From Tsagaan Suvraga via Tsogttsetsii to Dalanzadgad
30.04.2017 - 02.05.2017 19 °C
Riding through the Mongolian steppe, we passed the winter camp of a nomad family. They were very busy. In spring time, they are shearing their camels. It was interesting to see how they got the camels to lay down and how they cut the dense fur by hand. We were surprised how many kids in school age were around. The explanation was easy: due to the heavy workload in spring, there are two weeks of school vacation such that the kids can help at home. Usually, the kids would be in boarding school in the next town – as distances are mostly by far too much as to cover them on a daily base.
We rode almost 100 km on nature tracks, Along the way, we passed several ovoos again and learned the quick way of asking for luck: instead of walking around it three times, three honks of the horn will do as well. And hopefully that guarantees not having an accident like one of the cars we came across in the steppe. What followed was a brief interlude of 30 km of excellent tarmac, after which we headed off onto another track. Unfortunately, that track turned out to be extremely worn and not suitable for fast traveling.
All of us were relieved about the break we had at a small well. There were camels, cattle and two large herds of sheep and goats. The nomads were making sure that the two herd didn’t mix. Otherwise that would mean a lot of effort to separate them again into the two groups – distinguished by the color of their horns. It was lots of fun to watch the thirsty animals trying to get to the water.
A bit further we stopped for lunch before the rattling on the bad track restarted. Eventually we reached the town of Tsogttsetsii where we got fuel and Amgaa had his tire exchanged at a small workshop.
We had covered already over 180km on partially bad tracks and were relieved that the remaining 160km would be on an asphalted toll-road. Well, we were wrong. After having driven for about 40 km on the asphalt road, we wished to go offroad onto a track. It turned out that the asphalt road was by far worse than anything we had driven on so far. A piece of acceptable asphalt was followed by large holes of more than 30cm depth that were distributed over the complete width of the road such that avoiding them was impossible. The road was absolutely destroyed by the countless trucks transporting coal, copper and gold from the mines either towards Ulaanbaatar or towards China.
After briefly assessing the situation and considering the fact that we’d need to come back on exactly that road again after having spent two days at a monastery, also dubbed ‘the world energy center’, we easily concluded that we were not keen on doing that at all. We’d rather skip that item on our tour program and spend more time at the others vs. having to endure a couple of hours of being shaken to the bones on that awful road.
Luckily, Oogii and Amgaa agreed to our proposal to head towards the center of the South-Gobi province, Dalanzadgad. As there were works going on to build a new train connection from the mines towards China, it turned out to be a bit difficult to find the turn off for the track towards the capital of the district of South-Gobi. And in the attempt of getting onto the right track, we suddenly found ourselves stuck in a river bed which seemed like a field of stones in soft sand. Even though our 4wd was still not operational, it took us just two attempts to get the Furgon unstuck and up outside of the river bed.
Soon afterwards, Amgaa had found the track towards Dalanzadgad and after a bit of driving we took a sharp right turn off the track for about a kilometer in order to find a secluded camping spot. We were protected in a small depression and had a nice view of the flats underneath us and the mountains behind. Camping in Mongolia is simply great!
And there’s one more thing that is great: seemingly there’s almost everywhere mobile reception. No matter in how remote areas we had been driving up to now, most of the time Oogii and Amgaa were able to make phone calls.
Right next to our campsite, Max and Sam found some wildlife. A small lizard seemed to be frozen in place and even the rare Mongolian gerbil proved not to be fast enough for them to have a closer look. After everyone had a look, they released it again next to its burrow.
It felt great to be at camp and not to be stuck in our Furgon any longer. Being in a great spot and not hearing any sound of human provenance anywhere around – that’s what we love. And as being outside in nature is the point of our travel in Mongolia and not necessarily checking one sight after the next, we felt great about our change in plans.
The next morning, we had 130 km of track to cover in order to reach the town of Dalanzadgad – the center of the Southern Gobi district. The track was good, but we continued to be amazed at the ease with which Amgaa decided at the various forks in the road which one of the tracks to take. For us they looked all the same – none more pronounced than the other and both of them looking as if they were going roughly into the same direction.
Amgaa was driving without any GPS or even a detailed map of the area. His explanation was that driving these tracks in Mongolia requires you to have a GPS in your mind. He is able with his sense of direction, the sun and a couple of landmarks to easily find his way from A to B. And should he miss a marker such as a well, the winter camp of some nomads or a specific hill shape, we’d know that he has strayed and would go into the right direction to just get back onto his original course. Wow… We’d be lost, that’s for sure!
We arrived in Dalanzadgad just in time for lunch and afterwards Amgaa dropped us at our hotel for the night. We had originally not foreseen to stay at any hotels during our tour, but Amgaa needed some time to get the 4wd of the Furgon fixed. He also wanted to investigate some other problems sorted, which might require getting spares delivered from Ulaanbaatar which could then only be fixed the next morning.
We were happy as well about this plot and did not mind having a place with a shower after a couple of nights of camping. The hotel Ongi Tov offered everything we needed: a clean and big bed and a bathroom, but in fact it was nothing special – well except if you’re in dire need of a toothbrush or condoms… In that case, you’d be thrilled about the excellent features of the hotel.
Exploring town in the intent of shopping at a supermarket proved to be dustier than expected. About 100m after leaving the hotel, we got caught in the middle of a small dust devil and the laboriously washed hair was dusty once again.
We soon located the supermarket and were surprised about the presence of military personnel from various countries. Seemingly an international conference was taking place in town during that week and we had been lucky to even still get a room in a hotel. A day later the town would have been cut off for tourism and we would have needed to make a large detour around it.
The remainder of the day we spent in our hotel room. Max was delighted to be allowed to watch some TV, while we enjoyed having power to recharge our electronic equipment and to use the wifi for uploading another article for the blog. The only bad news was that that evening also marked the death of our mobile phone. Let’s see if we’ll be able to get its black screen fixed in Ulaanbaatar. But for the next two weeks, we’d live without the pleasures of checking and marking our GPS position on the map, making videos and quick snapshots or simply using it to read eBooks or to let Max listen to audio stories. All of that is no disaster. After all, before this journey we had not even possessed a smartphone. Still, specifically for the long stretches of driving, we would now not be able to keep Max as easily entertained as we had imagined.
Amgaa picked us up the next day with his newly repaired Furgon. Thanks to a couple of spare parts he had especially delivered from Ulaanbaatar, the 4wd and a couple of other issues had now been fixed and we were ready to hit the road again.