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Friday 20 July 2007

alpine feelings near the Khovsgol lake

I spend a whole day in Möron to recover from this long trek in the Mongolian nature. I landed by chance in a warm-hearted place which is called Bata's Guesthouse.
In this province capital city that counts up a little more than 35000 people, the houses are a set of rickety buildings. The villagers don't have current water and they supply themselves from a few public spots. So, they carried all the water we use in the guesthouse in tanks. And if you want to take a hot shower, you must ask the owner. He will light a fire to warm the watertank. The prices are particularly low since we can sleep for less than 3€ and you can order a handmade pasta and mutton meal for 1€ exactly.
The village is of no tourist interest except being the departure point to the Khatgal village on the shore of the Khovsgol lake, 3h northward by jeep. Some people take the advantage of being here to arrange a trip up to the white lake, the Tsataans' land. Tsataans people are a sort of nomadic ethnic minority that live from the reindeer breeding. A special authorization is necessary to approach them and the nomadism is the only thing in common they share with the Mongolians. Their housing looks like a tepee and throughout the year, they move seeking for a specific grass for their reindeers. This animal provides them with the meat and the skin and can be used to carry various things for their frequent moving.
I satisfy myself with staying in the Khatgal village and enjoying the alpine scenery of the lake. A lot of people compare it to the little bit northern Baikal lake. The crystal-clear waters and the shimmering reflection at sunrise attract a lot of tourists. Mainly Mongolians coming from Ulan Baatar who camp on the lake shore with the family.

The ecosystem is endemic in this area. The several peaks, mounds and hills which surround the lake are covered in pine-trees forests. The landscapes remind me of the Alps at the summertime. I step a few hours on the West bank of the lake ; then, I climb one of the hill to get a view from above over the water area. Herds of yaks reside here, around the lake.

The next day, I go for a horseback riding with a guide on the other shore of the lake. We stop in several gers where the dwellers offer us the traditional hospitality. I really enjoy the "Tarag" (homemade yoghurt). A few lucky people have the opportunity to go round the lake by horseriding, Other ones will prefer the kayak.

In the guesthouse, I meet a breton couple who are members of a French-Mongolian friendship association and through this association, members can buy a ger, made in Mongolia and delivered in France by container ship. Several choices are possible, from the furnishing to the surface area. And for 5000€, you can live in a cosy Mongolian atmosphere at the bottom of the garden. For the association's website (in French), here is the link : www.avelnomad.org
After contemplating this invigorating and inspiring nature, I go back to Moron before flying back to Ulan Baatar. The Mongolian loop is over. The day after tomorrow, I'm taking the transmongolian train to live the tribulations of a Frenchman in China. A wonderful experience ends and the trip goes on.

Saturday 14 July 2007

adventures in the Mongolian nature (part 3)

if you want to read the beginning of the story, click here for Part 1 or here for Part 2 ...

At the beginning of my 6th trekking day, my pace gets slower and my blisters hurt me. At the end of the morning, a young Mongolian who brags astride his horse tackles me while I drag my painful feet. He will be the only real trouble throughout this expedition. He puts his horse in front of me and prevents me from going forward, he tries to open my bag and seizes the rope I hold my horse with. The situation starts to aggravate until we reach a herd of goats watched by one of his brother. I make him laugh and he enjoys looking at me, embarrassed. I finally offer him to walk back and to have a drink in his ger. When we arrive, his behaviour changes completely. His family and above all his father are kind and happy to share a bit of their time with a foreigner.

The situation has calmed down when I start again. Despite everything, I'm in a hurry to move away to forget this episode. But before climbing the hill which faces me, I hear the young braggart arriving at a gallop followed by another one of his brothers. This time, he wants to buy my horse. His calmer, elder brother understands I won't sell my horse and calm down his younger brother. At last, I leave the place and walk for a long time to camp as far as possible.

The next day, in the morning as I go on the side of the mountain, the spectre of the day before comes back when I see two young horsemen approaching. But, both of them have the kindness that characterizes the famous Mongolian hospitality.

I suffer and it's a pleasure to stop at the neighbouring house. In exchange for the usual photos, the family invites me for the lunch and for a rest.

I'll finally stay up to the next day in the morning. We watch together the wrestling final of the Naadam festival broadcasted on television. It's perhaps the main sport event of the year in Mongolia. In spite of the distance, every ger or house possesses an enormous satellite dish which lays down on the ground. The electricity is supplied by batteries which ones are loaded by a solar panel, a windmill or a generator. The anachronism of the solar panel laid down on the white cloth of the ger is fabulous. I give my fishing pole I haven't used yet. We improvise a fishing course in the middle of the steppes. Every member of the family I hardly know for a few hours adopted me and takes care of me as if I belong to the family.
Early in the morning, after warmly thanking them for their hospitality, I pack up my stuffs and start walking along the river.
The path is harder and harder and the rain complicates my progress, I've sometimes no other choice than walking into the river. The horse slips on the stones of the river bank. That's here, close to a green, hard-to-reach field, I take off its tie and drop the rope. I free my companion. I wish it delights a few days of freedom before he's probably captured. I disappear in the land of stones that erects in front of the river. The walk is rough in this unexplored, footprintless area.

