Posts Tagged ‘Mongolia’

Mongolia to China the Bulgan Gol – Tashiken

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

We packed up the tent and started pushing our last few kms in Mongolia, i was still happy to be free again and excited to be crossing this particular boarder.  I had wanted to cross this for over a year and now it was open and i was free to cross it.  I was excited and smiling to myself as we got closer.  We had probably done only about 5km when a white car pulled up in front of us and a familiar face got out.  It was our driver, he was a passenger in the car that was actually a taxi going to the border.  The driver of this car and our old driver explained that the border was closing in just under an hour and would be closed for a week because of the Chinese holiday.  This was a tricky and funny situation, on the one had he could be after more money, on the other had he could be telling the truth.  We know that China do have some long holidays and the government does shut down during this time.

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It was an easy decision really, although it would cost us £10, we could not risk being stuck here for a week.  We quickly packed the car up and i was fuming all the way there as i had lost my freedom again and was pretty sure that the border was not going to be shut, but we could not risk it.

We arrived at the border and spent 2 hours waiting for lunch to finish.  We had missed the morning entry and the border was not closing that day.  I put it down to experience, and Liz and I spent the time designing our house that we want to build when we get back.  The border guards were friendly and we chatted with them for a bit until eventually we were let through.

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We cycled the bikes to the main building and were directed to an office and asked to wait.  Eventually a guy turned up and looked all our paperwork over, he made a few calls and 30 minutes later we were on our way.  We crossed the line and were greeted by a friendly Chinese face.  We were now by the bag check point, we leant the bikes against the wall of the office and we had all our bags checked.  They were quite thorough but polite and nice throughout.  Once this was done we went to the passenger terminal and put all our bags through the scanner.  Our passports were scanned by a small machine and our entry cards were printed for us.  We moved to the next desk got our entry stamp and opened the door, we were back in China.

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We cycled a few kms down the lovely smooth road and had a light late lunch before heading to the town of Tashiken.  We cycled around the town looking for the bank, after a loop we ended up at a hotel.  We checked with the staff at the hotel, no bank in the town and it was not really clear where the next bank was.  The friendly staff told us there were buses and taxis going to Urumqi for reasonable costs.  We decided to cycle out of town to camp and work out what to do.

We had the equivalent of £30 on us,  it was just enough to get to Urumqi that was about 600km if we were careful.  Liz really wanted to have a wash and sleep in a bed and was worried about the time it would take to get to Urumqi, as she had to start work and we had no power on the laptops.  The other issue we had was my bike was down one spoke and my rear hub was moving from side to side.

I was super keen to get back on the bike but Liz was ready for a break so we discussed the option of me cycling to Urumqi alone and Liz getting a taxi.  We had some food and got some rest.  We were both excited to be back in China but kicking ourselves for not be a bit more prepared.  Tomorrow would be a new day and things would work out, as they tend to do.

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Tariat and The White lake “Tsagaan Nuur”

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Staying at Tunga’s was great. Our room was basically a big room attached to her house like a garage might be, with a separate door. There were two small narrow beds with an interesting mattress arrangement, wooden planks of wood and layers of fabrics and wool on top. But with our roll mats and sleeping bags on top it was fine. There was no bathroom and an outside pit toilet. It suited us as we could bring all our stuff inside and the bikes too. The fire was fantastic and Tunga brought us hot water, yak’s cheese and tea bags.  Later on a Czech guy called Chekhov, arrived and he was given a mattress on the floor. He was really nice and we spent two days together at Tunga’s place, swapping stories and talking about China, where he is headed next.

We arranged to go horse-riding at the lake and shared a bumpy jeep ride to the lake where we would collect the horses and a guide. The White Lake has a story, “according to legend the lake was formed when an elderly couple forget to cap a well after fetching water. The valley was flooded until a local hero shot a nearby mountain top with his arrow and shorn top covered the well, becoming an island in the lake.“ The lake is frozen and white for most of the year, which is where is gets it’s name from.

