Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #4

After our late lunch we continue northwest up the valley of the Ikh Cöögt towards 8,550-foot Deed Khets Davaa. The snow-drift lined pass is broad and long, a miniature plateau actually, almost a mile long. Finally we come to an ovoo, seventy feet lower than the highest point of the pass, which overlooks the Buural Gol valley. From here we walk our horses down through a larch forest just over 1300 vertical feet to the banks of the Buural Gol, a major tributary of the Khoogin Gol, whose source is our next desination. The Buural Gol starts about five miles from here, just northwest of Belchir Uul.The Mungaragiin Gol, which we have just come from starts just to the west of Belchir Uul. Another river, the Delger Mörön, starts just south of Belchir Uul and flows southwestward to eventually combine with the Ider to form the Selenge Gol, Lake Baikal’s largest tributary. Thus at the base of Belchir Uul, the nexus of the knot of mountains we are in, begin rivers which flow both into both the Shishigt-Kyzyl-Khem-Yenisei and the Ider-Selenge-Angara-Yenisei branches of the Yenisei River System.
Looking up the Buural Gol Valley from the western end of Deed Khets Davaa (click on photos for enlargements)
Upper Buural Gol Valley
Beginning the descend into the valley of the Buural Gol
Looking toward the source of the Buural Gol. Belchir Uul is hidden between the ridges to the left.
It occurs to me that the area we are in might well qualify as the “Heart of Asia.” Now I admit that the epithet “the Heart of Asia” is much overworked. The seed of this chestnut might well be Sir Francis “Guns to Lhasa” Younghusband’s 1896 The Heart of a Continent.” It may have reached its full flowering in Nicholas Roerich’s 1929 Heart of Asia and continues to bloom in titles like The Lost Heart of Asia and The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia and The Heart of Asia: A History of Russian Turkestan and the Central Asian Khanates from the Earliest Times and Through the Heart of Asia: Over the Pamïr to India. If I had the time and inclination I could compile a list of dozens more books and articles which somehow manage to drag in the phrase “the heart of Asia.” Indeed, years ago I had made a silent vow that when writing about this area I would never, under any circumstances, resort to the phrase “the heart of Asia.” But if any place actually deserves the epithet “the heart of Asia”—or at least that part of Asia north of Himalayas—it is this knot of mountains centered around Belchir Uul. On its slopes begin rivers which feed both major branches of the Yenisei River System, the largest north-flowing river in the world and the main artery of northern Asia.

I am still ruminating on this as we head down the Buural Valley. Soon we come upon a hunter’s shelter made a logs where Batmönkh says we will stop for the night. Hunters from Ulaan Uul come here in winter time to hunt deer, he says. He himself has stayed here in his younger days, when he was an avid hunter, but he says that now he now longer hunts. Immediately claiming the shelter for myself I spread out my carpet and sleeping bag inside, then get a fire going up brew and up a much needed pot of Yunnan Black. Actually is it the time of the day for Formosa Oolong, but after the strenuous descent on foot from Deed Khets Davaa I thought something a bit more robust and reinvigorating was called for.

We all sit and drink tea as Nergui prepares dinner. She points out that I neglected to bring a spatula along with my cooking gear. She had been using the dipper as a spatula but it really was not satisfactory for her culinary endeavors. Not to worry, says Batmönkh, he will make a spatula. First he cuts out a foot-long section of a log with his axe, then splits the section in two. From one of the halves he splits off an inch-thick slab. This he roughly shapes with an axe. Then with one of my Xinjiang Black Steel Knives that he has taken a liking to (I had fortuitously put a razor-sharp edge on it using a Arkansas Whetstone back in UB) he carefully whittles a very serviceable spatula. Nergui is tickled pink with her new implement, which she quickly utilizes to cook up a big patch of tsuvin, or fried noodles with beef and vegetables.
Batmönkh concentrates on carving a new spatula
Batmönkh understandably proud of his new spatula. I now use it in the kitchen of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi.
Nergui making gambir—fried flat breads
Batmönkh and Yooton in the hunters’ shelter. I claimed it for the night.
Nergui emerging from her tent after a night of sound sleep
The next morning the peaks at the head of the valley are shrouded in gray clouds and mist and rain seems imminent. Batmönkh says we must hurry as it will probably snow on the pass and it could get real nasty by late afternoon.

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