After several hours, I begin to go down on the other slope of the hill. I reach a Ider Gol tributary where I sit down, exhausted. A few Mongolians tackle me and looking at my state of tiredom, invite me at their house. The atmosphear is warm and relaxed. It's here I decide to finish my trek.

I show all the different gears I carry in my backpack in front of the admiring eyes of about ten Mongolians. I feel well here, they cook an excellent dish for me and I prepare one of my freeze-dried meal with the boiled water coming from the camping stove. 2 of them share a "rice and fish in a provencal sauce" and they find it savoury.

The next day in the morning, I go to Tomorbulag by motorbike. Then, I take a jeep that drops me off in Möron. Did you know we could be 15 in a jeep?

In spite of the physical difficulty, the undernourishment and the loneliness, this adventure will have shown me virtues such as the mutual support, the hospitality and the pleasure of sharing are essential not to say vital. Communication problems ang cultural differences didn't scratch the happiness I lived with these families of the steppes. My heart will keep these smiles and this joie de vivre for a long long time.

Tuesday 10 July 2007

adventures in the Mongolian nature (part 2)

if you want to read the beginning of the story, click here for Part 1 ...

I dismantle the tent, I pack up my bag, I untie Minimor (That's the name I gave to my horse) and I start walking towards an unknown land formed by huge spaces and where the man doesn't have a hold over it. I climb the mound on my left and compare the relief with the drawn one on my map. My only need will be to find water for the next days. I walk down the hill and head for the north. The green moor invites to walk and gives my horse an appetite. The ground is flat, immense, sometimes shapes by a stream whose waters run to the lake. A stream forces me to take my shoes off and a nice Mongolian helps me to cross it.

Behind the hill that thwarts the flat nature of the place, the steppe plunges into the horizon for about ten kilometers. A lot of animals graze. Every family possesses herds of sheep, goats, yaks and horses which wander freely on these pastures. The green carpet which unrolls under my feet seems endless and each of my step breaks the serenity of innumerable grasshoppers.

On my left, a stream splits the meadow and will be my water supplier for the next two days. It's only at the end of the day the steppe dies on the foothill. This wood-topped hill will shelter me for the night.

Then, the course goes uphill following a gentle slope, before going down to the valley. I walk along the bush-flanked stream in this rougher scenario thant the day before. At the bottom of the valley, the ground is half-marshy, bikers and 4x4 cars encourage me and stay puzzled about the roles of each one in our duet. The horse seems relaxed when I'm weighed down with the bag. I see children who ride their horses with a stunning ease. As their motorized kind, they are intrigued by our strange duet.

The river shapes gorgeous landscapes which would make the happiness of several campsites.

I opt for a small clearing on the right bank. The slide of the water invigorates me. Before the nightfall, a bunch of friends stop on the other bank and invite me to share a bottle of vodka. One of them is a wrestler and will compete in the Naadam festival, the next 11th and 12th of july. These two days will be the national holiday.

He kindly threatens me to throw me into the river if I don't down the vodka in one gulp. I soak the lips and grimace. In front of my face, his girlfriend grabs the bottle and knocks back a glassful of vodka. When the bottle is empty, the cheerful team mounts the motos and disappears in the darkness.

The third day, I cross the village of Jagarlant which is the beginning of my walk alongside the main Ider Gol river. I make the mistake to cross the river without taking off my shoes and walk on for several hours with the wet feet. Nothing worst to have blisters. As soon as I stop, I delight in looking at the horse greedily grazing the thick grass we walk on. In the evening, each one has his meal, green grass for the quadruped and freeze-dried food for me.

From the fourth day, the hills which mark out the river become more and more lifeless and monotonous, two only green strips frame the river twists.

A little bit tired and thinking I better know my horse, I try to sit astride it with my bag on the shoulders. It just doesn't want and escapes. A Mongolian horseman brings it back to me and I reach the conclusion that this horse won't be another thing than a companion for the rest of the trek, what is still a marvellous experience. In the evening, I stop in a Mongolian ger for the first time. In exchange for their hospitality composed of salted tea and very hard goat cheese, I take photos. Some people don their most beautiful clothes for the ceremony.

Just before the nightfall, I start walking again, declining their offer to stay here for the night, I say the way is still long as an excuse. Before setting up the tent, a moto stops and despite the difficulty to communicate, one of the biker explains to me he remembers me. He saw me a few days before wandering about the lake with my horse and my heavy backpack. Hard to pass unnoticed!

My trek carries on alongside the river. I make my mind to leave the saddle behind a rock and start again my slow pace eastwards. Where I put up the tent, takhis (Przewalski horses) drink. I broke the calmness and they disappear behind the mound looking for a more peaceful place.


click here to read Part 3 ...

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