The perfect spot

Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur Travel Blog

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In Ulaan Bataar, I teamed up with 2 Italians,Salvo and Gian-Luca. Through our guesthouse (Nassan`s), we arranged a minivan and driver to take us west, to the Great White Lake and back, for a week. The driver, Shaagaa, not only turned out to be an extremely nice guy, but also could speak English pretty well, so he also served as guide and translator. He will start his own business next summer, so if you are going to Mongolia then, leave me a note and I will give you his contact details. The scenery was amazing everywhere, and changed all the time, so it never got boring just to sit in the car and look out the window. Except for one night, when it was freezing and snowing (in august!), we camped. Mongolia is famous for being the best country in the world for camping, because nobody owns any land so you can pitch your tent anywhere you like, and because it is so beautiful and scarcely populated.

To make thing even sweeter, Shaagaa always knew the perfect spot, usually by a river or lake, so my Italian friends could fish. The fish they caught and prepared was a welcome change from the Mongolian diet, which consists of mutton, mutton and more mutton, with rice, noodles, or in "vegetable soup" (in Mongolia, vegetables=potatoes, and occasionally some carrots or cabbage); and various dairy products.

The first day we visited Kharbukhin Balgas, a ruined 17th-century monastery. Next to it was a tiny museum, where the guard took Mongolian hospitality very seriously, and offered us some artefacts as presents. Of course I tried to refuse, but in the end I didn`t want to offend him, so I am now the not-so-proud owner of a 400 yo golden cup. Perhaps some museum in Belgium will take it.

The second day we visited several gers (= round felt tents). You cannot believe how hospitable those people are, one can just turn up anywhere and demand food, drinks, or a bed/floor for the night. At first this confused us, we would ask Shaagaa "are these friends of yours?" and he`d tell us he`d never met those people before.

On the third day we finally reached the White Lake. It`s in a volcanic area, which offers some of the strangest scenery I`ve ever seen, and a volcano for us to climb. It`s about 2300 meters high, so I expected it to be a day`s hike, but once we got to the base we were allready so high up it only took 10 minutes. We had intended to stay at White Lke for 2 nights, but it was so cold and windy and snowy it was ideal for neither fishing nor hiking, so we decided to leave the next day and add an extra night en route to Kharkhorin.

Kharkhorin was the capital of the Mongol Empire in Ghenghis Khan`s day. Seeing the town today you`d never guess, and excavations have only just begun. The reason it`s nevertheless on most tourists` itineraries is the monastery of Erdene Zuu, Mongolia`s most important one, though I found Gandin Khiid in UB to be more impressive. Another attraction are a number of oddly carved rocks in the vicinity: I saw 2 big turtles and 1 giant penis (no, I`m not joking). They want to make Kharkhorin the future capital as well, but something needs to be done about the high unemployment rate first, not to mention the low semi-decent beer availability rate in its shops.

Before going back to the current capital, we ventured into a strange lunar landscape of arid mountains, where we camped near another, smaller, monastery for our last night.

Mongolia has exceeded my wildest expectations, and this was just my first trip away from UB, reports about 2 other excursions will follow soon.

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Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
photo by: Deats