The Eighth Wonder of the World – 2013 Wild Treks Research Trip

Lakes of Mongolia – Tuesday’s Snapshot
January 14, 2014
Horses – The Spirit of Mongolia – Tuesday’s Snapshot
January 29, 2014

We’re lucky enough that here at EL we get returning clients. In 2013 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 Zavkhan Aimag. All the images were taken by John.

Sunrise over Khar Nuur
 We awaken to a glorious sunrise across the lake to take the chill away from the coldest night we have so far experienced. The lee side of all the dunes are white with frost and all the little backwaters and flotsam along their verges are frozen solid.

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.
Quiet days at the lake side. No where to be but just here.
 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.
The weather beaten, monumental landscapes of Mongolia
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.
Just another Mongolian road

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.

A hidden secret
 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.

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