Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Camel Trip | Bayan Tooroi to Edrin Gov

We arrived at the oasis of Bayan Tooroi at five in the afternoon and promptly checked into a ger at the headquarters of the Gobi A Protected Area Administration, which manages a huge chunk of the central Gobi, including the part we were heading into. Mishigdorj, the head of the Protected Area, issued us permits and informed us that Sukhee, the preserve ranger who had accompanied me on my last trip, was available and could also go on this trip. Apparently now you are not allowed to take extended trips into the Protected Area unless you are accompanied by a ranger. This was fine with me. I knew Sukhee was a knowledgeable and experienced camel guy. He also told us that at least one of our camel men would have to carry a gun, since there were reports of rabid wolves in the area we will be traveling through. Five people had just recently been attacked by rabid wolves, including two children playing in front of their gers in broad daylight. 
Tooroi trees (Populus euphratica) which give Bayan Tooroi its name

From the Park Administration Headquarters we headed out to Tsogoo’s ger about sixteen kilmeters west of Bayan Tooroi, near the famous Eej Khairkhan Mountain. Meeting Tsogoo, we were now informed that he would be unable to go on the trip because of work he had to do connected with the Wild Camel Breeding Program ran by the Preserve Administration but that his older brother Duit would be able to go. He assured us that Brother Duit was an even more experienced camel man than himself. He also confirmed the story about the rabid wolves and added that just the night before a pack of apparently healthy wolves had killed a horse not far from his ger. Local herdsmen were planning to ambush the wolves if they came back again tonight. 

Some of our camels with the twin peaks of Eej Khairkhan (Mother Dearest) Mountain in the back. The mountain gets its name for its two mammary-like peaks. 
Camels. You can’t help but love them. 
Another view of Eej Khairkhan from near Tsogoo’s ger
Tsogoo also introduced us to his twenty-two daughter Solongo, who agreed to go along on the trip as cook and assistant camel wrangler. She had never cooked on an extended trip like this but her camel-handling skills were unquestioned.
The formidable Solongo brooked no nonsense from obstreperous camels

For our larder I bought a fat sheep and a equally fat goat from Tsogoo. The sheep would be made into shuuz, meat cut up into small pieces which was then semi-cooked and salted to preserve it.  This we would eat on the last seven days of the trip. On the first seven days we would eat the fresh goat meat, which spoils less easily than fresh sheep meat. 
Sister Dulya and Solongo preparing shuuz
After a couple of day of preparation we drove by jeep out Wild Camel Breeding Station about twenty kilometers southwest of Bayan Tooroi where we would actually begin our camel trip. Tsogoo and Brother Duit would bring the camels from their ger and met up with us here. There was a spring nearby known as Zakhyn Us and here we would also get water for the trip. The next place with water on our route was our destination, 178 kilometers to the south, so we would have to take along about 100 liters of water for the five or six days we needed to get there.  
Zakhyn Us, one of the few watering holes in this part of the Gobi

Our group ready to leave Zakhyn Us
Sister Dulya ready to ride (click on photo for enlargement)
Proceeding through the Edrin Mountains
Looking south from the southern edge of the Edrin Mountains
Starting across the Edrin Gov, south of the Edrin Mountains

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Camel Trip | UB to Bayan Tooroi

Around the end of September I was surprised by a call from my old friend Mojik, who I thought was in Switzerland. It turned out that she had returned to Ulaan Baatar two days before, and by coincident she had just gotten a call from a camel herder by the name of Tsogoo with whom she and I had done a Camel Trip Back in 2007. Tsogoo was in town and wanted to meet. A real Gobi Desert Camel Guy who seldom comes to the big city of Ulaan Baatar, he seemed like a fish out water (if that metaphor is appropriate for a Gobi Guy) when we finally met up at the open air Uzbek beer garden on the west side of the State Department Store. 
After some reminiscing about the 2007 camel ride, which featured a monumental Camel Stampede and a Bizarre Encounter with a Rare Gobi Bear (there are only about thirty-five of them in the world), Tsogoo asked if I was ever going to do another camel trip in the Gobi. Indeed, there was one Gobi trip I still wanted to do. On the 2007 trip I had retraced a section an old camel caravan route from Tsogt, in Gov-Altai Aimag, to Bayan Tooroi and Shar Khuls Oasis. This route continues on to the Fortress of the  Notorious Bandit and Warlord Dambijantsan in Gansu Province, China, and from there to Tibet. Various informants, including an old lama named Shukhee In The Town of Shinejinst in Bayankhongor Aimag, had told me of another route from Tsogt to Dambijantsan’s fortress which ran through the Atas Mountains west of the Shar Khuls Oasis. 
I asked Tsogoo if it was possible to follow this track south to at least the Atas Mountains. Tsogoo said he did not know why not. From Bayan Tooroi to the Atas Mountains and back would take about fourteen days by camel, he opined. So we made plans to met up in Bayan Tooroi on the edge of the Gobi Desert on or about October 1.

I soon signed up a woman named Dulya as camp boss and translator and on September 30 we winged west 520 miles to Altai, the capital of Gov-Altai Aimag and at 7096 feet the highest aimag capital in Mongolia.  Snow flurries were flying as we drove to town from the airport. We spent most of the afternoon shopping for supplies for the 14 day camel trip:

Potatoes: 15 Kilos
Onions: 3 Kilos
Carrots: 5 Kilos
Cabbage: 4 heads
Turnips: 2 Kilos
Sugar: 3 Kilos
Noodles: 5 Kilos
Rice: 5 Kilos
Flour: 14 Bags
Oil:  Five Liters
Salt:  Two Kilos
Catsup: One bottle
Jam and candies for Dulya

Meat, in the form of one sheep and one goat, I would buy on the hoof from Tsogoo in Bayan Tooroi. We then retired to the Tulga Altai Hotel, billed as the city’s finest. Unfortunately the hotel had no heat (and needless to say no hot water) so I spend the night in my sleeping bag with my winter deel thrown over it for good measure. The next morning at nine we started the long eight-hour drive south through the Biger Depression and on to Bayan Tooroi.
View from the Biger Depression