Монгол улс (Mongolia) - Land of Genghis Khan
Travel pictures from Mongolia
by Dr. Günther Eichhorn
In August, 2001 I went on a trip to Mongolia. I always wanted to see the land of Genghis Khan. The only trip that fit my expectations and my schedule was a camping trip. It was organized by Sundowners, a now-defunct tour operator in Australia. We would travel on 4-wheel-drive vehicles for 3 weeks through Mongolia and sleep in tents. I was not so sure whether I would like the camping part, but since this seemed to be the only way to see the country I decided to go for it. I was right to be apprehensive about the camping. I know now that camping sucks! Sleeping in a tent, completely wet in torrential rains, with the tent almost blowing away in the howling winds is not my idea of fun. But I did see the country, so it was worth it. I just won't do it again.
My first thought about camping was whether I could stay in hotels some nights. The answer was no, there are no hotels where we are going. However, there are the local versions of hotels. They are called ger camps. The gers are the semi-permanent tents the Mongolians use. In the ger camps they have set up 10 - 20 of these gers. They rent them out for about $5 to $10 per ger per night. Our tour leader agreed to have a driver drive me to a ger camp if there was one in the vicinity of our camping site (within 15 km (9 miles) or so). This worked out about half the time, so I had to stay in the tent only about 8 nights. This was a welcome relief.
The organization of the trip was done very well. We had four 4WD vehicles, a Mercedes Benz 290 GD, a Toyota Landcruiser, a Mitsubishi Pajero, and a Mitsubishi Bus. The bus held the food and kitchen supplies. It was replaced by a Russian Jeep after it's motor broke down a week into the trip. We were six tourists accompanied by a tour leader from Sundowners, a local tour guide, a local cook, and 4 Mongolian drivers. The Mongolian local tour operator supplied tents, sleeping bags, and mattresses.
The Sundowner tour leader and the local tour guide were pretty good in organizing everything during the trip. One good part about the trip was the food. Mongolian food is not very good in general. But our cook prepared food more designed for western tastes. He did a great job! The food that he cooked throughout the trip was very tasty. We had mostly beef or mutton with noodles, rice, or potatoes. There are hardly any vegetables in Mongolian cooking, just some pickled stuff. Fruit is very rare too. One day we bought a sheep from a local nomadic family and our cook butchered it. Before the trip I was wondering whether we would be able to get beer during the trip. Our tour guide managed to get us to stores every 3 days or so, so we could buy things like cookies and beer, etc. This worked out very well. One time the tour guide bought some airag. This is fermented mares milk. It has some alcohol, but not as much as beer. It has a strange taste, but I think I could get used to it. When we visited the local families, we usually were offered some local cheese and yogurt. That too tasted unusual, but again not really bad. The only thing that I didn't like at all was the local version of tea. It has lots of milk in it and is salted. I think I would stick with the airag there.
The climate in Mongolia is very variable. August is the rainy season, so it was raining a lot, even in the Gobi desert. The temperatures in the Gobi desert in the south of Mongolia are around 30°C (90°F) during the day. In the north of Mongolia at Lake Khovsgol (Hovsgol) the night temperatures dropped down to 5°C (41°F). August is fall in Mongolia, you can have snow in late August in the north. The mountains at the north end of Lake Khovsgol had snow caps. The change in climate from the south to the north is quite extreme. The summer in Mongolia is basically from the middle of June till the end of July. If you ever contemplate making such a trip to Mongolia, I would suggest you do it in July, not August. Another feature of the weather that is worth mentioning is the wind. There is always a very brisk wind everywhere. This wind will often escalate to being quite strong, sometimes even stormy.
The trip started in Ulaan Baatar. We spent one day in the city visiting a few museums and the monastery. On the second day we took off with our vehicles. The drives were between about 30 km (19 miles) and about 400 km (250 miles) per day. We could ask the driver to stop anytime we wanted to take pictures. We drove south after leaving Ulaan Baatar and reached the Gobi desert after two days of driving. On the way we stopped at Bayanzag Els, the Flaming Cliffs. These are spectacular red sandstone formations. In this area many dinosaur fossils have been found.
We stayed in the Gobi Nature Reserve in Yolyn Am for 2 days. This is where we saw the Ibex and Argali sheep. There was much more wildlife in the Gobi desert that I expected. It is mostly not a sand desert, just very sparse vegetation. From there we drove to Khongoryn Els, the giant sand dune. From there we headed north again to the site of one of the destroyed monasteries. A two day excursion to the north-west into the Orkhon valley in the central part of Mongolia brought us through alpine areas with plenty of rivers, and the largest waterfall in Mongolia (it is not really that big compared with waterfalls in other countries).
The Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From there we drove back east to Kharakhorum (Kharkhorin), the ancient capital of Mongolia, founded by Genghis Khan. In Kharakhorum is Erdene Zuu Hiid, Mongolia's largest monastery and one of the three monasteries that the Russians spared. It is surrounded by a wall with 108 stupas (108 being a lucky number in Buddhism). It was founded in the late 16th century.
From there we drove west to Tsetserleg, one of the larger cities in Mongolia, and then to Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, the White Lake, where we stayed for a couple of days. This is where we had the most miserable weather. From there we drove further north past Moron to Lake Khovsgol, where stayed three days. This is a spectacular lake, certainly worth visiting. From Lake Khovsgol we drove back to Moron and took a local flight back to Ulaan Baatar.
I divided the pictures in two parts: