Mongolia is a rustic filled with adventures simply able to be skilled. Over time I’ve had the chance to take travellers on many journeys across the huge steppe, scorching deserts, icy pine forests and wonderful mountains of Mongolia.
This previous summer season I set out on a brand new journey, travelling from the capital metropolis, Ulaanbaatar, out to town of Khovd within the far west – a metropolis I do know effectively.
Nevertheless, this time I might forgo the shorter, simpler southern highway in favour of a brand new route by means of the guts of the nation.
While some Mongolians declare to have the ability to do the drive alongside the southern route (which runs by means of the Gobi Desert) in a single day, the journey is round 1,470km.
This more durable route would take me 4 days to finish, protecting over 1,600km however by means of a lot more durable, albeit extra stunning terrain.
On the upside, I managed to persuade household associates to let me borrow their robust 4×4 which might make the journey a tad simpler (and enhance my survival possibilities!).
The primary hurdle, earlier than the canyons, volcanoes, and mountains, was to flee the site visitors of Ulaanbaatar.
While you would possibly affiliate Mongolia with eagles, camels, nomads, and different enigmatic highlights, after three years of dwelling right here, I spend far more of my time trying on the rear bumper of a Toyota Prius’ than eagles! Though I set off early to attempt to keep away from the majority of the site visitors, it nonetheless seems like rush hour and seems like it will take longer than the expedition itself.
Lastly, the site visitors started to clear as I approached western Ulaanbaatar, the economic hub of town. Dotted with garages, warehouses and factories, in the event you’re trying to choose up a brand new tractor, lorry, generator, or any heavy equipment, that is the district for you.
Slowly, nonetheless, town is giving solution to the countryside because the buildings develop into fewer and fewer – finally, the one signal of growth is the railway line shadowing the freeway main out of Ulaanbaatar. Intriguingly, while in lots of international locations, you would possibly count on the capital metropolis roads to be effectively maintained, in Mongolia the roads truly enhance as you allow the bustling metropolis onto the agricultural roads – so I breathed a sigh of aid (on behalf of the suspension) as I crested the primary hill and the majesty of the Mongolian steppe stretched out in entrance of me by means of the windscreen – finally, even the railway curved away, I used to be alone– thus started the journey!
The primary hurdle to cross was the Mongolian paperwork – throughout the nation, as you go between aimags (provinces) you need to pay a toll of 1,000 MNT (Mongolian Tugrik) – value about 25 cents. Venturing solo as a white man throughout Mongolia at all times garners odd seems at these toll cubicles, however after an try to talk to me in Russian by the bewildered operator, I used to be by means of the toll sales space and out of town formally.
Because the drive continued, I started to get used to being again on the highway, having fun with the surroundings of the Mongolian steppe. Nevertheless, there may be one landmark which can’t be missed as you head west away from Ulaanbaatar.
Any traveller from the capital alongside this highway will likely be unable to disregard the yellow peaks which peer over the horizon – as you strategy, it can develop into clear that these aren’t unusual yellow mountains, however the ideas of sand dunes.
The so-called ‘Mini Gobi’ is a well-liked spot for holidaying Mongolians – this massive chunk of desert sits in the course of the Mongolian steppe – a distinction between lush inexperienced plains and glistening sand. Locals usually spend their time right here taking part in volleyball, driving camels, or simply having fun with their environment – it virtually has a sense of a seashore vacation vacation spot… however in one of many world’s largest landlocked international locations!
Waving the camels goodbye, I continued till I reached the traditional capital of Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire in the course of the 1300s. The town was as soon as a melting pot of various cultures, individuals, and a crossroad for commerce travelling alongside the silk highway.
Though I actually had a schedule to maintain, I made a decision to spend a while visiting the Erdene Zuu Monastery within the metropolis – the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Established in 1585, the monastery survived the preliminary onslaught of communist efforts to take away symbols of faith throughout the nation and continues to function as a monastery to this present day.
