Orkhon Valley

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Arvaikheer, Övörhangay, Mongolia
Thursday, July 25, 2013

The time was nigh to aim north. With higher latitude and ever higher altitude, the heat of the days decreased. Or would do, but the weather was kind enough to change from rainy, overcast and sunny to mostly sunny, making even the 1600 metre altitude days more or less the perfect temperature. The lack of rain also helped making the driving less adventurous; what could have been an endless struggle of mud versus machine was instead a struggle of mechanical problems versus machine. The roads, as elsewhere in Mongolia, were not roads but trails, and bumpy doesn't even begin to describe it. Springs were broken a couple of times, and due to more or less subaquatic river crossings, the radiator and fan broke down completely at one point, causing an unplanned six hour stop at the river bank. The radiator proved to be repairable, due to the ingenuity of the crew to use, instead of the intended cotton wool, tampons along with grease to fix the broken parts. The fan, however, was beyond saving, and whilst we bush camped far further from our hoped-upon destination, a salvage mission managed to get a not exactly Mercedes brand fan as a replacement.

We were now in the areas surrounding the beautifully meandering Orkhon river. Hills of green streched as far as the eye could see, and herds of goat, sheep, cows, yaks, caks, yows and horses strutted, ran, trotted and galopped across the undulating fields. The river itself made its twisting way through the Orkhon valley, and upon reaching our ger camp the more sports prone of us went for a hike in the surrounding area. Crossing fields of scattered volcanic rocks we headed for the nearby national park. At the very entrance, the ranger invited us to his home-slash-office, and in addition to the obligatory breadstick we got to sample the traditonal alcoholic beverage: fermented mare's milk. Feeling extra Dothraki, I downed the drink, which tasted a bit like fizzy yoghurt and had the strength of beer, alcohol-wise. To add to the feeling of being a part of a nomadic, horse-ridden warrior people, we got to try out the Mongolian way of archery.

Sports was not over, though. At the ger camp, somebody spotted, stacked away in the corner and yet brand new, a ping-pong table. Management was expecting a very important guest, none other than the Mongolian minister for tourism, so we got to take the table outside. We played as the sky grew ever darker, and at the end we were playing in head-torches. It wasn't all serious athletic prowess at elite level, though; more or less volunteerily there were also fun and games: A few of the local children found the weird white guys extremely exciting, and soon enough I was covered by a litter of minis who stabbed me with their swords of grass, who eagerly tried to tickle me, and who laughing and shouting rode piggyback as I participated in a game of around the world round the ping-pong table. I named the littlest girl Nono, as all she knew in English was 'no, no', and consistently dubbed her presumed siblings Yesyes and Maybemaybe. In between being attacked by playful kids, I managed to lose, by minimum margin, to Mungoo, one of our local guides. The shame of defeat was lessened by the fact that he has seen but 22-ish winters and has a father who used to play on the Mongolian national table tennis team.

Ever onwards the wounded truck staggered, and while we hiked through the beautifully lush pine-and-larch forest up to Tuvkhon monastery, the crew went about repairing Archie for the following days of alpine adventuring. The monastery itself wasn't much special, but located high upon a mountain, the view over Orkhon valley was spectacular. While actually scaling the steep cliffs to the very peak though, the mandatory misogeny of religions everywhere reared its ugly head. Not even buddhism, otherwise known to be the least intolerant of the major religions, has escaped the chauvinism: only men were allowed at the peak, with its excellent and breathtaking view of the area. Women were only allowed as high up as the Cave of the Womb, a level below.

And with skins brown from dust rather than tanning, we climbed aboard Archie the newly fanned truck, with Gino's words of warning echoing: The worst driving days are yet to come. Or, you know, best, if the weather gods were kind.

Pictures & Video

Horse hill Orkhon River Archery
Pity the photographer couldn't get the horizon straight or maybe the Mongolians like their gers on a slant? From hil, on Aug 7, 2013 at 10:45PM
Dust-covered buffs
Dust-covered buffs
Scotsman and westie?
Tom in the buff? From hil, on Aug 7, 2013 at 10:47PM
Tom in the Buff? From hil, on Aug 7, 2013 at 10:48PM
Horse herding Orkhon valley
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