A big group of horses was brought down from the mountains and before we would go riding, they wanted to brand 3 of the stallions and the foals. This was ok to begin with and watching them make the fire and prepare everything was interesting. Tunga explained that it was good luck to do this before someone leaves to go on a  journey. However getting the horses to the ground in order to brand them with a hot iron seemed to be difficult and it took several men and ropes to haul the animal down to the ground. It all seemed very aggressive and at times cruel. I decided not to watch and went away to the edge of the lake. Mongolians have lived with horses for as long as they can remember and value them highly, so I shouldn’t judge how how they choose to treat their animals and manage them. Horses here are semi wild and therefore less cooperative than full tamed horses, however i guess i was expecting the men to have a better relationship with their horses, where the horse might trust them or submit more easily.

This took a couple of hours and we were definitely back on Mongolian time – they say 11am but really it will be 1 or 2pm before you actually leave! We tried to relax and be patient and eventually we got to ride our horses.

It was Checkov’s first time on a horse and he was a little nervous. He is quite tall and Mongolian horses are quite small and stocky, and the saddles are small too, so it wasn’t the most comfortable set up for him. We set off and it was great to be riding horses in Mongolia!

Chris and I rode together at times and my horse seemed to copy whatever his did, which was good as Chris’s horse was far more inclined to canter than mine, who needed a bit of encouragement. We managed to trot a lot and had a few canters across the hills. By 4pm we were all a little sore and the weather had changed, with more snow arriving. We rode back to the village with the snow falling all around us.

It was a great experience and I would definitely like to come back to Mongolia and do a trip on horseback one day.

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Sand tracks to snow tracks!

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

After 2 days of very cold weather and snow, it brightened up again, and despite being very cosy and happy at Fairfield guesthouse, we knew we couldn’t stay forever!  I did however, stock up on two big slabs of chocolate cake and 2 slices of carrot cake, which I decided we would definitely appreciate once we were 50km down the road! We bought the next lot of supplies, fresh bread, cheese and coffee, not knowing if we’d find it in the next town, and then got on the road. We knew there was a big pass to climb almost immediately and no sooner than we  turned back onto the main road, it started going up. The tarmac ran out, and once again we were on gravel .

Tsetserleg is surrounded by mountains, with craggy outcrops, and pine trees cover the hill tops, giving it a very alpine feeling. So the snow we had had seemed pretty apt. Today was bright and sunny, but some snow still remained. As we climbed we were surrounded by trees and it was very beautiful, although extremely steep in places.

We reached the top and began coming down, this was even steeper with lots of loose gravel, so we both took it easy, not wanting to skid too much or come flying off – getting gravel grazes on this stuff would be very sore! I’ve decided that riding a bike downhill on loose gravel is a lot like skiing down a piste that is icy in places. In fact there are a lot of similarities with skiing, both require concentration and focus, along with confidence and nerve. You have to choose your route and look ahead, but also you have to not think about the actual movement too much and let your body do it, trusting the skis/bike underneath you.

Finally it levelled out and we were able to release the brakes and enjoy whizzing down the final bit. We stopped for lunch near the river and tucked into the first of our supplies. It’s always nice one the first day you leave, as everything seems so plentiful and fresh. Lunch at the moment is cheese sandwiches with apple slices, some biscuits and coffee. A group of yaks sauntered over as we were packing up. I do like yaks, they walk like long haired, old hippies and remind me of the puppets in the Sound of Music, cos their heads seem to be a long way from their bodies, bobbing up and down as they walk.

From here it was 20km to the next town Ihktamir and I was confident we would fly along now and get there in now time, but as we rounded a bend a strong headwind hit us and it seemed to take forever to cycle that 20km. We reached the town and decided to camp near the river, not before having more food (yes cyclists are always hungry!) as a nice little cafe by the roadside.

