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. 
 Tsogoo
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. 
Shukhee
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

5 comments:

  1. Is that Mongolian? Anyhow, I asked the camel guys about the ruins that you mentioned south of Olzii Bilegt, the place I visited on my last camel trip (you also send me a map of this area). They say these are ruins of an old army base, not of a monastery. They insist there were no monasteries in this part of the Gobi. There are ruins of a monastery near Aj Bogd Uul, in western Gov-Altai, they say.

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  2. It's Mongolian. A bastardized English version of Mongolian "hurrai", you dolt. ;)

    Old army base, huh? So, they fed and clothed tens or hundreds of smelly gunhos in the middle of nowhere? Will I be finding old vintage sabres, guns or even maybe bows and arrows over there? Maybe, so. It was labeled "balgas" which means literally "ruins". No other clarifications were made. Anyway, are you interested in more maps? If you do, just give me the arcs and degrees.

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  3. catsup?, hehe. cunning. are you some hundred years old?

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  4. Oh, that “huzzah.” You were not moving your arms back and forth so I could not tell what you meant.

    All I know about the ruins is what the camel guys told me. They claim they have been to the ruins. I said it was an army base but I meant a border patrol post. There are still border patrol posts in this area. I needed a restricted border area permit to go there.

    The catsup (ketchup), like the jam and candies, was for my translator. The herdsmen like it too. I never use catsup myself.

    One hundred years old? That’s a little too obtuse for me. Must be a Seventh Dimension reference.

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