21 Days In Mongolia

Day 14:

It was another cold night and it got to about 3 degrees in the tent but frost outside.  I had to have both the blankets over me in the night to keep warm.  We rose late which was good. Up at 8am then eggs for breakfast, whilst the tents dried out. We were on the road for 9.40am. We didn’t realise how close we had been to Moron, but when we crossed the "field” where we had spent the night and turned the corner, we more or less hit a proper road and could see the town of Moron ahead.

We arrived in Moron and it was dusty. Paul went to the market buying goods for the next 3 days as we were off to Lake Khovsgol on the Siberian border. We bought snacks but people here didn’t seem as friendly as previous towns.  We later thought that the reason may have been because people thought we were Russian.    We all went in to the black market, but it was early and had just opened.  We saw sheep/goats and cow heads for sale but decided against that.  However we were rather tempted by the intestine bought by the length.  Some people bought fleeces (£2) and new jackets/coats in anticipation.  We could have bought quite a wardrobe there.

We were surprised by how many "Western” goods we could buy.  Nescafe, Swiss chocolate.  The big difference in Mongolia is that it is fresh food that is scarce.  The markets sell butter, cream, mutton etc from bowls on a large table as there are no fridges in the Mongolian countryside..

The locals, we noticed, all over Mongolia ate nuts as snacks and it dawned on us, as we bought some, that they were pine nuts. I had often used pine nuts at home for cooking and never really thought about what they looked like before they had been shelled and blanched!

Like every under developed country we’d been to there were the street dogs and puppies.  However, in Moron, they didn’t appear scabby like other countries, which was a great sight. The children carried pails of water from the wells as the men sat around on motorbikes and in vans.  The houses were fenced in to small areas perhaps 100mx100m.  About 28000 people inhabit Moron and something I had noticed more and more in the last few days was that gers were getting less and small log cabins were in their place.  This, I was told, was due to the fact that there are many more trees in the north and therefore logs are in abundance.

It was warm day again. The drivers told us that they were really surprised at how mild the weather was for the time of year. They had been expecting snow at Lake Khovsgol but now wondered whether we would be lucky.  I noticed that when we saw cows lying down in Mongolia, it didn’t mean that it was going to rain!

We left Moron at 11.30am and stopped for lunch at 1pm.  We were so used to spending long lengths of time in the van by now that three hours soon passed.  After lunch, we assumed, as the itinerary had suggested it, that we would buy a sheep (live) in order to eat it the next day and eat a traditional Mongolian mutton meal.  However there was some disagreement between various people as although no-one seemed totally against the idea (even the vegetarians) what some people were not happy about was the fact that we were going to transport the sheep in one of vans with us for a couple of hours.  This, we expected, would scare the sheep a great deal and it just seemed unnecessary to carry this all out for what was just a meal.  We were also finding it difficult to purchase a sheep.  Different nomadic people had different days on when they would and wouldn’t sell livestock, due to them making adjustments to their headcount and what they had allowed for etc.  This was even more poignant as the winter would soon be upon them and they needed to keep their headcount accurate.  Therefore, it was becoming a time consuming activity and we were all aware that we still had to get to our camping spot, set up camp and people just wanted to get a move on.  So Paul made the decision not to purchase a sheep and see if we could get one the next day, nearer to the camp.

The journey after this was bouncy but we saw some great scenery.  We stopped to see the lake from a view point at 1930m and the local yaks.  It was very cold when we got out of the van and I started to worry as I knew that if it was going to be this cold for the next three days then I wasn’t going to be happy.  However, once we all climbed back in to the van again we started to descend and drive towards our camp spot for the next 2 nights.  Nestled next to the great lake and in between a small clearing in the trees that hugged the shore line, we found the perfect spot and once we climbed out of the vans we realised that it was warmer than it had been at 1930m. 

Lake Khovsgol is 136km in circumference, 36km across at its widest point and 262m deep.  It can provide 1-2% of the world’s clean water.  It is usually frozen from January until May with 120cm of ice and sometimes does not completely thaw until June.  This allows huge trucks carrying fuel across to Siberia to cross, using the frozen lake as a short cut.   However, the practice was officially prohibited in the 1980’s (but it still carries on regardless) due to leaking oil polluting the lake. Around 40 trucks have fallen through the ice over the years. The lake had a shoreline in the north which we could see was surrounded by mountains which were capped in snow.  They were a long way away however.  Lake Khovsgol is the deepest lake in central Asia and geologically speaking, it is the younger sibling of Siberia’s Lake Baikal, only 195m to the north east.

A big black cloud started to loom but we managed to put the tents up before it started to rain.  We prepared our dinner, under some tarpaulin that we strung from a few trees. It was a little worrying as a couple of the locals (and locals were sparse) who had come to see what we were doing, told the drivers that it had been snowing.  The rain eventually fell throughout dinner but only for ten minutes and the big and very dark cloud just skimmed the shoreline and stayed over the lake.  We were blessed with a wonderful view however, the view over the lake seemed to have 3 shades of blue to it, clouds so full of rain they were a deep black/blue in colour, the sky which wasn’t covered by cloud was a deep blue in colour whilst the lake was a clear blue.

Soon after dinner we started on the vodka.  Andy and a few others had built a good fire.  About 12 of us managed to make our way through 10 bottles of vodka.  Apparently we all had fun but I personally can’t remember much about it!!  The good thing however, was that I slept like a log that night and was really cosy – but that was down to Andrew making sure I made it in to my sleeping bag and him wrapping me up in my blankets.  I could tell more stories about this night, but I think some things are better left untold…

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