While I had planned an itinerary to go to specific locations to see wildlife, I knew from experience that over any hill or around any corner one can encounter sights in Mongolia that will take one’s breath away and result in many requests for the driver to stop or at least slow down.
This trip was no exception. We left Arburd Sands for Ikh Nart, heading, I believed based on previous conversations and planning, almost due east across an area that I had not seen before.
We weren’t on the road for long when the “Stop!” requests started. Here’s what we saw:
Typical mid-morning light on the steppe
The fields were covered with asters almost as far as we could see along both sides of the road
We started to come down into a valley and spotted a herd of Mongol horses
Then we came upon more, in beautiful morning light
A young herder in a very nice dark red del carrying a very long urga rode over to have a chat with our driver
We drove over the ger where he lived and I got a few quick shots of what was clearly quite a horse operation in a spectacular setting
Driving on, we quickly came upon even MORE horses, including these two young stallions mock-fighting
By now we'd dubbed this area the Valley of the Horses. They were everywhere we looked! And they were in great condition due to good rains creating excellent graze.
It was absolutely idyllic. We could have stayed there all day. But Ikh Nart beckoned.
A few hours later I saw a largish-looking city up ahead and couldn’t square it with what I had seen on the map. We drove around the edge of it.
When we came to the railway line and I saw the tarmac road, I realized what route we had taken. As it turned out, Khatnaa was not able to get reliable information on road conditions or weather on the route we were going to take and Jan had pointed out when we were discussing it back in UB that along the way was a type of mud that, if it rained (and it had been raining quite a lot) was very easy to get stuck in.
So Khatnaa did the sensible thing, which was to take the longer, but certain route north back towards Ulaanbaatar. The mountain behind Zunnmod in the photograph is Bogd Khan. On the other side of it is Ulaanbaatar.
We crossed the railroad tracks and picked up the main paved road south, which literally leads to China, and that I have traveled on quite a few times now.
Even though it at least tripled the distance we drove, it actually took less time to get to Ikh Nart because we could travel at 50-60 mph instead of 15-30mph that is all one can safely do on large stretches of the earth roads. Such is travel in Mongolia. If we had followed the original plan, we would have missed the Valley of the Horses. But I do want to check out that other route some day ’cause I know there will be something good there, too.