Chris wasn’t too sure about being by the river as there were a number of gers around and it was quite open, despite a few trees. We cycled over to have a look and came across a group of kids by the river. They rushed over to see us and one of the lads was very keen to have a go on my bike. So I let him after showing him the brakes and holding the bike whilst he got going. He managed a few metres before turning too sharply and coming off, he was laughing and shaking his head, eager to have a another go. All the kids wanted a go and they asked us to take the bags off, so in the end we decided to camp there and unloaded the bikes. The kids did a few more circuits, before their grandmother arrived and telling them it was time to go back home. She was very nice and interested in what we were doing and concerned about where we would sleep. We put the tent up and showed her our sleeping bags and rollmats etc, so she was happy by then that we would be ok.

After they left we had a nice relaxing time by the river, ate the chocolate cake and watched the sunset, before crawling into our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we face another big climb up pass number 2 – Shar Bulagiin pass.

The next day we climbed for long time, with a side/headwind to contend with again. We took it steady and kept going, but it was hard work. Towards the end I got off and pushed up to top, before sitting down in a heap to rest. Looking forward to a nice long downhill, we were disappointed to go a little way down only to go back up again. The nice road ended as we met the road builders resurfacing, we tried to go around the edges but one guy seemed adamant that we couldn’t get passed and told us to go up on the dirt track above. We did this but it was really bumpy and up and down, we think he told us to go there for a joke as there was another lower track on the other side that seemed smooth and much easier. Once passed them, we decided to swap sides and get off this silly track. As we did this, Chris went down into a shallow ditch and somehow his derailer got bashed and ended up getting caught on one of his spokes, jamming everything.

We stopped and unloaded his bike as it was really jammed. We then spent an hour or two trying to fix it and get it to run well enough for Chris to cycle. However it was bent out of place meaning the chain wouldn’t run smoothly and on some gears it slipped off the cogs. Eventually we got it working well enough and carried on, but with Chris unable to use his lowest gears. Finally we saw the real downhill and enjoyed a few kms cruising down dirt tracks in the late afternoon sun.

As we reached the valley floor we saw some gers in the distance. We wanted to camp somewhere along here but also wanted to get as far as we could before it got dark, to make up for lost time. However as we passed the gers, one of the men beckoned us over, waving his arm towards him. We decided to stop and say hi. We were invited into his ger and given Su tet sai (milk tea) and a plate of cheesy dairy products was offered to us. One was like clotted cream and was delicious, I picked up a hard piece of what i thought was cheese, but struggled to bite into it and sat there nibbling it like a mouse!  We were then given horshor, which is a pancake filled with mutton and onion, we have had lots of horshor, but these were really lovely. We thought we ought to be going and didn’t want to out stay our welcome, but then more food was brought and we joined the family as they shared their dinner. It was fresh sheep meat and we were given slices of meat with big chunks of fat either side, liver, kidney and intestine filled with blood sausage meat (a bit like black pudding at home). It may not sound that nice, but for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed the liver and intestine sausage meat, it tasted nice! This was all served in a big bowl and we were passed various bits while the family dug in together. At the end the juice and stock was drank as a soup, which tasted amazing.  It was a great experience and we were happy to have been invited in.

We did leave though, just before it got dark and headed off down the valley. About 5 mins down the road Chris got a puncture – it really wasn’t his day today! So with the moon appearing in the sky and the temperature plummeting, he quickly changed it. But it really, really wasn’t his day and the new inner tube went flat instantaneously! Aggghhh!

In the end we changed it again and camped a few minutes later, putting the tent up in the dark! We were both full from all the meat and so we didn’t need to cook. We had a coffee and the carrot cake for pudding, Ah bliss!

Next day we had fun cycling along the valley floor for 15km with one river crossing to do along the way. The water was icy cold, but my feet were glad to see water and soon warmed up again.

We reached a small settlement called Dongol and rejoined the tarmac road, ready for pass number 3. Climbing steadily along a straight road, it didn’t seem to bad and i kept looking into the distance to see a steep climb. There were some huge birds flying overhead and i couldn’t help wondering if they might be eagles, they were massive. It was great watching them cycling in the sky, flying sideways on the wind and hovering above unsuspecting prey below. At 32km I could see an Ovoo and realised that we must be near the top, yet we hadn’t had a steep climb at all? I was smiling away to myself once i figured this out, 3 more kilometres and we’d be at the top, hurrah. I looked back and we were pretty high, but it was so gradual. Pretty sure that listening to Florence and the machine helped too.

