After I’d recovered from a sudden illness, we hit the road again with fresh enthusiasm. We set out from Hatgal at the southern tip of Lake Khovsgol, knowing nothing about the state of the route other than that two Finns and an Aussie told us on returning from a mountain-biking trip that it wouldn’t be possible to get through the first 25km with luggage on the bike. That sounded like an excellent way to keep things interesting.
It was 10 days before we reached the next settlement. During that time, we rode swooping forest singletrack and dragged our bikes up impossibly-steep scree slopes. We pushed through axle-deep swampland and camped by the most pristine lakeside I’ve ever set eyes on. We found Mongolians on horseback and others who had driven huge ancient Russian off-road trucks cross-country, carrying numerous families to a natural hot spring for a few days’ camping. We spent two full days hiking along a valley floor of dry gravel and wading across channels of meltwater from the mountains above. My feet started to disintegrate from several days spent in permanently wet boots. We got completely lost and finally found our way out onto the vast, pock-marked, marshy plain to the west of the Khovsgol basin. This had been some of the most interesting and challenging adventuring of my life.
We planned to visit another settlement at the far end of the plain, but instead we spent two days lost amongst the hillocks and small lakes, unable to find a way through the tangle of rivers and sand pits and marshes in this rapidly-changing landscape in which nothing corresponded to anything we’d seen on a map. Faint tracks disappeared over newly-eroded riverbanks and into spontaneously-appearing patches of desert. We trudged through the worst of it and otherwise ground the gears between gers and timber-built dwellings, asking in quiet desperation for the way out of the labyrinth and accepting invitations to drink milky tea (without salt in this region) and eat bread and freshly-churned butter.
We spent the evening attending a family gathering quite literally in the middle of nowhere, where vodka combined with a cyclist’s metabolism and a severe lack of resistance to the effects of alcohol to produce a variety of interesting effects. This dip into Mongolian society, sparse as it is, was for me the final piece of the picture of Mongolia that I had been looking for in order to go home satisfied with the experience I’d had here.
Since the last photo essay proved so popular, here’s another! I’ll be writing the trip up in more detail over the next few weeks.
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