Well, it has really been a while since I updated Trekaholics – being busy, getting poor internet reception, being dazzled by returning to the first world, etc. We are nearing the end of our around the world adventure, still enjoying every minute though. I had some time to reread the journal and refresh my memory of overseas adventures, and I am excited to get back to sharing the stories and pictures with everyone. So, returning to late June…..
After our excursion in Terelj, we regrouped in Ulanbaatar and got ready for the big journey to the north of Mongolia, to Lake Khovsgol, an ancient and pristine glacial lake in a nationally protected area larger than that of Yellowstone National Park. We travelled first to the nearby town of Moron by bus. We were packed in tight with the locals – after the seats are sold they sell aisle spots, so it was definitely a full house. We drove along on the road for a while, but then the road runs out and we just barrel along over the bumpy ground – we had to hang on to our seats and each other to keep from falling off into the people next to us sitting on the floor. They stop every so often for everyone to use the “bathroom” (read: women on the right, men on the left, open air next to the bus), and once at a little restaurant for dinner. At these stops we got to know the only two other English speakers on the bus – Jeroen and Stephanie, from Zurich. While riding we got to enjoy the scenery – the endless steppe, green hills, blue skies, nomad ger camps, and countless grazing cattle, yak, sheep, goats, horses – unchanging, but so beautiful we never tired of it. All in it was an 18 hour journey to Moron.
Once in town we found some lunch with our new friends, then got to the business of bargaining for our ride to Khatgou, the town on Lake Khovsgol where we were headed. It took several hours but finally we came to a price everyone could agree upon and we squeezed 12 people into a minivan for another 3 hours of bumping along the steppe (including two or three episodes of the engine overheating) to reach the town. Here we stayed in another ger at a camp on the edge of the lake. We got to know the other guests – two from the US and one from Germany – and walked around the area a little. For both showers and laundry here we had to start a fire, carry in cold water from the outdoor tap, and boil it, so that was new for us and took us some time for sure!
Next day we got in some fishing and then walked down the road to meet up with our friends from the bus at their ger camp. Their place was a little more lively – seems like most European countries were represented there – and we stayed for a real Mongolian barbecue with some Chengis Khan beers and lots of everybody ribbing each other about their countries’ politics J. We also got some good insider tips for the upcoming European leg of the trek.
The real purpose of this excursion started the next morning, as the two of us set out hiking around the lake for three days of walking and camping. Of course this is not all the way around – visitors to Khovsgol frequently take 10 day horse treks to maybe get halfway around. Nonetheless we got to some breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding mountains and forests. Khovsgol is “little sister” to Russia’s Lake Baikal, the world’s purest and deepest lake (more on that to come), having been formed from the same glacier millions of years ago. The water is as turquoise in spots as if you were looking at the Caribbean, and deep dark blue in others, and set against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains and mainly untouched wilderness. In fact, on morning we woke to a puddle in our tent and realized it had snowed on us overnight! Jay managed to get a fire started for us with freezing fingers and wet wood to dry us and our things out, and we continued on. It warmed up in the sun and we went for a quick dip in the clear (and cold!) water. At times the mountain sloped right up to the lake, and we had some tricky footing to get through. Luckily, we had been adopted early on by a local dog, who was great at picking out the best path. He started walking along with us the first afternoon and stayed til the last morning – he was great company and we named him Buster so we could talk to him along the way. The scenery and the stars and being alone in such a wild beautiful place made for an experience like none other – of all the places we’ve been we really hope to return here one day.
Of course, there was the little matter left of the 22 hour return journey to Ulanbaatar – this time it was raining all night. We have no idea how these guys kept us on course in the dark, navigating around flooded valleys in the pouring rain, coming this close to sticking in deep mud countless times, but they were true road warriors and we were back safely to our hostel right on time, exhausted but happy.