Baga Gazryn Chuulu – Looks prettier than I expected. Unfortunately we don’t actually see it. But about that later. There may be more than a few insects in the Bayar Bulag ger camp, and the shower is really a joke (but it’s still a shower), but there is also a very good-looking indigenous bartender. Arguably the best looking local man I have so far seen. Girls, definitely worth stopping by for an eye candy.
Right, so there supposedly is a ruined monastery and a sacred spring somewhere around here. I ask the nice young man for directions, and he points where to drive. As soon as we get into the car, dear Tsogtoo starts driving in the opposite direction with devastating confidence. I have no more strength to argue with him anymore. Compensation: we see a couple of steppe eagles (or maybe the same eagle twice) along the way. After an hour we get back to the village where we started from the previous day, and we agree that it’s better to drive on to Hustai National Park than to look for another ruined monastery for the next three (if not four) hours. At least it’s on paved road, so there is a slight chance we may actually get there.
But Tsogtoo is yet to unfold the best of his repertoire. We stop for lunch in a nice looking restaurant some 300 metres from the main road. Actually change that. We stop at a restaurant that looks like it has a wifi. Thank God a brought my book, because the two gentlemen spend the lunch staring on their cellphones and not saying a word. We were warned that the service was going to be slow, because the chef has a day off, and I suspect it’s the owner cooking. I go out to take a look around the surrounding park. There is a Mongolian family having a barbecue. I say hi to them, and about 30s later, they give me a huge bowl of roast lamb and some gherkins and they gesture that I have to bring it to my friends. It’s the best piece of meat that I’ve had since I’m in this country.
When we finally leave the restaurant, I am still absorbed in my book and don’t pay attention. When I look back up, we are in the middle of nowhere, or precisely, we are in a middle of something that looks like a military shooting range after the joint exercise of all battalions. Tsogtoo has clearly been unable to retreat the 300m back to the paved road. It’s raining and there is mud everywhere, and I warn them that if we remain stuck, I am not getting out of the car. Tsogtoo pretends he has everything under control, and only when we arrive to the end of the dirt (mud) road, he nonchalantly says something that I believe means that he’s trying to convince us that there normally is a road, but it’s raining too much to go there. Yeah, as if.
We get to Hustai around 6 in the evening amid universal flood. We learn that the park is closed to public due to the state of the roads, but we decide to stay overnight, because there is no point in going anywhere else, and my magic Norwegian weather site insists that the rain will stop during the night and promises sun for the next day.
The Norwegians were (of course) right and we wake up to a lovely sunny morning and the park is open. Hustai National Park is famous for being a sanctuary of wild takhi, the Przewalski horse, drove to extinction in the second half of the 20th century by poachers, and reintroduced to wilderness by joint effort of many european ZOOs at the end of the century. There are now around 300 wild horses in Hustai, along with wolves, steppe and golden eagles, wild goats, foxes and about a million marmots.
The park is now self-financed, therefore the entrance fee is expensive compared to other parks (T18.000 – so still cheap for western standards), and includes a free guide – basically a guy with a binocular who makes sure people stick to the trails (200 dollars fine if you don’t and a ranger sees you, but I am more worried that our Tsogtoo may actually wander off the trail without the intention of doing so). Our guide tells us a few words about the history of the park, and proudly points out that “takhi” means respect in Mongolian, because the Mongolians respect the wild horse. I swallow a bitter remark that had it been for all the mongolian respect, there would be no takhi left in Mongolia. Shortly after we drive into the core area of the park, we come across a small group of horses – a breeding harem consisting of a stallion and three mares – about 300 metres from us. After about 20 minutes, our guide announces that “let’s go”. So we ask “go where?”, and he replies that “we were sooooo lucky to have seen the horses from sooooo close, so now let’s go back to the camp”. We say that we want to stay in the park and that we are willing to hike back, if necessary, but there is no way we are leaving after an hour. He eventually agrees to take us to a site of ancient stone monuments in the southern part of the park. On our way, we see 4 more groups for takhi, and one of them from some 20 m.
We spend the afternoon driving to the Gorkh-Terelj national park, which goes without incidents, Tsogtoo has apparently been there before. The park is some km from UB, and it’s the obvious weekend destination for the citizens of the capital. The landscape is beautiful. Unfortunately they seem to have every intention to destroy it by building all kinds of resorts, finishing the money halfway through the construction, and abandoning the torso to its destiny.
Most tourists (Mongolian and foreign) who go to G-T park just go to see the turtle rock, then “horse trek” for about 2 km to the monastery at the end of the valley and go back to UB. It is possible to hike in the park, there are several destinations that can be reached on foot, but the treks are long (several nights), and you have to carry everything with you, while we only have one day. We camp in Terelj village, which is only about 10 km away from the turtle rock. After having consulted the map, I am convinced it is possible to hike to the Turtle rock from the village through the woods, arriving to the monastery from the north. I was also right, and I think that what we did is repeatable, provided it’s not raining and you’re fairly fit and don’t suffer from vertigo. A GPS device and a compass may be a good idea, too.
Instructions for our DIY trek: Go to the end of Terelj village, where the paved road becomes dirt road and turns left. There is a large meadow on your left, with a stream running across it. Follow the stream up into a valley for roughly 2 – 2.5 hours. There is a path, not always clearly visible, but it’s there. You will eventually come to the end of the treeline, and you will see another valley in front of you, with rocky formations on the other side of it. Do not descend, turn right and follow the treeline, keep the same altitude. After roughly 45 minutes the valley closes and you will arrive to a narrow pass which will offer you a breathtaking view over the entire park, the monastery deep below you, and the Turtle rock visible in the distance. The descend is the difficult thing. It is quite short, but very steep, especially the first bit, and there is no path, so be very very careful. Once you reach the temple, the rest is a piece of cake.
Evening incident: as I am trying to dry the tent in the sun (as we will not be using it anymore), one of the four calves grazing in the garden comes to explore it, and decides to pee all over it. This night we sleep in a ger that has a stove, and I can confirm that shit is definitely flammable, because the lady of the house uses it to keep the fire alive, and it burns and heats better than wood.
August 22 – 23
Nothing much happens. We get back to UB, the weather is disgusting and prevents us from doing anything sensible. We go out in the evening with a girl Jimmy had met on his flight to Mongolia. She brings some friends, all of them employees of the Kempinski hotel, and they take us to the hotel bar. We spend the night sipping lovely cocktails prepared by Scotland’s own bartender Phil and 50% employee discount makes it even a cheap night out. Jimmy leaves on the following morning, while I spend the day doing sweet f-all, and conclude my Mongolian adventure with a dinner with Hishgee (the owner of the agency) and her sister at Hishgee’s home.