Monday, January 8, 2024

Mongolia | Wanders in the Khentii Mountains of Mongolia | Onon Hot Springs

I have visited the Onon Hot Springs in the upper Onon Valley three times: once while on my first trip into the Khentiis in 1997; once while doing the Khora around the Burkhan Khamag of the Khamag Mongols; and yet again in 2007, when I made a trip to the springs for therapeutic purposes. The springs are famous for treating diseases and afflictions of the lower body: knees (mud packs taken from near the springs are especially good for knee joints), lower back pain, kidney and liver problems, and rheumatism and sore muscles in general. Zevgee wanted to treat his knees, which had become wobbly with the advancing years, I am concerned about my lower back, which had been acting up for the past several years. Zevgee’s wife, Tümen-Ölzii, had no specific ailments but just wanted to enjoy the rejuvenating effects of the springs. Zevgee’s son Batdorj and grandson Puntog would come along on a break from the daily chores of herding livestock and to help Zevgee with the horses.

Puntog, Zevgee, Batdorj, Tümen-Ölzii (click on photos for enlargements)

From Zevgee’s ger at the confluence of the Kherlen Gol and Terelj Gol we took the by-now familiar trail up the east bank of the Kherlen, past Erdene Uul, the Burkhan Khaldun of the Uriangkhai, to the Shirengetei Gol, and then rode up Shirengetei Valley. At places a two-rutted path could just be made out. According to Tümen-Ölzii, locals called this path Zanabazar’s Road. Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen, had, it was claimed, visited the Onon Hot Springs on an almost yearly basis. He probably came here from Saridag Khiid, the monastery that I had visited earlier. From Saridag Khiid he would have taken a small tributary of the Tuul Gol to Bürkhiin Davaa and then down the valley of the Bürkh Gol to the Kherlen Gol—the same route I had taken when I visited Saridag Khiid—and then followed the Shirengetei Gol upstream on the path that now bears his name. 
Zanabazar’s Road (foreground), and the Shirengetei Gol Valley

We camped for the night in the upper Shirengetei Valley and the next day crossed Baga Davaa and Ikh Davaa into the drainage of the Onon Gol. We stopped that night in the valley of the Tsonj Chuluu Creek at the same clearing we had camped at on my previous two trips to Onon Hot Springs. The next day we continued on to the Onon Gol, just below its beginning at the confluence of Tsonj Chuluu Creek and Öngöljin Creek. On my previous two trips we had proceeded down the east bank of the Onon Gol. There was a trail of sorts but at times we had to ride through swamps and standing water. Twice my horse floundered in knee-deep mud. Since then hunters had told Zevgee that there was a better trail down the west bank of the river. Crossing the Onon Gol we soon picked up the faint trail. The terrain on the west bank was elevated and dry and the forest was relatively free of down timber. At places there was just a hint of a two-rutted path. This, Zevgee concluded, must be the route used by Zanabazar. Although at times the trail meandered a half mile or more from the river it was easy going and we arrived at the hot springs by late afternoon . . . Continued