Finally, with my repair of tradition full, I continued on till the solar started to dip under the horizon, after which I ended by the close by Orkhon river and arrange camp, the peaks surrounding the Orkhon Valley casting shadows over my makeshift campsite.
I dragged myself out of the relative consolation of my sleeping bag because the solar peeked over the mountain tops, illuminating the valley and, extra importantly, making it far too troublesome to sleep.
So, after a fast espresso to wake my mind up, I set off in an try to make as a lot progress as potential while I nonetheless had daylight.
That being mentioned, there are lots of elements of this superb nation which make it not possible to drive all day with out stopping for a short cease. One such sight is a big river canyon which scars the panorama of this a part of central Mongolia.
From a distance, it’s tough to identify, however as you strategy you’d higher spot it rapidly in any other case one fallacious flip will ship you flying. This canyon, recognized by some because the Grand Canyon of Mongolia, appears so misplaced amidst acres of flat steppe panorama – however that is what makes it so interesting.
Having had my fill of vertigo, and operating out of stones to throw into the river under, I set off as soon as once more. The vacation spot this time? My subsequent waypoint. For some, you would possibly use a signpost or a notable village as a landmark – for Mongolians traversing this route, the very best waypoint is the massive extinct volcano which dominates the panorama it sits in.
I arrived within the early afternoon on the volcano and reckoned I had sufficient time for a fast hike up the tree-lined slopes to the crater. It’s mentioned in the course of the winter that steam rises from the guts of the crater as a result of nice temperature differential, though I used to be travelling in mid-summer and the surface climate felt simply as harsh because the molten rock which dwells within the coronary heart of the volcano.
After a peek down a few of the lava tubes, not massive sufficient to crawl by means of, however massive sufficient for a fast look, I headed again right down to the trusty automobile and continued on my means.
The goal for this last stage of the day’s drive? Simply maintain going till both I, or the automobile, collapsed. Time to show off the highway and quiet down for the evening.
After numerous years of main excursions, I wish to assume I’ve a superb eye for tenting spots – this time the panorama threw up many selections. I made camp on a slope, protected against the wind by the mountain behind me, and protected against the weather by the pine forest which coated the highest of the hill.
After cooking a spaghetti dinner I sat down to absorb the gorgeous panorama of central Mongolia, I retired to mattress – effectively conscious that tomorrow would convey with it a race in opposition to the solar.
Day three. The goal for at this time? A espresso… and after that, one among Mongolia’s most spectacular lakes.
Khyargas Lake is sort of like an inland sea – full with waves, sandy seashores, and native Mongolian vacationers in quest of a weekend away on the seashore. Waking up within the mountains, I reckoned I might handle the drive in a day – in spite of everything, getting there at this time would imply a straight drive tomorrow right down to Khovd.
Because it turned out – no. It’s very distant. After setting off, it turned clear rapidly that the mountains had been slowly starting to provide solution to extra low-lying terrain. Nonetheless mountainous by all accounts, however by Mongolian requirements the encompassing area was clearly changing into much less towering.
Finally, Mongolia received the very best of me. I pulled off the highway at one other lake – Telmen Lake, additionally an infinite physique of water. I made a decision to protect vitality, and having fun with my afternoon was preferable to driving by means of the evening. After understanding which a part of the lake was most mosquito-free, I pitched a tent and sat down in my tenting chair with a chilly beer and a view over the water because the solar started to set.
Mongolia has quite a bit to supply, mountains, deserts, eagles, nomads, camels, the listing goes on… nevertheless it’s straightforward, on this nation of wonders, to miss the easy pleasures – I can say with nice certainty that the solar setting over Telmen Lake with the cool water lapping gently in opposition to my ft was one of the crucial fantastic experiences of this journey and a very unbelievable sight.
The one draw back? On this a part of the world, when the solar units, that’s it. So the romance of the second was barely undermined by a stumble again to the tent and into the heat of my sleeping bag (when the solar goes down it will get chilly rapidly).
Day 4 – the ultimate advance. The goal at this time was to succeed in Khovd. Nevertheless, one of many few issues I knew for certain earlier than setting off was that this last stage can be an actual problem.
