The WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2015

The 2015 WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 5: Dorgon Nuur

Khar Nuur

Khar Nuur

After our relaxing break on the shores of Khar Nuur, we headed south along the east side of the lake to the beginning of the channel that joined it to Dorgon Nuur. What is interesting about all this is that Khar Nuur is a freshwater lake and Dorgon Nuur is 4% saline. One map I have shows the area of salinity in pink instead of blue. It starts at the far northern point of the channel, but I have been able to find no documentation or explanation for it, other than a suggestion that maybe there are salt deposits in that area.

Like everywhere else in Mongolia, the herder’s horses run loose in the countryside when not be used. Visitors consistently write or post about seeing “wild horses”, assuming that they are the equivalent of American mustangs, which are feral domestic horses. Mongol horses are very independent-minded, aren’t approachable by strangers and can give their owners a good run for their money trying to catch them. But the takhi/Przewalski’s horse is the only surviving true wild horse.

Local Mongol horses.

Local Mongol horses

There were lots of birds…cranes, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, plovers, to name what I saw just passing by.

Traveling along the channel

Traveling along the connecting channel we saw a pair of demoiselle cranes

When we started out the ground was covered with species of low and high grasses. As we went south, the vegetation became more sparse and obviously adapted to less rainfall. The mountain in the background with its top in the clouds is Jargalant Hairkhan Uul, again an upcoming destination.

Vegetation change

Vegetation change

The vegetation finally petered out and we were running on hard gravel. I didn’t know how well these mirages would photograph and was pleased with what I got.

Mirage

Mirage

The “road”, which at this point was the treadmarks of previous vehicles, led away from the water for awhile on what was becoming sandier ground, but still hard.

Hard ground

Sandy ground with Jargalant Hairkhan Uul in the background. The channel is mid-photo on the left.

A second group of horses eyed us as we drove by.

More horses

More horses

We passed this group, drove on a bit and then just as I saw the four horses in the distance (next photo below), the driver stopped and said “Saiga!”. And there they were…four of them, two females with calves running right past the horses, who just stood there watching them go by. I kept shooting until they disappeared into the dunes in the background. We drove on a bit and suddenly I thought to tell the driver to stop. I got out my GPS and took a reading of our location. I was expecting to look for saiga on the plain on the other side of the lake and also to the south, not here. Then I asked the driver, who grew up in the area, if he had ever seen them on the east side up along where the channel was and this far north and he said no. So on my to do list very soon now that I’m caught up on a bunch of work I’ve had to do, some of which had deadlines, is to consult with the saiga researchers I know about and see if I’ve recorded something new. Whatever I find out, I’ll post about it.

Four saiga antelope

Four saiga antelope

We finally reached the shores of Dorgon Nuur and I got this shot of wild greylag geese taking off.

Dorgon Nuur

Dorgon Nuur

We were driving south on the east side of the lake, which is quite large. It is almost 15 miles long and 12 miles wide. The photo below shows the view to the south where the lakeshore curves around to the west.

Dorgon Nuur

Dorgon Nuur

We had nice easy driving for a time on this grass “earth” road.

Grassy road

Grassy road

Then we came to the stretch that I’d been warned about, at which the shore became sand. My tour company person had told me that the southern part of the lake was known as the “Riviera of Mongolia” because it’s where the sand meets the water.

Sandy road

Sandy road

He had also told me that when the lake level was high the only way to go forward was to drive into the water and that it would be up to the driver to decide whether or not to go. If not, it meant a really long detour to get around this section. And, in fact, here we were, with the “road” having disappeared completely into the water. We stopped and the driver got out and went to reconnoiter the situation around the bend of the dune. Would we go on? Or have to go back?

Driver

Driver checking out the situation

And here’s why we couldn’t just cut inland a bit and go around…high dunes of loose sand. One could see that horses moved through and over them just fine. So passage around this part of the lake only became a problem when cars, vans and trucks came along.

Dune next to where we were stopped

Dune next to where we were stopped

The driver came back, made a “going for it” gesture and off we went. I took the photo below through the windshield. The tires on my side seemed to stay a little on the wet sand. No way did the driver want the wheels in the loose stuff higher up. Getting stuck doing this would have meant a long, long delay. No roadside assistance in Mongolia unless someone stopped. And we hadn’t seen another vehicle all day. This was clearly a “road less traveled” and then some.

Around the dune

Around the dune

We made it around the dune and picked up the road again, which was on sand, but not too soft.

Around the corner

Around the corner

We came upon a pair of whooper swans and stopped so I could get some photos of them.

Whooper swans

Whooper swans

And then we came to another, even longer, stretch of dunes that came right down to the water. Once again the driver got out to see what was ahead. Took a look, came back to the car, got in and off we went.

Another recon

Another recon

This time I set my Nikon D750 for video. I’d been having some problems with the lens, so this is a little out of focus, but it gives the feeling of what road travel is like in a way that still photos can’t.

Now we could see that there was a grassy edge the rest of the way.

Clear sailing ahead

Clear sailing ahead

We finally arrived at the curved south end of the lake. No more sand. This was rock and gravel. And a beach!

At the south end of the lake

At the south end of the lake

With camels!

Bactrian camels

Bactrian camels

The beach is a weekend destination for local people who live in Chandmani, the soum center (county seat) an hour or two away.

Local people

Local people camping out and swimming in the lake

We headed farther off down the beach (Love using the word “beach” in a post about Mongolia and am enjoying it while I can!) and picked a spot to set up the tents. It was quite windy, but not cold.

Our campsite

Our campsite

The surrounding scenery was great. And then, to end an adventurous (for me, anyway) day, we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Sunset, Dorgon Nuur

Sunset, Dorgon Nuur

The next morning brought calm weather and hordes (the only word in Mongolian that has made it into English, along with a version of “hooray”) of mosquitos. We packed up as quickly as possible and headed on west and then south to look for critically endangered saiga antelope. And that will be the subject of the next Expedition post.

 

 

 

 

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