Arburd Sands sunset. With camels.
After a wonderful stay at Arburd Sands and Bayan-Onjuul Soum, it was time for the Expedition to start in earnest. Our first destination was Boon Tsagaan Nuur, a lake deep in the Gobi that is known for the excellence of its birdwatching opportunities, both in the number of birds and variety of species.
We headed west across country to join up with the main southern east-west road, parts of which are now tarmac. We hadn’t traveled for long when we came upon a herder’s ger just in time to see them milking their mares.
Milking the mares. The foals are tied to a picket line so that their mothers won’t go far and held near the mare so that she will release her milk. Enough is left for the foal to get a good meal. This process is repeated every two hours, 24 hours a day for weeks or months. One result is the famous fermented mare’s milk “airag”, which to me tastes like fizzy yogurt. I like it a lot.
Sharon takes a photo of Tugs-Oyun, who is riding in the other van. We all loved her spiffy yellow glasses.
Getting water from a local well with the assistance of a young local. An adult had entrusted the keys and the job to him, which he carried off in style.
Camping near Arvayheer
Sharon shows Magvandorj how she photographs flowers close-up
En route to Bayanhongor
Ovoo en route to Bayanhongor
When we arrived at the place to get our water barrel refilled in Bayanhongor, we found that this young boy and his horse-drawn water cart was there ahead of us. A small gift of candy and he was happy to pose for photos. Many of the residential areas of the city are ger districts with no running water. People fetch it themselves, pushing or pulling a wheeled metal frame that holds a water barrel. Or they can have someone with a horse cart deliver it to them.
Driving south out of Bayanhongor, which is located at the base of the Hangai Mountains, we traveled through a long stretch of uplands, passing a lot of interesting rock formations, but no gers and relatively few livestock.
Reaching the Gobi, we saw the occasional ger. There was rain across a wide swath of the horizon. As you can see, the Gobi is gravel, not sand, although there are isolated dune complexes.
We came to the soum center of Baatsagaan, located not far from Boon Tsagaan Nuur. No petrol available and I think at this point the drivers found out what was ahead of us…
A lot of rain in the Hangai Mountains had poured down into the Gobi creating temporary rivers and streams. This was between us and the lake. So close, yet so far, since neither of our drivers could find a spot they felt confident taking the vans across. Now what?
Batmaa, the driver of the van I was in, grew up in this part of Mongolia and knows it well. He led the way north for quite a distance and then west. We passed really narrow spots like this and I wondered why we didn’t just zip across. But I learned many trips ago that things are often not as they appear to a non-Mongol and that we were going far out of our way for a reason. I had my suspicions though….
So benign looking and so tempting….
And then we came to this, clearly an established and well-organized operation of some kind.
And of course the answer was that Batmaa had brought us to the ford. I would guess the only one for many, many miles around, judging from the number of tractors, gers, and vehicles waiting to cross.
We got a preview of what was in store for us.
Through the deepest part.
Piece of cake, right?
Now it was our turn. Here’s comes “our” tractor.
Last minute directions/instructions. Sharon and I made sure all our gear was up off the floor, just in case.
Here we go.
On the other side. Whew.
On to the south and then east in the setting sun.
We drove on and on, hoping to get back to the lake, but finally gave it up and set up camp in the dark with a stiff cold wind blowing. Here we are the next morning. Not too bad for just picking a spot at random. That is part of the Gobi Altai Mountain range to the south of us.
Catching up on my journal. Did I say it had been windy?
Packing up. The pump sprayer was for both washing our hands and, with an enclosure set up around it, our shower. It worked great and one could get hair and body washed with only a half liter of water, important now that we were going to be traveling through countryside where places to get water were at least a day apart.
At last! Boon Tsagaan Nuur!
A final stop so that our drivers could consult with local herders. Solar panels and satellite dishes are very common sights now at herder’s gers, along with motorbikes, mobile phones and small flat panel tvs. But this is still a tough environment to live in and only the knowledgeable and smart thrive.
We drove along the north side of the lake back to the east end, where the birds would be.
The classic landscape of Mongolia….
We hadn’t even gotten to the lake yet, having come to a series of interlaced streams we needed to cross, when we spotted bar-headed geese!
This species is famous for its ability to migrate from Central Asia to India. Over the Himalayas. At close to 30,000 ft. Which is the height an airliner can fly. Got some great photos from which there will be paintings.
One more river to cross. Our van stalled out in the middle, but Batmaa got it started again and we made it across.
Our cook, Soyoloo, and guide, Tseegii, walking down to the lake.
We had only meant to stop this close to the lake for lunch, but decided to camp overnight. The mosquitos weren’t bad at all, just annoying for a relatively short time.
The “I was here” photo. And was I ever glad to be. You’ll find out why in the next installment.