great landscapes and some disappointments in Western Mongolia

Although I would have planned to visit Mongolia without using a plane, I decided to fly there, because I was running out of time (would have been a 3-4 day trip by bus in one direction) and the planned itinerary sounded quite good to me. In those eight days it would have been planned to do a 4-day trekking in the Altai Tavan Bogd Nationalpark and visiting some Kazakh families.

Start was last monday in the Golden Gobi Hostel with a transport to Ulan Bator airport. Alma, our guide was already in the hostel waiting with me for Oliver, our tour companion from Vienna, who was quite late, but although we got stuck in a traffic jam, we catched our plane to Khovd.
After a unspectacular 2.5 hour flight with a Fokker 50, we arrived in the biggest city of western mongolia, where we got picked up by our driver Amra and his co-driver Hatna. We had lunch in a small restaurant and got some delicous Khushuur (meet pies) and Buuz (meat dumplings). After that we went to a super market to fill up our supplies. When we were back in the car again, Alma told us, that there is currently Naadam, the national mongolian festival, going on outside the city, where we would stop by. When arriving there we saw lots of people gathering around a pitch, where the wrestling competition was going on. We were quite fascinated from the whole scenery, the wrestlers and their clothes. One hour later it was time to leave the competitions and move on to the mountains, where we should sleep at one of Alma‘s uncles, who was an eagle master, which means that he has trained an eagle, with whom he goes hunting. This is one of the traditions the Kazakh people is famous for. His daughter was a 13-year old girl who started last year learning all the necessary things for getting an eagle master. This is quite unusual, as so far there is only one female eagle master all around the world, who is living in Kazakhastan. On our arrival we got invited for tea and later also dinner. The night we were sleeping together with the familiy in their biggest ger. They also had some other guests. A group of an israeli photographer and two american film makers were currently doing a documentary about the girl.
Under the mongolian sun at an altitude of more then 2000m we left the family quite early towards Olgii, where we needed to get the permit to be allowed to visit the National Park. As none of the responsible persons was available due to some training, we decided to go to the market and have something to eat outside the city. The market itself was great. Hardly anything that reminded us of being in mongolian. Everywhere, mostly older, Kazakh people doing their business, cows and other animals walking through the market,…
Finally, after two more hours of waiting, we received the permit and could continue our driver up in the mountains, where we arrived after crossing several rivers and going up several mountains in the evening. The familiy of the ranger of the national park was living just next to the entrance, where we have been invited for tea on our arrival. Later we had dinner in our ger and were talking to some people who set up their tents next to us.
The next we were supposed to have a horse or a camel, who should carry our stuff up to the base camp of Mount Malchin, a 3800m high peak at the top of Mongolia. Unfortunately all the families up in the mountains, where about to go to some bigger wedding down in the valley and no animals for carrying were available. Instead our guide told us the „good“ news that we got a special permit from the ranger to be able to drive up to the glacier. So somewhere between the National Park entry and the glacier our mongolian tourguides told us, that this would be a good place for setting up our tents and start our tour from there. As I was already sick of sitting in the car and hanging out with the others, I packed my camera in the afternoon and went for a three hour hike to explorer the surroundings before dinner.
The next day Alma offered us that she wouldn‘t join our hike and told me where I could find the Mt Malchin. Either it was missunderstanding, or just a very bad description of the directions, I went towards the wrong glacier and was far away from the mountain. I went up some parts of the glacier, took some pics and was just happy to be in the mountains, although I would have liked to hike up the Malchin, which was supposed to be quite an easy one. One my way back there was one mountain on the left side, which looked quite easy. Unfortunately I was running out of time and when I was back at our place, Alma should tell me later, that this would have been the mountain. Quite disappointed I left together with the others the mountain range back to the National Park entry. I wanted to do some hiking, so I decided to walk down the 2-3 hours, which was really great.
On my arrival at the Park Ranger‘s family, our plans changed again: As one of his daughter spilled some hot oil on her feet, Oliver and Alma decided to stay at the ranger‘s family for one night and bring her daughter to the hospital in Olgii the next day. That additional afternoon we spent most of the time just with relaxing, reading and drinking tea at the ranger‘s ger. When having tea the ranger offered us (i.e. me, because the others didn’t drink any alcohol) some vodka.
The next day we drove down the 7 hours to Olgii, brought the ranger‘s daughter to the hospital and afterwards to some relatives and after filling up our supplies, we went outside the city to search for a sleeping place. Amra, our driver, who‘s origin was in the Gobi, wanted to sleep next to some river, when we were going through a valley. Millions of mosquitos made as going through that valley and searching for a different place. Finally we found a good spot in one of the vast plains, still with some mosquitos, but not too bad. Our mongolian team made some delicious Khushuur for dinner.
The next day we were driving to Uureg Nuur, a very beautiful freshwater lake near the russian border. We just came out of the lake as some guys from the mongolian border patrol were stopping by and one of those guys wanted us to show him, how to swim, because he has never seen this. After a short demonstration of swimming, we went back in the car again to search for some family, where we could spend the night. After a short drive we were lucky and found us sitting in a ger with a family and having some tea. After dinner we were playing cards with our landlord and he offered us some vodka as well. The last victory of the evening was mine.
After a night full of different sounds of goats, cows and camels, who were sleeping around the ger, our last day of the trip started. We were told the day before that it was only a 3 hour drive to the airport, where we had our flight in the evening and we would spend the day more or less in or around the city of Ulaangom. As I have seen on some map, that there was a lake, the Uvs Nuur, close to the city, I asked Alma in the morning how far it would be to drive there. Her answer was 300km. After a short stop in the mountains we arrived around 11am in Ulaangom, where we went to a supermarket and bought some stuff for lunch. As it was quite hot, I asked Alma again if we could drive to the lake. Her answer this time was no, because it‘s still 60km. After lunch between cows and oil raffineries she told us, that we would go the lake, were we arrived after a 30 minutes drive. The lake, which contained almost as much salt as the Baltic sea, was a bit muddy, but nevertheless a good refreshment and it was still better to stay here then in the hot city. After having a relaxed afternoon we were driving to the airport, where we had to wait for another couple of hours, because our flight was delayed. Exhausted and tired we arrived at 2am in Ulanbator where we got picked up and were brought to a hostel.
Although the trip offered us great landscapes and all the hospitality from the Kazakh families, I was quite disappointed at the end. Ending up with a guy that is totally different then yourself, complaining about everything and every day it turned more out that he is a real prick is one thing, but getting wrong informations, no itinerary, promises from the hostel, which were never fulfilled is another thing when paying so much money for a trip. For me it was a clear – final – lesson, that organized trips are nothing for me. Beforehand I heard only positive and good thing about their trips, but in the end the disappointment was quite big.

2 thoughts on “great landscapes and some disappointments in Western Mongolia”

  1. mei steve,
    es is a geschenk, dass du so a ausgezeichnete doku machst und v.a. so tolle pics…
    so super, was du alles erlebst – das sind alles stimmungsbilder aus einer phantastischen reisereportage, bei der einen einfach nur die sehnsucht packt.
    und hey, your english is very good 🙂

    bussl & lg an den jurtentroll von den
    3en von der festung 😉

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