After taking short trips to Selenge, Khustai and Terelj, it was finally time for my first big trip into the heart of Mongolia. Together with Henry, Bec, Jocie and Sarah, we were going to spend 10 days in the countryside, being driven around by guys from the excellent tour company 'Mongolia Experience'.
We started by taking a train from UB to Erdenet, from where we would continue on by Russian minivan, a car we soon nicknamed 'Ivan'. The train we took was as Russian as they come. Four people to a cabin, all sleeper compartments, with a samovar, washing basin and conductor on one end and a toilet and smoking room on the other.
The day before, we had been buying supplies for the trip, an amazing five large cardboard boxes of food filled to the brim and we were quite happy that we didn't need to bring those with us on the train, although I have seen families take much more on their trips from Russian city to Russian city. Apparently, Henry, myself and a big wrestler in the compartment next to ours were all big snorers and none of the girls really got a good night's sleep. The morning confusion resulting in the loss of Bec's sleeping bag, which was later replaced by blankets bought in the market of Moeroen.
Like most of the nights, we spent the first night under the stars, setting up camp close to 'Ikh Uul', or Big Mountain, next to the Selenge river which drains in lake Khovsgol. This summer is the wettest of, at least, the last five years and although Mongolians consider rain to be lucky, the lower temperatures and the wet days and nights we experienced didn't make us feel that lucky at all. However, the rains also resulted in the country's biggest waterfall to be very spectacular. Only three weeks ago, the waterfall still stood completely dry.
The next two nights we spent at lake Khovsgol, truly a very beautiful lake, although it doesn't completely match the beauty of Baikal, which I had the pleasure of seeing on my 1999 trip to Russia. The area around Khovsgol is very different from most of the country. Very wooded, mountainous, green and wet (the region gets, on average, 40cm of rain per year, the most in Mongolia), the area is amazing. And to make things even better, we didn't set up our tents but staid in an actual ger camp, complete with hot showers and, gasp, a sauna!
By this time, we had figured out the one annoying thing of this trip. Mongolia is big, really big, and to see some of the attractive sights, you have to drive. A lot. Over very, very, very bad roads. In the ten days, we totaled close to 2500km and although the paved roads occasionally allow for speeds over 70 km/h, most of the time we weren't going over 40 and many times even much slower. Salutes to our driver, Ugi, for being able to maneuver his UAZ van over the most difficult terrain. The bad roads mostly not even allowing for reading a book while driving, although we got more and more adept at keeping our reading material as steady as possible.