Khan dynasty era. The other attraction is the magnificent remaining temples within the walls of what was a much larger complex, once again a casualty of the Russian invasion. A visit to one of Jess’s family gur hostesses, Gaya, is followed by the sampling some of her ‘famous’ cooking – vegetable and meat dumplings – for lunch and, after sampling about eight of them (you just have to make sure that you like them) I can thoroughly recommend them.

The truly delightful Gaya
Our destination is Tsetserleg primarily for the quite large market which will allow us to stock up on supplies as from here on, apart from White Lake, it’s into unknown territory and supplies may be limited. Tomorrow it’s White Lake and then westward into the unknown.

The vibrant Tsetserleg market

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