Archive | September, 2011

20th September – Bayankhongor City

20 Sep

We were keen to get here today so that we could have a chat with Ben and Tom on Skype to wish Tom good luck with his Graduation ceremony today. We are really sorry we missed it!

With no time for lunch Graham was getting pretty peckish (and silly) by the time we arrived at the outskirts of the city and so decided to stop for a bite! Not for the first time I asked myself how I ended up with him!




We had read about bath houses that they have in the Mongolian towns, for use by anyone who does not have facilities. For 40p you can have a hot shower, just what we needed! We have obviously washed in between using water heated in the fire, stove or solar shower, had banyas, but have only had two proper showers since entering Russia in Pskov!! When we got there they told us it was closed …. Oh no! Next stop hotel to ask if we could use theirs. They said no water until 6.00pm. The Gobi is obviously short of it.

We headed out to the river and got the pot out to heat the river water and got busy with the washing. Graham was too impatient and decided to get in the river. It was so cold it made his head hurt. Stupid boy!



Through the afternoon people came down to the river to wash their cars, bathe or drive their cars across (not sure why). Some got stuck, and so we had something to look at as we drank our tea and read the guidebooks, planning our next move.

Again this spot is only just outside the town.


Tomorrow we will stay in this valley, but head upstream where the river is not split. A days fishing and relaxing is planned ….. no driving.

19th september – Altay to Bayankhongor

20 Sep

Diesel price 1760 T / lt which is just under 1 Euro.

Left the ‘secure parking’ by the hotel in Altay. It never seems to work out for us staying in the Mongolian towns as there are hundreds of barking dogs all night. If you are in a camper just head out about 1km and you can camp almost anywhere. There is often a river and it is so much quieter! We were full of diesel again and as we set out on the road to Bayankhongor we could look over the ger district.



We then stopped just outside Altay and Graham checked over a few things on the car, tightened up a couple of connections, checked the fluids and greased the steering joints. All seemed OK. Marjool fancied fried potatoes for lunch later and so boiled some up ready … why not!

The scenery was similar as were the road conditions. We need to cover some ground to allow more time in the national parks, and temperatures are dropping, so we pushed on most of the day. As we got further into the Gobi the camels increase in number.


All of the long drives so far have been along massively long valleys, hundreds of km long. You never seem to leave the mountains either side of you or get any closer to them. When you stop, you realise that rather than being barren, the ground is covered with tiny, pretty plants.



We travelled on towards evening and came to a little ger village by a river. We looked for a way to continue, but there was a river in the way. It looked too deep to cross and Marjool was not keen to put on her swimming things to check the depth! We turned around thinking that there must be another way and in doing so noticed lots of tractors by the gers. It seemed that people were generally towed across.  Just then a couple of lorries turned up that we had passed earlier. They just grinned at us and waved us to follow them across!



It was actually not as bad as we thought, but without following the lorries we would have gone straight across and it would have been uncomfortably deep. It would be different if we were just away for a week or so but we really need the car to stay together for the whole trip and so tend to be more cautious.


If this is the driest time in Mongolia, I’d hate to be here in May! I think that earlier in the season some of the places that we have been would have been really muddy … and deep mud!


Travelling through Mongolia when it is wet would require more time and would ideally be done with at least two cars. It would be great fun though!

Our camping spot for the night was in the hills between two valleys and was fantastically quiet!


Tomorrow we only have to go about 90km to Bayankhongor.



18th September – On the way to Altay City

18 Sep

Instead of our standard porridge we think we are getting breakfast in the ger.




When we arrive  the mother and eldest daughter were busy as a goat had just been slaughtered. That left the next eldest daughter to serve hot milk with salt and some pastry like squares that taste a little of goat fat.


Once we had eaten we went outside to see how the ladies were doing with the goat. It appears that everything would be used. The legs and head were put to one side for some special dish while the other entrails were prepared. The daughter in the picture above was still making eat sign language which was slightly worrying when we looked in the metal dish.



Ladies preparing the food for the pot.



Eager as we were to tuck in to the stew (by now all the inside bits of the goat had been put into a pot with some water and potatoes) we thought it would be nice to take some family photos. They were enthusiastic and all got changed and posed in front of the mountain.



We had already packed the camper to go and as we prepared to leave the family kept pointing at the bubbling mass of food in the pot, making more frantic eat signs. Delicious as it looked we felt that 9.00 am was just a little too early for such a big meal and so we left. They looked disappointed that we were not going to join them, and as we drove away we felt guilty. However we were sure that it would not go to waste. They were lovely kind people. It seems that if you turn up at their ger they will offer you food and a bed, whoever you are.


