A trip thru grasslands to the historic and cultural center of Mongolia. Visits to the local Nadaam festival where real men can proof their superiority to anything else on this world.
Kharkhorin, 5th July
The proud capital of Arveikheer district. Not nicer than any other town we’ve seen so far. On 1 side the traditional timber houses with yurts in the garden. On the other side the rather modern CBD with rundown Soviet style apartment blocks and some slightly higher rising buildings nobody knows what they are for.
And of course a place of some interest for the lonely herdboy having spent the last 25 months all alone in his yurt just taking care of his 153 billy-goats.
Finally, also a gourmet place – the Irish Pub: the town’s ultimate watering hole combined with a delicious family diner. What a relief after all these sliced goat dinners.
After all these delicacies it’s time to say goodbye and head further towards Punta Arenas, Argentina. The next stop on this way is the Khögnö Khan Uul Nature Reserve some 170km away on a reasonable tarmac. On the way the opportunity to meet a rather smelly heavily loaded truck with sheep wool.
In the reserve a visit to the Erdiin Khambiin Khiid – a monastery also partly destroyed in the last century.
On to a sacred rock a few km further, …
… also giving shelter to some interesting wildlife.
And in the evening up on the mountain – the ultimate place for a view down to the valleys and at some distance to Mongol Els the largest field of sand dunes in the country.
Then time for the ultimate sun downer.
Tsetserleg, 8th July
The next morning back to the main road. On the way a short visit to Mongol Els.
Then on the paved road towards Kharkhorin. Another stop: Shank. 1 of the very few monasteries having survived the 1930ies Stalinist devastations. So, a unique opportunity to see some “original” buildings.
Thus a very lively and atmospheric place. Fortunately not on the priority list of all these organised tours.
A short drive to Kharkhorin. Dark clouds are again approaching; a thunderstorm seems to be not too far away. So we’re searching for a Ger Camp. Well, we need several attempts to find something payable and still acceptable. Somehow we’re lucky. The camp we find is brand new; even not finished. And as it’s still unknown it’s nearly empty. Or, maybe the camp rather serves as a money laundry. Who knows.
A look at the must-have-seen-sight: the Erdene Zuu Khiid. A monastery funded some 500 years ago, in the 1930 as usually heavily damaged by some ideologically determined Stalinists. Nevertheless, 3 temples survived. Nowadays they’re converted into a museum – even charging an entrance fee.
The whole site very touristy, not too much atmosphere, we’re not sure if it’s really worth a visit.
A look at the famous stone turtles, the only leftovers of the old Karakorum…
… then up on the hill to admire the nice view over the Orkho Valley …
… and the Great Mongolia Monument overlooking the proud and rather nondescript district capital of Kharkhorin.
And after all this it’s high time for a beer at Kharkhorin’s only French gourmet temple: Morin Jim’s Café. Well, rather for a beer than for more.
The next morning we move on to Tsetserleg. A litte over 100km on good tarmac.
We plan to stay a day at the Tsenkher Hot Springs outside Tsetsertleg. 20km on small tracks. Arriving there we discover an absolutely ugly place. The hot springs situated within some rundown, ugly or overprized Ger Camps. And extremely full with Mongies on their Nadaam leave. Here for the 1st time we realize that Nadaam is not just a spectacle in Ulaan Bataar organized by some travel agents keen to rip off tourists. Rather it’s a unique opportunity to travel for all Mongies living inside and outside their beloved country.
The landscape around the hot springs is quite nice, hilly with beautiful larch forests. We discover a high potential for a beautiful campsite. Unfortunately the whole area is extremely infested with all kind of flies – biting 1s and maybe non-biting 1s.
So we decide to return to Tsetserleg. We try the Fairfield GH, the place all non-Mongy tourists stay. Well, it’s not really our day. Fairfield is fully booked. The adjacent hotel has a room. Even if rather rundown we would take it. Unfortunately the lock doesn’t work. After having closed the door we need quite a while to get back into our room. Of course the staff fully understands our problem; unfortunately they haven’t the faintest clue on how to solve this problem. The 3rd hotel finally is ok. Less expensive than all others and as it’s rather new all is functioning. Curios which 1? It’s the OD Hotel – definitely spelled with 1 d.
Having dinner at the Fairfield GH we learn that tomorrow is the 2nd round of the Presidential elections. And therefore all shops and businesses will remain closed for 3 days. Rumours say that even beer may not be sold during this period. In a supermarket we find some modest signs eventually confirming this.
