Ovoo enroute to Altay. Notice the smooth, level earth road in the background…
The next morning we drove on to Altay, the capital of Gobi Altai Aimag. It’s a small city with all the services one might need, including an airport with regular flights to and from Ulaanbaatar.
We were treated to lunch at the home of an artist friend of Tugsoyun’s. More than lunch, really, a multi-course feast. Two hours later, we made our goodbyes and, after a short stop at a local temple, were on our way east again.
Typical street scene in Altay.
Temple in Altay.
Stupas and khadag near the temple.
The last camels we saw on the Expedition.
The road was great going east from Altay until we reached the aimag border. It’s the main east/west route on the south side of the Hangai Mountains. I was shocked when not long after I took this photo it turned into some of the nastiest, most miserable road I’ve traveled on in eight trips to Mongolia. There is no way solid economic progress can be made in Mongolia or the people be able to make a good living , build up a company and send goods to bigger markets like Ulaanbaatar as long as the roads are so bad. Fortunately, every year there is more tarmac laid and the situation improves. But I’d pay not to have travel that stretch again and I love the earth roads.
As we bumped along and hung on, we came upon a car that had broken down out in the middle of nowhere. And in Mongolia, that’s saying something. We stopped, of course, and our drivers spoke to the people, a young couple with an older woman. It wasn’t a good situation because we had no room to take anyone with us, weren’t going near a town and it was clearly going to get cold that night. So we promised to stop at the first ger we came to and tell them where to find the car and people. We drove for quite a bit and came over a rise to see this lake and…two gers! One van drove off to the gers and ours headed to this well. In a very short time we saw a truck from the gers head back up the road towards the stranded car. So we knew they’d be ok. We looked around and decided that we’d come upon a perfect spot to camp. But first we filled our water container.
As is usually the case, someone spotted us and came riding over on this very nice-looking horse with a traditional saddle, so out came the cameras. Another man came within minutes on the motorbike.
The horse’s owner and rider.
After a short visit, he went on his way.
The other man, it turned out, owned these two little gers near the lake. He was staying in one, but offered us the use of the other for our kitchen and dining room. It looks pretty tacky and was too tiny to get any interior photos, but it was comfy and cozy inside when the wind came up and the temperature dropped.
The view, with oncoming horses.
What could have been more perfect? Settled down for the evening, beautiful late light and this lovely herd of horses coming for water and to graze.
Members of the herd.
Packing up camp. The man in the white hat was the owner of the gers. A conversation with him the night before revealed that we were camped near quite a large salt deposit and that he was a salt miner. He offered to give us a tour in the morning.
After breakfast, Tseegii and Soyoloo made our lunch for the day, khuushuur (fried meat turnovers). One of my personal favorites that I never get tired of.
Fresh and hot, right out of the pan. Soyoloo, our cook, turned out three course dinners, including soups from scratch, using this single burner gas cooker.
The man with his hands behind his back turned out to be the local official who supervised the salt extraction, issuing and checking permits and keeping an eye on things.
The salt deposit, with harvested salt ready to be bagged up.
The “miners” would fill a bag like this and carry it out to be sold. If I recall correctly, they would get $15 for a 50 kilo bag. Hard work, very hard, but pretty good money at this point.
We were shown the two versions of the salt. The white at the bottom has been washed. The brown at the top is unwashed.
Our host led us all the way out into the middle of the deposit. We really had to watch where we stepped. And three of us had expensive camera equipment to think about. But we wouldn’t have missed this for anything!
One of the miners with sacks ready to carry back to the pick-up point.
I felt a little like I was in Yellowstone National Park, looking down into these colorful mineral pools.
Small salt formation.
Our hosts. The miner, on the left, is doing this work to earn money to pay for his daughter to go to the university in Ulaanbaatar. It’s very hard work, but because it pays pretty well he said it was worth it. On the right is the salt mine supervisor/manager from the local government office. I think they liked how interested we were and enjoyed sharing information about what they do. We really appreciated this unexpected look at one piece of life in Mongolia.
Finally, the miner demonstrated to us how the salt is washed. This simple homemade tool does the job.
He has scooped salt out of the pond.
Then he rinses it with vigorous shaking.
The clean salt.
Salt has been valuable as the only means of preserving food for thousands of years, really until quite recently. It is still used for that, of course, and as a flavoring. It’s fun to imagine that salt from this place could have traveled the Silk Road to Europe and ended up on the table of a king. And it’s possible.
Finally it was time to get back to the vans and on our way. The sun was now behind us, backlighting the tall grasses.