The road from here was again really rough and lots of sandy areas with deep bull dust. Not nice for motorcycles I think. The roads were also really badly corrugated and although the little ridges look insignificant they shake you around really badly. The advice is normally drive a bit faster to fly over the top but the holes and sudden dips make that too dangerous in most places


It is really isolated here, 400km from Khovd and we have seen very few cars. A few lorries with people packing up the gers to move to their winter camps, but very little else. It would probably feel more comfortable travelling with two vehicles here. Again it is often difficult to know which track is the best one to take!!



After driving all day (9.00am until 6.30pm) with just two coffee breaks and a lunch stop and we have travelled 300km. As we arrived at the top of the last pass there is another cairn with prayer flags marking the spot.


We camped in a yard behind a hotel in Altay City tonight ( 150p/night)

Tomorrow we need more diesel and check a few noises on the car before heading to the next town …. another 400km of Gobi.


17th September – Leaving Khovd

17 Sep

This morning we spent a few hours camped out in the same place as yesterday, updating the website and cooking ham and cheese omelette. We then headed back into town to have another go at batteries etc. We soon decide that we would rather be on our way and gave up. We then headed to the water station to fill up only to find that they were all closed on Saturday. Time to head off anyway … we will try to find a spring on the way!

On the last fuel stop on the way out of town we asked about filling with water and were told to head into the ger camp. This is basically walled areas of land with just a ger and a pit toilet. This allows people to live in the traditional structure but with the convenience of town. Some children helped us fill up the tanks and jerry cans.



The road out of Khovd is pretty rough and potholed with sudden big dips that make you bounce into the air if you hit them too fast. We drove for an hour or so and stopped for a coffee by a really isolated little well. As we were driving there a lady with a water carrier on a trolley was on her way to fill up. We wondered why all the cows were following her. They wanted a drink from the tractor tyre troughs. Great use of waste!



Another couple of hours on rough and dusty roads and we came to another damaged bridge. Again everyone needed to ford the river. The water came half way up the doors on normal cars and someone asked us for a tow through in case their engine stopped.




We drove for another half an hour and looked for a friendly ger to stop by. We can’t say exactly what we look for in a house or ger, but some just feel right! We prefer to stop near someone rather than in a totally isolated spot on our own when near a road. This one had a good feel and when we went over and used the normal sign language for sleeping there, the family were really friendly.


As we were setting up, the little girl from the ger came over with fresh goats milk. We gave her some sweets and a ‘London’ soap for her mum … ten minutes later she came back with home made butter and an invitation to eat with them in the morning. I pointed at my wrist to ask what time and she drew a picture of the sun in the air and pointed up ….. sunrise! It sounded far too early for us as we have to lay in bed and wipe the water off the ceiling with a cloth as the ice melts! We are not actually cold with all the duvets, blankets etc etc. Half an hour after the sun first hits the camper we can get up.

Not sure what breakfast will be …. ?


16th September – Khovd

17 Sep

We had a busy day in Khovd and eventually made progress after asking lots of people where we could find what we needed. The difficulty finding things in Mongolia (for foreigners new to the place) is that everything is behind closed doors. There are no shop windows and obviously the signs are not easy to understand and very often include no pictures of what lies within.

The one big problem that we have to overcome is the failure of our laptop. As we rely on it for updating the web, communicating with home, storage for photos and video …. etc etc. In the end we managed to find a store that sold reasonably priced  laptops that are preloaded with US windows and Photoshop. It is called Best Electronics and the young owner spoke perfect English and was very helpful. We will edit this post later to put in his details. We also needed diesel, water, camera card, batteries for our watches (which both failed due to the cold) and some fishing flies to replace the ones of Steve that I lost! Apart from the laptop and the diesel, we were pretty unsuccessful ….. it was also hot during the day and dust was swirling around.

We will sort out a few pictures of the town later.


15th September – Altantsogts to Khovd

17 Sep

After leaving our camping spot we drove the short way back to Sailau’s family and he greeted us like long lost family. He is such a nice man! We went straight in for chai and watched while they all dressed up for a wedding that they were going to later. Just before we left Marjool was given a scarf and I was given a hat.



We also said goodbye to the group that we had tea with yesterday. We would like to see Andrews photos one day as he has been on expeditions to both the North and South Poles. I am sure that one day we will see Andrew and Catherine in Devon?

We were planning to take the back road as we had images of the main road to Khovd being big and busy. In Russia we enjoyed the back roads as you can stop easily wherever you like. In fact when we got to it the major roads are still pretty rough and quiet!