After an hour or two I lastly reached Khyargas Lake, passing locals bathing within the water, having fun with BBQs with their associates and households and usually having an exquisite time. The sand, nonetheless, is unusual at Khyargas – think about, in the event you can, a cross between nice sand, coarse mud, and nice gravel.
A really bizarre combination certainly; nonetheless, individuals didn’t appear to thoughts and it made for a pleasant lunch cease earlier than the gruelling last leg started – and bloody hell was it gruelling!
After passing the lake the satnav suggests turning north, travelling for lots of of miles within the fallacious route earlier than looping again down alongside, what locals charitably name, the freeway between Uvs and Khovd. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about so as to add a fifth day to this journey, so I turned off the highway heading due south alongside dust tracks which quickly gave solution to the arid panorama of western Mongolia.
At this level, there’s nothing to depend on. No cellphone sign, no wifi – simply the recommendation of locals and my previous expertise of traversing this type of terrain, off-road and simply pointing in the suitable route and driving.
If I’m sincere, the drive was scary – I ended usually to verify the tyres, to verify I hadn’t shaken something free from the automobile, and to make sure all 4 wheels had been nonetheless, actually, on the automobile. The drive took round 5 or 6 hours throughout the bumpy panorama which ends up in Khovd.
Nevertheless, finally, within the distance, I spied telegraph poles – which meant individuals, or at the very least roads! After just a few extra daring manoeuvres over bumps, bushes, and small timber, I reached the highway which hyperlinks Uvs to Khovd. Nevertheless, that is actually a highway in title solely – usually I felt I’d fairly be again off-road than on this mish-mash of gravel, dust, damaged tarmac, akin to driving over a washboard.
As I approached Khovd, the highway turned extra strong, turning the ultimate few corners in direction of town I used to be confronted with an unmistakable signal of civilisation – I used to be unaware that within the yr I’d been away an enormous new concrete manufacturing unit had been constructed simply outdoors of town. So, passing this industrial behemoth, I made the ultimate few turns across the mountains till a welcome sight greeting me by means of the windscreen.
I used to be in Khovd Metropolis. With a inhabitants of round 30,000, Khovd will not be a metropolis, however after 4 days of tenting with nothing greater than marmots and the odd eagle to maintain me firm, the sight of the regional capital was a welcome one.
Khovd is acquainted to me, each time I go to I have a tendency to stick with household and associates and that was my plan this time. Criss-crossing by means of the guts of town, passing the primary site visitors lights I’d seen since Ulaanbaatar, I made the ultimate flip in direction of the place my family and friends had arrange their summer season ger.
Parking the automobile for the ultimate time, I ready to spend my afternoon with a chilly beer in a single hand, mendacity in opposition to a grassy knoll with my ft dangling into the Khovd River (actually extra of a picturesque stream at this level) staring on the rocky mountains which tower over town.
The journey was at an finish, the day drawing to an in depth, and all that remained… was to consider the drive again!
The journey from Ulaanbaatar by means of the guts of Mongolia, the outside capital of the world, is actually one of the simplest ways to expertise the distinction of the nation. Leaving the capital, the plush inexperienced grass of the steppe within the Orkhon Valley creates an Eden-like environment. Nevertheless, this rapidly provides solution to enormous mountains, craggy canyons and mountain passes.
Persevering with on, the panorama shifts as soon as once more to a desert-like, sandy, arid panorama extra paying homage to the Gobi Desert than central Mongolia, nonetheless, it’s this fully alien panorama which persists all the way in which right down to Khovd.
It’s for that reason that I’ve been so eager to work this journey into a correct Mongolia tour, so maintain an eye fixed out for our Golden Eagle Competition Tour in September/October which is able to traverse this gorgeous panorama and mix this distinctive journey with one other spotlight of western Mongolia, the Kazakh Eagle Searching Competition the place native eagle hunters display the insane skills of their searching birds and usually take pleasure in themselves as they have fun this unbelievable competition!