Southern Gobi - July 30, 2015
Greetings Everyone from the Southern Gobi Desert...
Beautiful place. I'll have to add some pictures to this for sure. Perhaps a second photo post as well. Am now sitting outside my Ger. Beautiful day, although surprisingly enough, it started with rain this morning after raining on and off all last evening. But up here in the hills, the rain has only helped to make it that much more green. Quite the contrast to the dry basin I drove through yesterday on my way here, and which can still be seen off to the north. From here, I can look out over tomorrow's ride back north.
As advertised, the route here was (nearly) all paved. I've heard that it was only paved last year which might explain why it is not on any map or in the GPS. How can they pave so many miles so quickly? Hard to fathom. Anyway, I left UB on Thursday morning as planned, but following the GPS, quickly got onto dirt tracks only a few kilometers outside of town. I doubled back thinking I had missed a turn, and ran into Tim Cardin, a kid I had met in UB through Ken and Carol. He was one of the ones who had insisted that the road was paved. His phone app was also telling him that I had gone the right way and so we headed off together down the tracks and after 3 or 4 kilometers could see a paved road off in the distance. So we made for that and from then on to the town of Mandalgovi, about halfway to here, the road was beautiful. Tim was headed farther that day, so we split up and I found a hotel in Mandalgovi. Not much to the town, a very dry, dusty place, but the hotel had a decent enough restaurant so I could grab some dinner... rice and veggies... very tasty. And a hot shower as long as you let the water run long enough.
So in the morning, I headed out of town and again following the GPS, got onto a dirt track. The dirt tracks are just braided routes... some more travelled than others, and very difficult to see which is really the "main" road. Figuring that this was just a replay of the day before, I followed the GPS for maybe 7 or 8 kms but absolutely saw no indication of it turning into a paved road. I had left a paved road back in town at the proper turnoff, but the GPS just showed that paved road dead-ending west of town, i.e., the wrong direction. Well, this was a puzzle as a couple of people had told me that they had followed pavement all the way to Dalhanzagad in the southern Gobi... another 400 km or so. So I poked around a bit, east, west, whatever, but never did see pavement. So I headed back into town somewhat discouraged. I was not about to head off across the Gobi alone with a litre-and-a-half of water. But then it occurred to me that there is no reason that a new road would follow the old track, particularly as the old track did not go through any towns. Assuming that the new road could have been relocated, I got back on the paved road heading west, and sure enough, after a while, it began to turn south. I rode right off the roads on the GPS and out into "unmapped" country. Woohoo! So it seems that the new road really followed what my paper map shows as a primitive track linking a bunch of small towns (makes sense) and did not follow the historical route from Mandalgovi to Dalhanzagad.
So it was a great road. Straight as an arrow in many places for mile after mile, but so nice I could just ride and daydream. And as for the Gobi, it was for the most part, quite green. I was surprised, but I've been told that this is the wettest year in Mongolia for the last 10, so maybe things are staying greener longer. It was only the last 75 miles or so north of Dalhanzagad that the road dropped into a hot dry basin and the true Gobi showed it's colors. I'm used to seeing heards of cows, sheep and even horses wandering around on the roads, but as I got closer to one herd... I realized it was camels. No camel herder about... just a crowd of two-humpers wandering free on the road. I stopped in the middle of them... they didn't seem to mind at all. Just stared at me and kept munching bits of grass along the road. Gads they're ugly things. Their faces look like they've had too much plastic surgery.
So I got into Dalhanzagad late afternoon, but really wanted to head on out to here, about another 40 kms west. This place, Yallin Am, is up in the mountains a bit, in a national park. The park has many features including some fantastic 100+ meter-high sand dunes farther west, but here, there's a gorge that harbors ice all year. Amazing. I'm in the Gobi, but there is still ice. Guess this place just gets horrific winters and the mountain gorges fill with snow. The canyon walls are so sheer that little sunlight if any gets in and so ice can survive till almost the end of summer. Anyway, I wandered here again using the GPS and after arriving at the park entrance, used some sleeping hand-signals to the guy at the gate and he pointed me off to these gers. Luckily there was a young tourist couple who could help with the translation. He spoke English and German, his girlfriend could speak German and Mongolian, and so I talked to him in English, he translated into German for his girlfriend and she then translated into Mongolian for the ger owners. I seem to have gotten a ger to myself for the grand sum of $6/night. Such a deal! No amenities at all, however. No water, nothing. Pit toilet, the floor of which is two boards... one for each foot. Requires some balance skills and believe me, you do not want to fall in!
Cooked dinner last night and hit the bed early. I ached all over for some reason and the bed didn't exactly help. I think the mattress must be a horse-hair pad. Hard as a rock. Also the ger has the distinct odor of dung. Not surprising since there is a large galvanized bucket of the stuff over in the corner... not that round gers actually have corners. But it is clear that someone has been out collecting the stuff. Just part of the daily chores I guess.
So I woke up early. What a peaceful spot. Truly, there was not a sound. If I listened closely, I could hear a single chirp of a bird or pika every once in a while, but that's it. Great place for meditation if you're so inclined. Walked up over the hills. Glorious Mongolian scenery. It's a place that makes one feel very grateful.
I eventually wandered over to a group of gers just inside the park entrance that sell some things. Pretty funny. 10 AM and while the doors were wide open, all the shop owners were sound asleep on the floors. Things start late in Mongolia I've found. Finally at 11, I found a shop with some water and a live owner. Coffee-making time! I have coffee stuff. Finally tracked down some stove gas at a camping store in UB, and bought some sweetened cream in a tube that doesn't require refrigeration. Water, instant coffee and sweetened cream. That's all I need. Glorious.
So after "breakfast", I entered the park (the guy lifts the gate... why a gate?) and drove about 10 km to the end of a dirt and gravel road and to the beginning of a trail that went into the gorge. About an hour's walk in. And sure enough, ice. What an anachronism. Just seemed so out of place. Anyway, I collected a small souvenir that Arthur had asked me for (sorry to spoil the surprise Arthur), and came back. Lots of pictures. Also colleted a souvenir myself. There was a young kid and his dad, both stone carvers. The father's work was unbelieveable... very detailed animals carved from local Gobi stone. Unfortunately, they'd never survive the trip home. But the kid was learning at his dad's knee and so I bought a piece of his work, a relief on a small slab. Very cool.
So I'm here one more night, then reverse the ride back to UB. I'll spend tomorrow night back in Mandalgovi, then perhaps back to the Oasis in UB for a night ot two. Then up north to Kovsghul Lake on my way back to Russia. Then the big left turn. I can't believe it is already August. I have so far yet to go, I'd better get moving.
Bike is running well, back is borderline seizing all the time. Just hit the pain killers and press on.
Interesting thing about the Mongolians. I've heard that because of the wide open space and no trees to squat behind, that privacy is a big thing here. Guess that doesn't apply to tourists. They don't mean any harm, but it is a bit disconcerting to come out and find someone sitting on your bike or tweaking with this or that. It's a bother if they reset your trip meter and you use it for judging your fuel. I don't chase them off or say anything. Just stand there and make sure they don't do anything nasty. Like today a guy started to jump on the kickstarter. Had to tell him no as it was in gear and doing so would make it lurch forward off the stand and fall over. Just dumb stuff like that. So I just stand there and eventually they wander off. Just a thing here that I haven't seen elsewhere. But it is virtually universal. Everyone does it.