Mongolia Monday: The Best Camping Trip Ever, Part 4 – Crossing A Flooded River, Visiting A Camel Herder’s Ger, Arriving At A Remote Lake In The Gobi

I think that in order to communicate with some immediacy one single day that had enough incident for three, I’m going to simply quote my journal entry for July 15, adding images as needed.

“What an amazing day. Went south-west with Orog Nuur as our goal. Khatnaa knew there was the Taatsin Gol to cross, so stopped at a petrol station to ask about it. Also there were two van loads of Mongols from Togrog who were heading west to mine for gold. Usual Mongol socializing and information exchange ensued.

A third van showed up and all headed towards the river, which was flooded due to rains in the Hangai Mountains.

Assessing the situation

We got across one stream, but were stopped by a broad ribbon of streams and mud. The main channel was moving fast and pulsing with even more water.

Went back up to the bluff overlooking the river and had lunch, watching the three van loads of Mongols look for a way across and mess around in the water.

Lunchtime for us

Went back down to the river. Khatnaa walked a long way to see if he could find a crossing point, but came back and told us that the last stream of water was the worst of all. So we were faced with going north 100 km to the closest bridge. Such is travel in Mongolia.

Suddenly, there was action with one of the vans. A bunch of guys had formed a line across one point of the main channel and the van charged into the water, started to stall, but the guys all got behind it and pushed it on through!

First van crosses the river

Well, if a van could make it, our big Land Cruiser certainly could and did, without even needing a push. We did end up with an extra passenger, a little eej (mother) who wasn’t about to miss her chance to ride in our big car.

Our turn. Halfway across.

We got out on the other side and I photographed the other two vans making the crossing. Then said our good-byes.

Third van goes into the river.

We followed one van up a soft sand slope. It promptly got stuck so we rolled back down and went around it and on up the hill.

The entire “adventure” of the river crossing was a perfect example of Mongol practicality, improvisational skills and good humor. No one at any point got angry, showed frustration or swore. When it looked like things had stalled out, the guys took a break and goofed around in the water. Or so it seemed. They were clearly having fun but they were, in retrospect, also searching for a crossing point.

The spot they found was one where the channel wasn’t too wide or deep and where they felt the bottom was solid enough for a vehicle to get across with a minimal chance of getting stuck.

Without winches, cables or even rope, they simply used the same solution they always do – push.”


Once across, we were really able to roll for awhile on good earth roads.

At this point we knew that the lake, Orog Nuur, was 2/3 full and that the river flowing into it was impassible due to run-off from the mountains. But we had also been told that there was a road on the opposite side of the lake.

Khatnaa spotted a ger and drove over to it. I usually just stay in the car while he asks directions, but his time he gestured me to get out and said “Let’s visit.”

We ended up spending around two hours with Batsuuri and his family.

When we entered their large, comfortable ger, the first thing I noticed was two boys sitting on the floor watching Star Wars:The Phantom Menace on a small flat screen tv. Batsuuri was sitting on the floor, a couple of older girls were going in and out and Javhlan, his wife, was just starting, I found out later, to make suutai tsai (milk tea). I’ve drunk a fair amount of it by this time, but had never seen it made before.

A bowl of small squares of fried bread and sugar cubes was placed in front of us. The movie ended and the two boys, both Mongol but one had blond hair, started playing with a bunch of nails they had pulled out of a bag. I watched them happily amuse themselves for over half an hour, arranging the nails in various patterns and finally using a closely lined up row of them as a little hammered dulcimer.

At one point a wrestling competition came on the tv and I knew that we were going to be staying for awhile because Khatnaa is a BIG wrestling fan.

Javhlan asked if we would like to try camel milk airag. We all said yes. It was delicious, of course.

As we sat, and Khatnaa and Soyoloo chatted with our hosts (Besides camels, they have about 300 other animals. They lost 10-15 in the zud, nothing, really.), Javhlan made a meal of rice with meat in it and we ended up having dinner with the family.

Then it was time for her to milk the camels. They have 40 camels, seven of which had babies. So I found myself with another amazing photo opportunity.