Sailau very kindly hopped into the car to show us where the ‘road’ started. He took us a few Km’s to a y junction and pointed left, gave us a big hug and then started walking back. He had told us to keep the mountain on our left and that is what we did. However it was 190 km to Khovd and so we would have to get more guidance or would be going in a circle!

In Mongolia a road is defined as ‘Where someone has driven before’. They continually split into for or five ways and it is difficult to tell where a fork is really a junction or a route around an obstacle or just a track to a ger. You really do need a good compass or sat nav to show direction and your position. Garmin Worldmap is handy as it shows the major roads and towns and so you can check you are heading in the right direction. Its not quite that simple as you cannot see which valley or pass you will take, and so sometimes you think that you are going wrong, when you are really just passing a natural obstacle which means heading in the wrong direction for a while. At times, you think that you must be on the wrong track as it is so small … then suddenly it joins another one and you think all is well again. At the same time you need to concentrate hard as there are sharp rocks, potholes, deep sand and boggy spots …. great fun!

The road was good and fast in some places, over rocks and boulders in other and snowy peaks surrounded us as we headed south to join the main road to Khovd.

As we got to the very remote and rough bits we were pleased to have a sturdy car. The roads are unforgiving and although you could manage most with a standard car, you have to consider what you would do if you broke down. It is very remote and some places you don’t see a soul for 30 or 40 km.

We found a nice spot by a spring for a coffee break …. no vehicles had been past in either direction for an hour or so. It was so quiet. The blue scarf tied on a stick by the spring, complete with money offerings reminded us of friends at home!

Further along the road we passed a herd of yaks, they looked just as you imagine them, at home in the mountains.

Further along we thought that we were getting lost and so Graham went to ask directions. Mongolians all seem to understand maps and are always really helpful.

As it happens we had arrived at the point where the ‘main road’ met our track. We celebrated with lunch. The wind in the valley was so cold and strong that we ate in the camper.

When we continued after lunch we met a group of men who worked for a copper and gold mine. They had driven across from UB for the eagle festival, fishing in the lakes by the Chinese border and to explore the west. They had a 75 series LC and a defender 110. Both were well equipped. We said that we would meet in UB if we got there in time for a beer in the Irish pub!

Although it is the main road in the south of Mongolia from west to east, it is still a dirt road and being well used gets corrugations and potholes and lots of rocks to avoid. Much easier to navigate though. Soon after getting on the road we got to a rickety wooden bridge that was closed.

There was a well used river crossing that at this time of the year is low. Coming here in the spring or early summer would be different for two reasons. Firstly there would be mosquitoes and flies (we have seen no mozzies and only a few flies) and secondly the rivers would be high and there would be mud. Maybe the perfect time to visit is the second half of August? Now is great but for our camper cold at night. We really need a diesel heater.

Further along the road we saw camels.

We got to Khovd at around 6.00 pm and took a quick look around before heading back towards the river to camp at a spot where a ger had recently been moved. It seems that there are different camps for each season and now people are moving to their winter site.

Tomorrow we have a website to update and things to do in town and so will not be a big post day!

14th September – Near Altantsogts

17 Sep

Sailau and his family have started taking in a few tourists to show them what life is like for a nomadic herdsman and particularly those Kazakhs who still hunt with Golden eagles. The family are fantastic and very welcoming. We had our accommodation in the camper but those who would like to can stay in a ger. first job in the morning was milking the goats.



After chai in the ger, we went up to the mountain with Sailau, his son and the eagle. There was also another small group of tourists (4) who had come with Panoramic Journeys (Check them out on google!). The view from the top was great and we looked across and spotted a nice place to camp by the river.


We then watched Sailau training the eagle ready for the big eagle festival near Olgiy that was to take place at the weekend.






The group was then due to drive off to see the eagles nest, but we decided that we wanted to drive across the valley to our next camping spot. We were going to go back to the ger the following morning to say goodbye.



We needed a shower and we needed to wash clothes so we put a solar shower out, firstly on top of the engine and then in the sun. We also lit a fire with twigs from the river bank and dung that we collected around the campspot.



The spot was so nice that we said it would be nice to text the others that we had been with this morning to invite them for tea. We had only just agreed that we would do it when we heard a truck in the distance. They had the same idea! We drank tea and played boules … the Mongolians had not seen it before and loved it! We need to make sure Panoramic Journeys brings a set for next season … please Olly!



They stayed for a while and then we had our shower and started setting up the fishing gear. It was starting to get cold by the time fishing started but there was a bite almost every cast with great big grasshopper flies that Steve T had lent me. Unfortunately I owe him a couple as my line was not up to those huge lures!

