As I wrote last week, we had decided to leave the Ganchen Lama Monastery at Erdenesogt and go on to the Shargaljuut Mineral Springs Resort. Our route took us up a beautiful valley of green hills, gers and…yaks!
Mostly they were just wandering around grazing in small groups, but we also happened upon a young boy carrying out his herding duties.
The herder’s gers were scattered along the river which wound through the valley. We were, by now, well off the usual tourist routes, traveling on what Khatnaa said were “local roads”. Indeed. We were almost the only moving vehicle I’d seen all day.
Khatnaa stopped at a number of gers as we moved up the valley, including the one below, to ask directions. The situation we’d found ourselves in was that the recent storms, which caused the flooding of the rivers down south in the Gobi, had also washed out a number of bridges in the mountains and therefore, to get to our next destination, we would have to retrace a lot of our previous route back south down the valley, then do a 70km loop to the north where the resort was located. Since one can often only travel a distance of around 100km in a day, this was a long detour. He had been told at one point, however, that there was an alternate, more direct route. We pulled up to what turned out to be one last ger and Khatnaa got out and spoke with the herders.
He got back in the car, turned to me, smiled and said something I’ll remember for as long as I have two brain cells to rub together, “Now we will go on very local roads”. He turned the car to the east and headed up a slope that looked no different than any of the others that we had passed.
We went higher and higher, leaving the river valley far below. There was definitely an earth road, more like an earth trail actually, but it sure didn’t look like it got much use. Was I having fun yet? You bet!
Up and up we went, passing interesting rock formations, until we reached Hujirt Pass which, of course, had a ovoo.
We now started going down, down, down, surrounded by wonderful scenery. There had been storm clouds to the west and north most of the day, but the weather was fine along our route. No problem, right? Well…..
We reached the river valley and I could see the road we hadn’t taken on the other side. Then I spotted something I’d never seen in Mongolia…wild iris. I asked Khatnaa to stop and jumped out to take some photos.
In less than a minute, he leaned out and told me that I must get back into the car and when I had, explained that the rain we saw in the distance could cause the river to rise very quickly and that we had to get across it. Now.
And, as it turned out, there wasn’t just one channel to cross, but three or four. I kind of lost count.
Picking his spot, Khatnaa got the Land Cruiser up onto the road and we continued on to the mineral resort as it got darker and the wind started to kick up.
Although this was a camping trip, Khatnaa decided that, for this night at least, we would see if we could stay in the ger camp. He was concerned about the storm and how high the water might get. No argument from me, that was for sure.
We were able to get two gers, one for me to stay in and one for Khatnaa and Soyoloo that also doubled as our “kitchen” and “dining room”. It was a pretty wild and rainy night, but the next morning was fine. And, to our amusement, we found that the Rimpoche we had decided not to worry about seeing at the Gachen Lama Museum was staying at the resort!
We still never got to see him since it turned out that he skipped breakfast and left early for the monastery, but I did end up having a nice chat with a Mongol man who had called out to me in perfect California English “Where are you from?” when I stepped out of my ger with a cup of coffee. It turned out that he was a famous wrestler who had retired with the rating of Garuda and was now a businessman living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Khatnaa knew who he was and, of course, we had to have our picture taken with him. He was on vacation, he said, and was volunteering as a driver for the Rimpoche and his entourage.
The next great thing that happened was that we got to take our first showers since we were at the Onglyn valley in the Gobi. We had to wait our turn in the very busy sanitarium, but it was worth it. If there were any other Westerners anywhere around, I never saw them. Just the way I like it.
Before we left, we walked across the bridge and explored the thermal area. The different springs have different mineral content and are used to treat specific ailments, some physical, some mental. One consults a doctor before beginning treatment.
Our departure from Shargaljuut was much less eventful than our arrival. A short way down the road, though, we came across evidence of how powerful the storm run-off from the mountains can be. Just to the left is the “detour” across the now dry riverbed.
Here is what it would have looked like before the flood. All but a couple of the bridges I’ve crossed in my travels have been built this way, out of logs and lumber.
Where were we going next? I had no idea, but I knew it would be worth the trip, so I simply kicked back and enjoyed the scenery.