Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 2 in Gobi [Rock formations to White mountains] Sandstorm

Nobody really told us that fire in the chimney inside the gher dies down at night and it gets really COLD inside. Waking up at 8am wasn't so easy in the freezing -19degC weather but Tugsuu lured us out of bed with breakfast that consisted of bread, cheese, cold pasta sauce and of course some Tse.

We were quite happy we didn't have to shower today as washing hands with the freezing water was good enough to kill any desire for cleanliness! Things got funnier when Leo had to use the toilet which was basically just three walls 1.5metres high with no door. The dog followed him all the way to the toilet and wouldn't let him take care of the morning affairs in peace. Katherine's skills were put to test again as we (read she cos I was hiding in the van scared of the dog) tried to keep the dog busy and away from the toilet.

After repacking our stuff into the van we went around the ghers to look at the animals (mostly sheep) owned by the nomad family which were packed into a stable constructed out of mud and wood. To our surprise we saw many dead sheep lying outside the stable. They had all succumbed to the terrible winter which had apparently reached -42degC this year! A sad sight especially when these nomads survive completely on their livestock. According to some statistics over 4million animals fell victim to the fierce Mongolian winter.

We took some pics with the family that hosted us and after some Bayarlas (Thank Yous) we were back in the now lovable Russian Van heading for the White Mountains (Tsagaan Suvarga) which was some 180Km's away. But before that we stopped at the Rock Formations near the ghers we were staying at. It was interesting to read ancient stone engravings in Tibetan/Sanskrit (which I could slightly read) on these rocks which had survived different eras of Mongolian history (right down from Chinggis Khan to the Soviet and Chinese era and during the communist repression). As we made our way up to the top of the rocks the wind gathered speed and sand and we had to retreat sooner than we would have liked.

The journey today was even more beautiful than yesterday but my trigger happy fingers were quite sad as I had run out of battery last night after spending the whole day taking hundreds of photos. The Austrians came to rescue and offered me their 2nd camera which made me a happy chappy again :) We drove through steppes for 3-4 hours with beautiful scenery all around us and seeing my enthusiasm and nonstop admiration of the landscape Tugsuu swapped
seats with me letting me sit in the front with Ganaa where I could at last open the window and take pics with my upper half of the body, above the waist outside the window :)

As we were driving along something started becoming visible far away. At first we just took it for a mirage but as we got closer we realised it was an Aimag (= States. Mongolia is divided into 21 of these) town center just appearing out of nowhere in the dessert. Upon driving to the town boundary the challenge lay in finding the entrance as there was a wooden perimeter around the whole town! We drove around the perimeter for a while before finally finding a the way to infiltrate the town. 100 metres into the town was a well and people were lining up in their cars to fill up water. I must mention at this point that apart from UB no town in Mongolia has running water and people in these Aimag towns replenish their water supply from such wells for which they have to pay of course.

We drove further into this town called 'Baga gazriin chuluu' and due to the heavy wind Tugsuu and Ganaa decided not to cook food inside the van but rather asked a restaurant owner if we could cook our food inside their restaurant! It sounded stupid at first that a restaurant would just let us cook inside especially when we weren't gonna buy anything but whad'ya know, people in Mongolia are too awesome and friendly. We got the nod to come in and we moved all our kitchen supplies into the restaurant and started heating water for tea on our stoves. On the menu today was Sushi! Of all things on this planet I never thought I would be eating Sushi in Gobi! Leo, Katherine and I were proud chefs as we joined Tugsuu in making our life's first lot of sushi as we rolled over three dozen sushi paper with tuna from the cans and cooked rice we had prepared at the gher this morning. You know when you are in the middle of a desert and you are really hungry and you are about to eat, what's the one thing that makes lunch even more awesome? The fact that you worked hard spending more than 30minutes rolling all that sushi with your own hands.

After having fuelled up our van and out tummies we drove off from the restaurant toward destination Tsagaan Suvarga. The wind had now reached about 50km/hr (confirmed by and due to the blowing sand visibility had decreased to 5-8metres. Even with the windows closed the sand was beginning to seep in and you could hear some of us cough from time to time. Since we couldn't enjoy the scenery we started singing with Tugsuu and Ganaa trolling Mongolian songs followed by Katy singing Austrian songs. Bollywood wasn't far away and I had to join in with a couple of Indian and English songs. The only person who did not give into the pressure was Leo. He insisted he was too bad at singing and after trying to get him to hum a few words we gave up on the noble cause.

After a couple of hours the sandstorm finally died down and the beautiful Mongolian landscape was in perfect view again. We drove through more steppes and in the evening reached Tsagaan Suvarga (White Mountains) just around sunset. The view was breathtaking and the long journey we set out on in the cold morning was definitely worth

the trouble :)

We arrived at our gher around 7pm and were welcomed in the same manner as yesterday with Tse and Butuk. After talking with the family for some time we found out that there was another group of tourists who had arrived earlier in the day and were staying in one of the

main ghers so we would have to live in the smaller gher. We didn't realise what they meant until we got into our gher. It was indeed quite small compared to other ghers especially in height. But more importantly there was a hole in the roof much to Leo's dislike who tried multiple times unsuccessfully to get the family to fix the discrepancy. I didn't really care about the size of the gher or the hole (Pay attention lol it bit me in the ass later at night. Explained in the next post)
as I was too busy jumping around being happy and in awe of Gobi's undescribable beauty.

After settling in our gher I walked out to familiarise myself with the new surroundings. Th
e only animals our host family had were double humped camels. As I was walking through taking pictures of the camel I saw two people walk past me. The initial reaction was to go "Saim Bain Uu" but it was immediately followed by deja vu feeling. Looking back around I realised that it was the French couple I had met at UB Guesthouse! We were all so surprised to meet again here in the middle of nowhere. After the initial hellos and howdy-dos they took me to their gher and guess what I see? Another French couple I had met at UB guesthouse! We all knew each other pretty well as we had gone for dinners in UB together. It was good to catchup with them and listen to their 15 day counter clockwise trip which was almost coming to an end.

For dinner we were served homemade pasta with lamb and some tea to keep us warm. After we were finished with the dinner we were told that the lambs would be fed soon so we all walked out of our ghers in excitement to snap some pics.

Lamb feeding was followed by some time spent star gazing but the cold night and the long journey eventually led us to our beds
for a much needed rest.

[Pic1:Rock Formations. Pic2: Engravings at Rock Formations Pic3: Me wandering off during one of our stops. Pic4: The picturesque "highway" we were driving on. Pic5: You can see how happy I was :) Pic6:Me with a lil lamb which belonged to some nomads we met on our way. Pic6: 'Baga gazriin chuluu' Aimag town centre. Pic7: Tugsuu and I making sushi. Pic8 and Pic9: The landscape we drove through. Pic10: Obo at Tsagaan Suvarga. Pic11 and 13: White mountains (Tsagaan Suvarga). Pic12: Sunset with Leo and Katy in the foreground. Pic14: Driving from Tsagaan Suvarga to our gher. Pic15: Tugsuu feeding a lamb]