Further we learn that the day after tomorrow will be a local Nadaam, prior to a regional 2 days later. So some reasons to have a look at that spectacle.
Tsetserleg is definitely not a great urban center. Nevertheless not as depressive as other district capitals. Some old houses remain, the outskirts look quite colourful …
…and there’s the Zayan Gegesenil Süm – a monastery nowadays converted into a museum with not too stunning exhibits.
The next morning before entering the converted temple we have a look at the polling station. Very quiet. Next to nobody there. Maybe it’s the wrong time, or …
… whatever we go to the monastery-museum.
And finally slightly west of it an old active temple with some skulls under the roof not to be missed.
Terkhiin Zagaan Nuur, 9th July
Then the day of the local Nadaam. We find a detailed planning of the event. At the same time the warning that some flexibility may occur. No problem. As announced at 11am we’re in Tsetserleg’s stadium to experience the opening ceremony. Together with some other tourists we’re the only 1s. Fortunately we’ve seen earlier this morning some preparation in a field some km south of the town.
We go to this place – just in time for the speeches of the dignitaries. Lessons learned: remain flexible. Later some music, dances, wrestling, arching and horse races until we’re tired of watching.
Wanna know more of Tsetserleg’s Nadaam? Click here for some incredible pics of the guys trying hard to get their opponents ass lying on the grass.
In the afternoon we move on. Westwards to Terkhin Zagaar Nuur – the White Lake – 160km on tarmac to the village of Tariat.
Thru green valleys, later along the Chuluut Canon.
The last 20km on a stony track to the national park – just to test the car’s quality. Really lot of traffic. Seems all Ulaan Bataaries take their Nadaam holiday at the lake.
Finally we arrive. Everything looks pretty full. Lots of tents along the shore, many cars in front of the ger camps. But finally we find our Yurt – 1 of the last 1s. Not the nicest place to stay, but near to the lake.
At the shore 1000s of Ovos to keep all the spirits and dragons in the lake calm. The ultimate place for a sun downer – and to digest Tsetserleg’s Nadaam.
Of course, admiring Ovos is not the only sensation at the lake. They even have a volcano: Khorgo Uul. Not an active 1, but 1 you can still imagine how the plain below was covered with glowing magma, filling up the deep valley. And all the dinosaurs trying to escape the incredible heat of the lava stream. Finally, the whole valley filled up making a barrier for lake Terkhin Zagaar. Who knows if that was the reality long time ago. Maybe a Mongol businessman simply created the lake to attract all these Mongies during Nadaam holidays to come here and to buy his best quality fat-tail goats. Who knows all these facts and their alternatives?
We drive the short way to the volcano. On the way some encounters with these hippy-cows the locals call Yak and a little later we come to know about even more serious dangers.
Then we have to climb Khorgo Uul, it’s less than ½h. Together with a lot of Mongi-tourists.
Murun, 11th July
The next 2 days we’re on the road to Murun in Northern Mongolia. To avoid the tourist masses, we choose 1 of these small tracks leading some 200km thru the steppe, pastures, over several passes, over 1 of the very few bridges crossing Selenge River and finally reaching Murun.
On the way a look at the Deerstones in Jargalantiin Am.
But; rain and thunderstorm threaten. We’re afraid some riverbeds may fill with water and the surrounding might get muddy. The ideal conditions for a lengthy recovery festival with Prado in the centerpoint. Fortunately weather improves before getting too wet.
We approach the lost village of Erdene Mandal. Another Nadaam festival. Now on village level. Unfortunately we’re a little late at the horserace. So we just took the picture in honour of the last group arriving.
We continue on small tracks, crossing terrible bridges – even if Prado is pretty reluctant to trust the rotten wooden structure …
… late afternoon we find our campsite well above a valley, just in time for the sun downer.
Later a short visit of a herdboy and next morning of a herd of cows pretty astonished to find us on their grassing grounds.
On to Murun. Near the village of Rashaant the next local Nadaam. But now we’re on time to honour the winner of the race.
Then a last pass – now thru forest. We discover the 1st birches. Siberian Taiga is not far away.
A few km further the Selenge – Mongolia’s largest river. Fortunately we find the new bridge.
Then we’re back on the paved road. Some 60km to Murun remain.
And that’s it for now. Look for our very special experience during Mongolia’s Nadaam holidays in the next post.