Today we began one of the longest trips we have made in our Russian Van consisting of over 300 km on our Mongolia adventure. This does not sound like much of a trip, but what doesn't sound like much, can sometimes be very deceiving. Our first stop was the Orkhon Waterfalls.
Orkhon Waterfall On
Our Mongolia Adventure
We start the day with a visit to the Orkhon Waterfall or Ulaan Tsutgalan in Mongolian. The waterfall is not large, only dropping around 25 meters. What is fascinating is that the waterfall drops into a crack created by a volcano millions of years ago. The waterfall is spectacular when there has been a lot of rain. We have had more than the usual rainfall lately, so it is actually roaring when it drops. The area around the falls has many local totem poles. There are herds of wild horses grazing the nearby grasslands. The images of the falls can be striking when full of water as it is now.
Baisa (our driver) has arranged for us to caravan with several other Russian vans on our trip to the Blue Hot Springs. There is heavy rain in the area and it has been that way for some time. Of the six vans, we were to trek with only 1 showed up. We found out later that the other 5 vans had decided to cut their tours short and return to UB. They did not want to try the roads over the mountains or the deep river crossings.
Travel to The Blue Springs
We began retracing our tracks from the waterfall back to the bridge over the river. We traveled for some time through beautiful black and gold lava flows. Then we tried picking the smoothest routes, but over lava, there is not an easy way to go. We made it back to the river and crossed with our partner. At that time, he split off to continue his tour and we were once again on our own.
The path to the hot springs was wet and muddy. Many times the existing roads were impassible and Baisa had to make his own road. He started winding through the trees and forests in the mountains we crossed. The rain continued through part of the day but around lunch, we were able to break into the clear. We began crossing some of the more beautiful green meadows covered with wildflowers. We spent several hours crossing these before once again hitting more rain. Because of the rain, we experienced muddier roads.
Blue Hot Springs
Our goal for the day was the Tsenkher Hot Springs, a sulfur spring that emerges from the ground at a very hot 89C. The area has indoor and outdoor baths where the water comes in for whirlpools, saunas, and showers. This was the first warm water we encountered for five days and was a huge plus for us to finally feel clean.
That night we visited the Ger of our hosts to sample the fruits of the herds. The lady and her family have over 500 head of goats, horses, and yaks. She had every type of food and drink available from the milk of the different animals. We were going to be able to sample each and I am sure that I will not remember them all. Here are the most memorable ones for me.
Nomad Food and Drink
My favorite was a clear Vodka made from Yak milk. It looked and tasted like any other Vodka – only made from milk rather than potatoes. The next was the basic material that was used to make the curd and cheese. I liked this much better than the finished products, it was sweeter and had a cinnamon flavor.
Next on the list was the curd and fresh yogurt. The curds come from the different animal's milk and last the fermented mare's milk. This is a staple of the Mongolians and while a little sour was not as bad as many writers would lead you to believe. The lady passed it to Laurel in a large bowl, she sipped and went to pass it on. Not the Mongolian adventure way we expected. We each got our own large bowl. It is not bad and our hosts kept offering us more of everything. Finally, Oyuna (our guide) explained we could sample and then put a bowl down. We did not have to finish each bowl.
Meeting The Nomads
The next day we left the springs and headed further north to the lake and volcano. The roads on this leg of the trip were the worst we were to encounter. I could not believe the ability of the van to cope with the mud and deep ruts. We crossed a deep and fast flowing river to finally begin traveling on better roads. Next, we came upon a beautiful valley with over a thousand horses roaming free. We stopped at the Ger of one of the owners to visit.
While Oyuna stayed outside with the girls, Laurel and I were invited in to see his home. Once again given bowls of fermented mare's milk. The owner was one of the greatest breeders of racing horses in the area. His trophies and awards were a centerpiece of his Ger.
Inside A Nomads Ger
We had quite an honor from the host when he invited both Laurel and myself to share his ‘snuff' with him. He took a beautiful miniature green onyx bottle out of wrapping made of soft leather and offered it to me. I have never had snuff before and it was quite good. I took the top which had a small spoon attached to it and even took a second spoon, it was so nice in flavor.
At the end of our visit, we went to watch as he, his wife and their children milked some of the mares. The mares are all their wild horses that they find and bring in when they have the foals. The young horses are brought up to the female and allowed to drink. the wife replaces the baby and takes some of the milk from each of the mares while he or his son keep the foals close.
Saying our goodbyes we are back on the road and going to the volcano at the Great White Lake. The volcano has created a large lava flow that we have to once again pick our way across. The crater (called a ‘kettle') is not large but was a nice place for photos. We head up the pass and at the top, we have the lake on one side and the 3 kettles left by the volcano on the other. We head down the lakeside and crawl into our Gers dead tired and ready for a day of rest.
The Great White Lake
The Great White Lake stays frozen 9 months of the year and the ice gives it the White Lake name. It is one of the homes of migrating waterfowl and is quiet and peaceful. It made for a good place to wind down from the rough trip of the previous two days. One unique story is about a large rock on the shoreline. A girl that was promised in marriage to an older man. Rather than marry, she drowned herself in the lake. Her father paced the lake for days hoping for her return. After many years he turned into the stone rock on the shoreline.
Kharkhorin The Old Capitol
On Our Mongolia Adventure
The final stop on our tour was the visit to Kharkhorin. The great walled city constructed in the 13th century. This was an attempt to reunify the warring Mongolian chieftains by a Khan descendant. The attempt failed after time. A monastery built there around 1585 inside the walls and is one of the few that survived the Russian purge. Tomorrow we will conclude our trip and once again be in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
This is a great trip but not one I would recommend for children. The vans do not have seatbelts and while on the rough roads, we got tossed around quite a bit. We had to hang on to the sides to keep in our seats. You need to be ready for a huge dose of very rustic living. You will have almost no running water and a lack of privacy for the entire trip. HOWEVER! while the conditions are poor, the rewards you gain outweigh the inconveniences. The Mongolian people are warm, inviting and not like any other we have met on the road. They ask you for nothing and will share everything they have with you. The nomads of the steppes are a group we will never forget. That concluded our Mongolia Adventure and I know we will return to this place again.
After traveling to the Mongolian mountains, where to next?
Check out 72 Hours In Bejing