Javhlan milking one of the camels

I was wearing one of (local Humboldt County artist) Bekki Scotto’s hand-dyed rayon t-shirts and had Khatnaa take some pictures of me standing in front of the camels. I think Bekki will like that.

Soyoloo, our great cook, and I

Once the milking was over it was time to leave, but it turned out that there is more than one road around the lake. Batsuuri offered to take us part of the way on his motorbike. Khatnaa provided petrol from a jerry can he had in the car. They had almost finished syphoning when who should pull up but one of the three vans! They had taken the main road to the river, found it flooded and had come back to the only ger for miles to find out if there was an alternate route, so Batsuuri showed them the way also. Once he’d gotten us to the correct road, we waved goodbye and drove on into a large saxaul forest, much of which was in light, almost white, sand. Many stops for pictures. And berries!

Batsuuri shows us the way around the lake
The saxaul forest
Edible berries in the Gobi

Finally we could see the lake, Orog Nuur, in the distance. The passing clouds were creating gorgeous spotlite areas on the mountain range to our left.

Ikh Bogd Uul
Ruddy shelducks, Orog Nuur

We made one more quick stop at a herder’s ger and then found a track down to the lake. We parked, got out, walked down to the shore and Khatnaa announced that we had arrived at “bird heaven”. Indeed.  The shoreline had birds from one end to the other. The lake edge had even more mosquitos. I observed that it looked like we had also arrived at “mosquito heaven”, which Khatnaa thought was pretty funny.

But we sure weren’t going to be able to camp there. So we moved away far enough to be out of the worst of it, put on insect repellent that Soyoloo had handy and set up camp.

My tent with Orog Nuur in the background

It ended up being cook’s night off since we were all pretty full from the meal at Batsuuri’s. Lunch had been a delicious white fish from Khovsgol Nuur. We all had some leftover fish with rice and a few cookies and we were fine.

In the meantime, the mosquitos were getting pretty annoying. We had no netting, so , once again, Mongol ingenuity rode to the rescue. Khatnaa went out and gathered a small bag of animal dung which he piled up and set smoking with a small blowtorch. We put our chairs in its path. Problem solved. Until the breeze kept changing direction. Soyoloo came up with a brilliant solution. She turned a metal flat-bottomed bowl upside down and had Khatnaa got a small dung fire burning on it, which meant that instead of moving our chairs to stay in the smoke, we simply moved the smoke. We dubbed it our “nomadic dung fire”.

Setting the dung smoking
The Nomadic Dung Fire

We sat until dark, watching a lightning storm across the lake from us, a spectacular sunset to the north and listening to the Javhlan CD I’d brought from UB, finishing off the last of the bottle of Chinggis Gold vodka and chatting about all kinds of things. A perfect ending to a perfect day.”

Sunset at Orog Nuur, the Gobi

5 thoughts on “Mongolia Monday: The Best Camping Trip Ever, Part 4 – Crossing A Flooded River, Visiting A Camel Herder’s Ger, Arriving At A Remote Lake In The Gobi

  1. What an awesome experience!

    But I have to be nosy and ask…what do you do about toilet facilities in a place that’s so barren? There’s not a tree or large enough swatch of brush to hide behind! Just curious.


  2. Facilities? Hahahahaha….Actually, the choices when out in the open are:

    1. “Check the mares”, which means squatting down at the corner of the car, usually the back by the tire, that is on the side away from the road or visible gers. Guys “check the horses”.
    2. Look for any kind of low or lowish spot and just, uh, go for it. The open plains are often less flat than they first appear.
    3. Have a del (the long traditional Mongol garment) handy and do what the Mongol women do and wear it for portable privacy.
    4. Hold it until the driver/guide spots anything that will pass for cover- a low wall, derelict building, the only shrub in sight for 50km. They’re good at anticipating when a stop is needed and keep a look-out for best available options.

    I’ve done all four as needed. I’m afraid my inhibitions are pretty much broken down at this point :-).

    I’d also like to note that the majority of my travel in the countryside has been alone with Mongol men I barely know (at least at first) and I have found all of them, without exception, to be trustworthy, discrete, respectful and polite.


  3. I don’t know about brave. Just dealing with reality and not getting wound up about it. Traveling in Mongolia, with its low population density, is a different deal than in a country that simply has more people around.


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