The last couple of days have been ‘Challenging’, in this case it stands for a euphemism of ‘bloody hard’.
In Ulaanbaatar I teamed up with another rider, Neil from Adelaide. But only after ‘rewarding’ myself with the world-wide-travellers known Oasis Wiener schnitzel.
This ‘teaming-up’ turned out to be the right move. I strongly believe that it is dangerous to travel alone in Mongolia as soon as you leave the pavement. Keep in mind that about only 10% of all roads in Mongolia are paved, or sealed or asphalted … call it what you like, these roads are about Russian standards, sometimes better. Mongolia has, as Russia does, put $$$ into their road infrastructure and attempts to connect its major cities with the capital Ulaanbaatar. Therefore many roads leading out of UB are sealed ones.
The remaining 90% are ‘Piste’ I talked about before. What I have learnt to-date is that if you are not Toby Price or a hard-core off-road fan, these Pistes are most challenging, especially on a fully loaded bike. The surface is constantly changing. But of of this later.
Neil and I had intended to travel in the same direction: towards the border exit and re-entry into Russia in Mongolia’s far north-west.
So Saturday we had an easy ride to Kharakorum. This now a rather sleepy place, best known for its monastery, one of two which escaped the Stalinist purge and since independence has been rebuild. Now it is a tourist attraction for local and overseas people, however I saw more of the former.
The place was of interest to me as it is said that this monastery was built from stones of the ruined (thrice-sacked) former Mongolian Capital of the same name. This former capital ~1220 – 1260 was one of the Khan’s attempt to demonstrate an alternative to a nomad life-style. It is said to have been of incredible design and structures, established by the ‘intelligencia’ the Khan ‘brought home” (otherwise they would have had their head chopped off) from his raids into foreign country. Apparently a few travellers have seen this city and described it as ‘legendary’ at a level and even exceeding of any other well-known city of these times. Most famous is the Silver Tree sculptured by Guilaume Bouchier which sprouted wine upon Khan’s demand. The city is also ought to have unprecedented religious tolerance. Google for a while …..
Well, for me it was almost a little exciting to touch some of the stones in the monastery, especially the bottom placed one in the wall surrounding the monastery.
I took a guide receiving a better insight into this Mongolian Erdene Zuu -Yellow hat – Buddhist temple, one of three inside the compound.
The following days saw a change of scenery, more hills, sometimes gently rolling and covered in green pasture, herds of horses galloping – almost like in a movie – in the distance and young Foleys (foales) trying to keep up to their mother 😉
Camel herds, many still with their wool on their back, and finally Yaks! What a pleasant animal this seems to be. The way it jumps off the road when approaching and revving one’s engine looks rather funny and clumsy. Imaging a large shaggy dog, just bigger again, a floppy hairy bushed long tail, the head of a cow with a little sheep thrown in and a seemingly gentle nature. I’ve seen Yaks laying on the gras just like a dog stretching out comfortably on the floor. They look at you with curious interest and you just wanna walk over and give’em a pad. ….. I resisted though, getting westwards had priority.
Large green-covered valleys rolling along, even Fir-tree forests, just as if you were in the Otways (a mountain range in Victoria, Australia for all non Ozzie readers). Sometimes large rocks thrown in, goats herding along the cliffs – rather picturesque.
Along the road we met Jan, a dutchman riding a local (read: Chinese) 125 ccm motorcycle to interrupt his Trans Siberian train trip. Although Jan, or better his arse was complaining about the hard seat and slow progress. We kind-of arranged to meet for a beer in Kharakorum, but Jan probably stopped by the large sand dune (is that a tautology??), he had expressed interest in.
We ducked and weaved the rain, large black clouds threatening,
but always our road lead us into the more clear looking space. We also noticed the election was in full swing, close to voting day. The Mongolian Parliament has 76 members to be elected for a 4-year term. Noticeable is the high proportion of women, as the Electoral system prescribes an Affirmative-Action-like quota. Two major parties (National Democratic Party and Mongolia People’s Revolutionary Party) and an increasing amount of independent candidates vie for a seat. One evening we got – by coincidence – caught up in a victory celebration of the local aimag (district).
However, for me these past days have confirmed that I prefer the tarmac to the dirt! Too old for riding a heavy bike over sand, mud, stones, bull-dust (not over, rather “through”).
An ever-changing road surface keeps you absolutely focussed, not even able to glance left or right. Constant focus to avoid a rut or large hole or mountain of sand or roll-split. No fun for me doing this. Almost 700 kms of this type of road has filled my “off-road-inner-bucket” to overflow. Exhausting and aching everywhere, arriving coated in dust at the-one-and-only hotel in a small town, no shower, often not even a sink in the room and definitely the pleasure of using a drop-dunny without a seat, perhaps a thunderbox?? Soft-wipes are in big demand and I have learnt to perform a complete body-wash with no more than five sheets … well I like to believe that this IS a body-wash.
These little hotels are, in our western perspective, run-down with doubtful electrical work which Work Safe would instantly shut-down the entire building, creaking floorboards and interesting wall-hangings. I saw pencil sketches of medieval Germany in some …
But, I go with the flow, muttering in my undisciplined growing beard, smile and ask for a beer to drown my sorrow – naahhh, I am overstating this. In truth it is a basic life, dusty with the wind blowing almost without a break.
Now, I am in Ulaangom (google it) …
… found a hotel with a toilet, functioning shower with warm water, nice clean bed and a good-smelling kitchen.
Tomorrow off to the penultimate dirt-section. A ‘challenging” 100 kms through ~ 2500 meter above sea leavel elevated Piste. Wish me luck as thus far I dropped the bike only twice. Once I overestimated my ability to ride through bull-dust and the second, more minor glitch came when I tried to ride over a steep soil barrier, created by road-workers to prevent traffic on going onto a nearly finished road. We preferred this to the sand and most trying piste. Wish me luck.