Not sure what the fish was but think it was a greyling … I say was as we cooked it for tea … no wonder …. we are not getting fat!




The view across the river was nice and there were camels roaming around.



Looking back away from the river the view was also amazing!



It was starting to get really cold again and so we decided to wrap all the stones` from the camp fire in a blanket and put them in the camper as a sort of storage heater. It was lovely and the hot water bottle was filled from river water heated by dung … that’s got to be eco friendly!

The temperature that night dropped to -3.5 C outside, and in the camper -2.0 C.

13th September – Eagle hunter’s ger

16 Sep

We are now staying in a fantastic location next to the gers owned by the Sailau family. We followed a guide Agii from the border at Tashanta to Olgiy which was around 90km where we went to the bank and got a 3G card for the phone (pay as you go with Mobicom). We then followed him a further 45 km across dry river beds and through mountain passes to the gers.

Sailau is the man that was shown hunting with eagles on the BBC series Human Planet. We were going out with him tomorrow to see the eagle in action on the mountain just a few kms from the ger.

We had a quick look at the eagle and then went with Sailau and some of the family to a mini Nadaam Festiva. We filled our camper up with 8 people(!) and bounced across a couple of valleys to an event that was very small and local. Great fun though.

The first event was horse racing (10 km). The horses were very placid, small and did not have names. They were also incredibly sure footed on the rough ground. There was then wrestling and then more horse racing.

The horses had travelled from all the different gers/valleys before the race even started. They are tough horses.

Next was the wrestling … bitterly cold wind for wearing this gear.


Everyone was cold and had to huddle together to keep warm.

First we were invited to a meal in a ger close to the Nadaam. It was an amazing spread but were too shy to take pictures as everyone who attended the event took turns to eat. We then went back to the ger for chai (milky tea).

Tomorrow we see the eagle in action with luck!

12th September – Tashanta

12 Sep

Woke up this morning to snow! The pictures are not great but at least you can see what it is like here.




Looking along the border, barbed wire snakes across the hills marking the Russian boundary. In between Russia and Mongolia is 10km of no man’s land. As far as we can see, the roads still look clear. The Mongolian border is another 500m higher and so it may be different there.




The boarder post is just in front of the camper. We are first in the queue …. can’t imagine why more people are not camping! Just us and a lorry driver from Kazakstan.




I think this is the first snow that Troopy will have seen …. or maybe the Snowy Mountains?





Finally Sally and Mick are trying to positively identify the bird! It was about 350 to 400mm from the top of the post to the tip of its head and although a poor picture it looked like this as it flew away!




So all going well we will move through the Russian side of the border in an hour. Then off to meet Agii and the eagle hunter!


11th September – Tashanta

11 Sep

After looking around Kosh Agach for a place to stay and not finding anywhere that took our fancy, we drove towards the next village. On the way we went through a road block, which is basically a military passport check point. To proceed further you need a valid visa for Mongolia. The next village was very small and due to the cold there were few people around to ask about camping. We opted for a high profile spot in the centre of the square of grassland around which the village was built. It was starting to get really windy so we pointed the camper into the wind to reduce the chance of damage to the pop top. In the morning the hills around us were covered in a small layer of snow.




The village was small but still had a tiny fuel station, a war memorial and a small mosque.




As we drove out towards Tashanta we saw what I think was our first eagle. I’m no bird expert but it certainly wasn’t a pigeon!




Again the views as we drove towards Tashanta were amazing! The stormy skies making them all the more dramatic.




On the grasslands all around us we could see horsemen working herds of goats. The views just don’t look real, and we almost have to pinch ourselves to check that we are really here!



We arrived at Tashanta and drove up to the border to make sure it really is closed on a Sunday and then went to find a spot to camp for a few hours. We would then move right to the border to sleep in case there is a queue in the morning.



The picture is taken from the hill next to the last 3G mast in Russia! The MTS (MTC) card has been great. Total cost 200Rub per month for 3G plus 3Rub per day standing charge, and 3Rub per min to any network anywhere in Russia. Only snag is that you need an address to get the sim. You will need the help of a Russian. Thanks Olga!!


Soon after we arrived we were visited by local kids looking for sweets, one even asked if he could have my rucksack. The kids here seem to have been slightly corrupted by the large numbers of Mongol Rally visitors they get each year. We have not seen it anywhere else in Russia. The kids were sweet though!




Those Tele Tubbies get everywhere! Fingers crossed we will be in Mongolia tomorrow!