We whizzed downhill, and then like yesterday started to go up again, blimey – is there no end to the hills in this place? Ahead of us was a really steep hill, straight up and then straight down, but too steep to cycle. So we pushed and pushed and at the top the heavens opened, with the wind rushing to join the fun.  We quickly pulled on our waterproofs and boots, before heading down. It turned out to be a really long downhill, but the wind was ferocious and made it very hard. After a few kms and cold rain, we decided to stop. It was late and we really wanted to enjoy this nice long  downhill rather than going into battle. Tired and hungry we pulled off and set up camp. It was an amazing view, as we were still so high, we could actually see mountains below us!

In the morning, I reached for our little titanium kettle, left in the porch of our tent, and the water in it was frozen! It had been pretty cold overnight. When we set off we were both wearing lots of layer and gloves – going downhill can be cold.

Not long after we set off, we passed a JCB digger along the road, tilted at a funny angle and the driver was slumped forward in his seat. The engine was still running, but he was not moving. We pulled over quickly, worried that he might have been taken ill or passed out. Chris approached and knocked on the window. The man woke up and seemed to be ok, giving us a thumbs up. He put the digger into gear, reversed a bit and then carried on. He must have fallen asleep – not the best thing to doing whilst on a mountain road driving a huge digger!

We continued downhill for a long time before reaching Chuulut Gorge and stopping for an early lunch. It was still cold and I was keen to go inside and warm up a bit. One lady beckoned us over and we went inside. It was toasty in there and we seemed to be in her front room, although it was technically a small restaurant. She cooked us up some fresh soup with meat and Tsiuvan for Chris. Basically flour and water dough, cut like pasta strands, with mutton. This is the backbone of each meal in Mongolia, if you are lucky you may get a few vegetables too, although it seems the further you get from UB the less veg you get.

We tried to find somewhere to buy water, but the shops were all closed. However Tariat was only 37km away so we thought we would be ok with what we had. As we headed off, we saw that there was a gorge to our right. So we stopped to check it out and found a ‘gorgeous’ (get it?) scene below us! It was lovely, with clear water, pine trees and rocks, all hidden from sight, like a mini paradise. Glad we stopped to have a look.

The gorge continued alongside us as we cycled and we wondered if there might be some information about it. But the only thing we saw was this old crumbling sign.

We were back on the dirt tracks again now and pushing on, hoping to reach Tariat and Tsagaan Nuur (The white lake). I had a sudden craving for some fudge and was day dreaming about a fudge shop in Christchurch, NZ. About 10 minutes later a 4×4 pulled alongside us and some people got out wanting to take our photo. They were very friendly and as they were leaving the woman gave us a handful of sweet each. Later on when stopped for a little rest, I open one of the sweets and guess what it was? Fudge!!!! How amazing is that? Really does make you wonder if there are bigger things at work sometimes.

The road climbed once again and a big hill took us a while to get up. This was swiftly followed by another big hill, but in the distance we could finally see Tariat. We were about 10km away and it was 5.30pm, so we could make it. The weather had other ideas though. As well as seeing Tariat we could also see big clouds forming and bad weather closing in. A little later, and it was all white – we could no longer see the town. As we continued downhill along the valley we realised it was snow! A few minutes later and we were cycling into a full on headwind with cold icy snow hitting us in the face. Er, time to stop I think, had enough now.  But we needed water to cook. There was a river marked 6km before the town but we couldn’t see it anywhere. It turned out to be just ahead of us in a small valley.

Both cold and ready to stop, we decided to camp by the river as it was a little more sheltered and away from the road. But was really cold and by the time we were in the tent and stripping off wet clothes, the snow had completely covered all the surrounding mountains. Crazy! Despite the snow being cold and not great for cycling – we can’t help but be a little excited. I can only think that it comes from a childhood in England where snow means a day off school, snow ball fights and sledging – it’s fun!

