……..meandering in Mongolia
02.08.2014 - 06.08.2014 16 °C
We left Irkutsk to head off for the border crossing into Mongolia. I was pleasantly excited about this and also the ride to the border was supposed to great….again no disappointments. We travelled through dense pine and beech forests over mountains and through valleys where we stopped late morning for coffee at a superb lookout with stunning views of Lake Baikal. At 680kms long this is a massive piece of water holding a fifth of the world’s fresh water. Our ride had us travelling along the shoreline for the next two hours before we turned off south and headed to the border. It is along here somewhere that I lost my second camera off the bike………so annoyed, guess I’m just not meant to have a new camera! Russian exit, quite a breeze…..entry into Mongolia, well that one was a bit of a classic but once we understood the system or what was purported to be a system we all finally got through in a little under four hours! It was now mid-afternoon as we pushed on into the very different landscape, the vastness and emptiness that is Mongolia. By the time we came to our next fuel stop the sky had darkened considerably and we could smell the rain that was inevitable. We entered the first reasonably sized town of Mongolia, Darkhan where we all stopped to hit the ATM’s before heading off to the campsite. Whilst waiting the rain started and Mick mentioned that we would only be heading 5-10k’s down the road to set up camp. That was enough for Alpha, Oscar and me to decide that we would find a hotel and stay in the town. A wise decision as it was a miserable night and even worse in the morning. One must not forget that after all it is a holiday and no one wants to feel miserable on a holiday, do they :-)
We waited a while for the rain to clear a little and rode off to look for the group. The plan was for a ride to the Amarbaysgalant monastery before heading in the direction of the town of Bulgan. Given the ride to the monastery is a two hour off road detour we would definitely catch them. Arriving at the turnoff we could see the tyre marks and even though quite slippery we headed off. The ride is only 35kms and visually stunning landscapes at every turn……..who needs a camera? We stopped for a break after around 15kms and chatted to local visitors heading back who seemed to confirm there was indeed other motorcycles at the destination…………I was looking around and declared that I could no longer see any tracks?! Given where we were and thinking we had gotten thorough the worst of it we pushed on. It was an epic ride and challenging. Finally after entering the last yawning valley we spotted the monastery and associated ger camps surrounding it. With around 500m to travel we had one last river to cross…….on the exit Oscar lost traction and had one of those very slow falls but trapped his left leg under the bike which I could see had caused him some pain. We rode up to enjoy the splendour of this unique environment, participated in the obligatory 50 photos of kids and their parents on our bikes, with the bikes and with the bikers and then set search for a Ger that was doing lunch. We were invited to share a table with a local family from Ulan Bator who were holidaying in the area and a very talented family they were; the elder patriarch was one of Mongolia’s top composers, patron of the state opera and his music pieces are played internationally. From there other family members were engineers, interpreters, financiers and of course musicians, studied widely and all back home for a summer holiday, could have been anywhere really?? They helped us with ordering lunch of the local food “bozz” meat filled, deep fried pastry and milk tea which is exactly that………..milk without a hint of tea as we would know I,t hot with a slightly sour taste……..still haven’t got my tastebuds around that one.
We said our goodbyes and headed back out of the mountains, it seemed quicker on the way out but I did managed to put the bike down once or twice in the mud and the middle of a river, good thing I needed cooling down! We took off to our destination of Bulgan via Erdenet. It was only about 135kms but Oscar was in some pain and just wanted to get moving, understandably. We arrived there about 6pm and found the Hotel Bulgan, now this is a lesson in don’t judge a book by its cover; the hotel looked like a shocker from the outside but as we could not find anything else we ventured in. The restaurant was clean and tidy and the first hint that inside was something else was the highly polished tile reception and stairway, a view to an ultra-modern, well equipped kitchen and the friendly staff. We were shown the rooms, whilst basic very clean and neat, hot water and a balcony. We were in! The group were about 20 k’s down the road camping wild, certainly a nice area but with an overnight temperature of -1deg, certainly not necessary when you can get a room like ours for AUD20?
We showered and made our way down to the restaurant where Oscar advised he was going to have his leg checked out at the local hospital. He was in some pain and when asked if he needed help he said no and hobbled off……….we were all thinking perhaps a very bad sprain. The restaurant wasn’t doing food and neither was the one they recommended……..so it was into the market and two minute noodles all round. Back to the bar, boil the kettle and in walked Oscar on a crutch, not two but one, announcing his leg was broken. We were shocked!! I guess if you only have one leg broken you only need one crutch?? Walking in behind him was a local who we were introduced to as Tumur. Tumur had seen him hobbling up the road and insisted on assisting him. Assist he did, translated, transported and generally made the whole experience as easy as possible for a foreigner in western Mongolia. Tumur knows what it is like being a foreigner in another country having worked with his wife in the UK for two years to save money for his business adventures. He has always wanted to repay the many kindnesses he was shown and after we finally got Oscar back he insisted that we go to his restaurant and his wife would cook us dinner. When we finally sat you would not have wanted to get between the plate and anyone’s mouth, we were all so hungry that everything and anything would have been devoured.
The next morning Alpha and I headed out to the camp site to break the news to Mick and the others in the group. There was a stunned silence, this is the first major injury of the trip and it could happen to anyone; oh and by the way they didn’t go to the monastery because it was too slippery…………….. We all rode back into town to catch up with Oscar and for Mick to help him arrange the next step. First things first he had to get back to UB for further medical examination so after Mick gave him some details of the agent in UB, Tumur organised a taxi for the next morning for the 550km trip back to UB but that was after he had done the 170km round trip to Erdenet to collect plaster for Oscar’s leg as there was none in the village of Bulgan. Selfless assistance by Tumur and his wife was extraordinary and another of those moments that will never be forgotten in the travel tales. Roomie is looking after the bike so he has now got an on-going ride at least to UB :-)
We all set off in the direction of Murun and I am sure this incident was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Call it a motorcycling thing but we all know the dangers and it is just always that little bit more real when it is close to home. The group was only planning to travel around 200kms and we discussed with Mick whether it would be feasible for Alpha and I to head onto Murun in a day. Entirely feasible but a long day as the road network is always changing and it was anyone’s guess how much dirt was left. We made Murun that night 330km with 190km of dirt at around 5.30pm and checked into the Hotel Chingiss which held promise but delivered on none of it. It had two stars on the wall but they had nothing to do with the rating! Garage for the bikes, clean and with hot water it was ample.
Sleep in tomorrow and catching up with the group as we head to Khovsgol Lake and two nights in a Ger camp......that weather is still threatening; I hope they are waterproof.