The next morning however we we both reluctant to get out of our sleeping bags and it was really cold outside. Chris made porridge, only to realise that what he had bought was not actually porridge! so we ate a few biscuits. We finally got packed up and ready to go when it started snowing again. We cycled along slowly and what were sandy tracks, now became white snowy tracks. We were warm as we cycled, but my toes were numb with cold.

It wasn’t very far to the town, but once there we struggled to see anywhere to stay despite knowing there was a guesthouse and a hotel. Buildings in Mongolia are not labelled and most are gloomy affairs with concrete or brick walls, one low closed door and windows if you are lucky. The lights will not be on and you literally have to go inside to figure out what might be in there. Luckily we managed to meet Tunga in her jeep, she runs a guesthouse and showed us the way. A very basic affair, but with a roaring hot stove we were warm and toasty in no time, and able to dry out our wet clothes. No wonder fire is sacred here in Mongolia.

So we made it 170km and now plan to spend a couple of days here to rest, go horse-riding and see the lake!

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Rain, hills and oh no!

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

It was still raining when we woke up and we both knew that sooner or later we would have to get up and put on yesterday’s wet clothes. I made coffee and porridge and we slowly packed up, hoping the rain might stop. It did eventually and we were able to pack up in dryish conditions although not for long. By the time we were ready to leave, the rain clouds were poised, ready for action.

Before we left Chris took it upon himself to check my brake pads, dunno why, but we both saw that they were very worn and needed replacing, we agreed to do it that night rather than stop now to do it.

So we set off and knew that we had a climb ahead of us, about 7km, the top of the hill was covered in low cloud and mist. As we cycled, two herdsmen came passed us with a group of horses, they came over to see us and we stopped briefly to chat. They were friendly and clearly thought we were mad. They rode up the hill keeping the horses in line as they went and we followed, more slowly on our bikes. We finally reached the top an hour later and had a short rest.

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It was raining more heavily and we both had on waterproofs. As we came down the hill we realised that there was another big one to go up in the distance. The mist and rain was hiding  most of the landscape and had we been able to see, we would have realised that what lay before us was simply rows and rows of mountains, with hills to go up and down!


We continued and were pretty pleased with ourselves, after the last few days of rubbish slow cycling on our part, we were doing well today despite the rain and hills (or maybe because of them?). We climbed one last huge hill and came down the other side looking to camp. We hadn’t seen anywhere to get water, so we filled up from a small pool of water near the road.


Finally as the low sun peeked out from behind the clouds, we pulled off to camp in a grassy, lush spot, full of colourful grasshoppers. It was quite  a nice evening now that the rain had stopped and it was nice to see the sun once again. Both damp, and with lots of soggy wet kit to get dry, we set about hanging everything to dry on our bikes.


Chris was going to give the bikes a once over and change my brake pads, while I cooked dinner. As I sat down I heard ‘oh f*#%!’ and I went over to see what was wrong. While cleaning his back wheel, Chris had discovered that the rim had a huge split in it. He’d been whizzing down those hills at speed today, he could have easily come off if it had given way. Thank goodness he’d found it now.


Unfortunately it meant we couldn’t ride on, Chris tried to see if he could swap the extra wheel for the back wheel, but they are too different to be interchanged, so that plan was abandoned. Looks like we will have to get a ride to Kharkhorin or Tsetserleg and try to buy a new rim there. Shame as we just got our mojo back today and were keen to keep going.

Hey ho!

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The Three Musketeers

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

We woke up to the sound of rain pattering on the tent and the wind still blowing outside, not the most inviting of  sounds for a cyclist.  However we started to get up and got the stove going to boil some water. It wasn’t long before we saw a small hand print pressing on the door of the tent. I opened up and there was a young man with his horse. It was still raining and all of our bags were piled up i the porch, so there wasn’t much room, but he managed to sit in the doorway. I made some coffee and we dug out some biscuits. he was very quiet and shy. We gave him our phrasebook which has pictures and Mongolian and English, he flicked through it but didn’t seem to know what to make of it and handed it back to us, as if he’d only looked at it to be polite. The rain eased and Chris and the guy moved outside to smoke a cigarette. Chris asked him if he was a herdsman and he said yes, we explained what we were doing and where were were going. He left shortly after and galloped off on his horse across the countryside.

We packed up and got on the road, feeling positive about the day ahead and the cool conditions…

We climbed a hill slowly, with a string side wind and then turned hoping the wind would be a tail wind now. It was, although very gusty and blowing hard. We were glad to be on the move and hoped to get at least 50km done today.

We were going along when suddenly two little puppies appeared on the other side of the road and started barking at us. As soon as they saw us moving they ran across the road to meet us. We stopped as they were in the road and there were cars coming, and we didn’t want them to chase us. As we stopped another one appeared. They were very cute and friendly, barking and running excitedly around the bikes. We cycled off slowly hoping they would stay behind, but no they were running right after us. So we carried on, surely they will get tired in a minute and give up. But no they were running alongside us now, in the road, keeping up with us. We were worried that they would get run over, so we decided to move onto the dirt road running alongside the main road. That way they could follow us without getting squashed or mashed.

We carried on a about 2km and they were still running behind us…

Hmmn what to do? Oh well they must get tired eventually. As we came to the top of a hill, 4 big dogs appeared ahead of us and started barking. We stopped. We weren’t sure if these dogs would be friendly to the three puppies and we didn’t really want a dog fight on our hands. Chris suggested we take them back to were we found them and try to get one of the gers to take them, they must belong to someone. Before that I tried leading them through a drainage tunnel that brought us out on the other side of the road. The puppies followed but I couldn’t get them to stay on that side and they just ran right after me back to where we started. So Chris unloaded his bike and left me with all his kit, then cycled off to the gers with the puppies. It was an hour later and I was still sat waiting. Then I heard a little bark. Hmmn, that sounded like one of the puppies! Then Chris appeared in the horizon with the three little ones still in tow.

None of the gers knew the dogs or wanted them. They must have been abandoned. Chris sat down for a rest and the puppies too, they were exhausted. The little brown one curled up between our legs and closed his eyes. Chris said the little black one had been yelping and crying ‘wait for me’ as he cycled back. Aw, they were only little and pretty skinny too. They all came up and cuddled up to us as we sat there, wondering what to do with them.

In the end we decided to cycle up the hill again and one of us would deal with the bigger dogs. We were both hungry and cold now so we needed to move. If the pups followed us then we would let them, but if we could find someone to take them then that would be better. As we reached the top, we saw there was a restaurant/cafe stop and the  dogs immediately ran over to the rubbish pit to start scavenging. The big dogs didn’t seem to be around. We went inside and had a really nice meal and milk tea. I scraped the left overs into a bag and gave them to the puppies before we left. There were lots of people around and they were distracted enough not to see us leaving,so we cycled off without them.

Bye bye puppies!

It was mid afternoon by now and we hadn’t got very far at all. We came to a small town called Lun and stopped to buy some more food. The shops didn’t sell very much through and we couldn’t find any vegetables or tins of met or tuna. This is the kind of town where people just ride up on their horses, tie ‘em up and go inside to do their shopping… feels a bit like the wild west!

We carried on for a bit longer, with the wind and rain in our faces. Both of us were feeling tired and Chris was really low on energy now. It seems that Chris has what I have and after every meal he has to dive in the bushes to go to the loo. I’m pretty sure whatever is making our stomachs ache is also sapping our energy. Despite the medication, I don’t seem to be getting any better. Our days seem to consist of us  talking about poo and how we are feeling (you can actually hear our stomachs making strange, gurgling noises!)  – you sure get to know each other well on a bike trip!

We turned right at the junction after the river crossing and pulled off the road to camp, amongst bushes and sand. There was a big climb ahead of us and neither of us had the energy to face it today. We stopped just in time, as the heavens opened and we rushed to get the tent up and get inside. We were asleep by 9.30pm, cosy inside the tent, as the rain continued to fall.

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