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The Journey Up North

The others have all left for home in the morning. Had a bit of diahrea, so didn't take anything for breakfast & lunch. When I met up with the travel agent, I learnt that the package I signed up was a 3-day horseback trekking trip... gee, I'm sure it would be a butt-breaking, ass-pounding experience, so I better talk to the other agent at the Khovsgol area. Went to the airport at 3+ since the flight is 5pm. Flight delayed till 7pm. Had a muesli bar and was pretty much in a semi-conscious state most of the time. The check-in staff insisted to weigh all my luggage while I tried to explain that 2 of it was my carry on. Then they charge me US$6 for excess baggage 8(

Reached Murun at abt 9pm, and took a 3+ hr russian jeep ride to Khatgal town at the edge of Lake Khovsgol. Ushered into a dark guesthouse by Ganbaa, the owner, into a candle-lighted kitchen, where I was asked what I would like to have for dinner. Great! What someone described as normalised dinner time past midnight. Took a piece of bread and just wanted to sleep. May be my personal record : 1 muesli bar, 2 glasses of orange juice & 1 coffee (from breakfast) and probably 1L of water. Was then brought to my gher about 100m away from the guesthouse. Everywhere was total darkness. Electricity not invented here yet. Ganbaa asked me if I had a sleeping bag. I said yes. He said good. I guess that means I would need it... 8| Russian jeep stopping for a break

What's that furball?
Woke up with something warm and soft at my feet. Scared the shit out of me (although I think there's nothing much left after the day before) to find a big fat cat sleeping on my feet!! Where did that come from? Sheesh, what else could go wrong? Stepped out of the gher, and a slight rain and a grey overcast sky greeted me. Wheeeee. I wonder if its 18% grey.

Walked to the guesthouse for my breakfast. Basically run by Ganbaa, his wife & their sisters & brothers. Discussed with him about the itinerary, and we decided to do a 1/2 day horseback trekking to see how things work out....

The kitchen Grey cloudy day(s)

My guide is Ganbaa's brother, and I get to select my horse after lunch. Yay. Jai-me actually studied for 3 months in Japan before returning to help his brother, Ganbaa. Lunch tastes great, but no prizes for guessing the ingredients. The horses here seems friendlier, and the saddles are softer. Almost like got cushion. Yay, good start. Off we went.

Horseback trekking turns out to be pretty relaxing and fun! It drizzled on and off, but nothing really annoying except makes everything not very photogenic. Trekked up a hill for a nice view of a grey expanse of lake. Getting the hang of horseback riding. Saw many gher camps along the edges of the lake. Looks like they have electricity, like the ones in the Gobi. Looks like I got on a raw end of the deal? Horse trotted on & off, and even galloped a while. Handled it like a pro. So proud of myself. Felt I could take on my first horse in the Gobi that has so cruelly pounded my manhood.

My horse taking a drink

Dinner's great! The potato "chips" they make are great! No prizes for guessing the ingredients of the other dishes. Looked for Ganbaa to discuss itinerary for next day. Don't really want another 2-day horsetrek trip. Ganbaa promised a 2-day jeep trip. Overnight camp at a good location for sunrise (if visible). Sounds good. Given a candle for me to bring back to my gher. Wheee. Hot shower available with firewood-heated water. Coffee and thermos flask sent to my gher. Yahoo!. Hope that cat stays out.

Portable sink Furnace for hot shower Curious mongolian boy

Woke up with sound of raindrops. Candle totally wet. Flap at top of gher open. Check my things are ok. Go back to sleep. So much for sunrise. Another grey white morning. Found a boy playing outside. Great photo op! Learnt that he is the son of the family that looks after the ghers here. The mother speaks simple english. Says dunno why her son still can't speak. Resigned tone to her voice. Very friendly though. Regretted not asking their names.

Breakfast looks suspiciously familiar. Got additional fried mongolian bread. Cool! Spoke with an American, Fred, who wandered around Mongolia on his own. Ganbaa allowed him to setup his tent on his grounds, and he only paid for food. Rented a horse from Ganbaa for 7 days and off he went. Cool!

Wandered around and talked with people. A fellow traveller once said she travels to meet people and talk with them. I travel to see the world's landscapes. However, I begin also to see her facination. Not just meeting the locals but the other travellers. The Swedish photographer who spent his last 11 months travelling round India, China and Tibet. His photo backpack looks like he has stuffed a whole sheep in it. Or the group of Israelis on their after-graduation holiday. The American teaching in Dubai; and waiting to get out. Haynaa, the 15-year old helping out during her vacation. Asked for my email address! Time passes quickier when you're facinated.

They seemed to take an awful lot of time to prepare for my 2-day lake trip. Played badminton with Haynaa after lunch! Badminton rackets belong to 2 japanese babes. Almost 3pm before they assembled the jeep, driver, Jai-me, his girlfriend (who is the cook for the trip). Found out the 2 japanese ladies joining in the trip. Suddenly, the world seems a little brighter..

House by the lake Many flowers in the hills around the lake

Another bumpy journey. Started raining again. Must be something I said. Pretty much similar scenery - grey clouds, grey lake, many horse-riding tourists. Rain becoming downpour. Morale sagging again. Came into an area where the sun managed to break through the rain clouds... Knew there will be chance of seeing rainbows. Then I saw it.

I've seen many rainbows before. But never a complete full rainbow. What I saw is not only a full rainbow, but a double rainbow!!! Yelled for the jeep to stop. Heard the japanese screaming something too. Polariser in my bag deep in the bowels of the jeep. No time. Was still raining but heck, rushed out and ran to a good vantage point. Full rainbow over the lake. Mongolian horse in foreground. Perfect! What more could a guy want? (ok, mabbe the japanese babe?) Hmm, why not?? >8)

Continued our journey to our campsite. Mosquito infested! While Jai-me and gang prepares dinner for us, we become dinner... Water, whether for washing or cooking, comes from lake. Chop firewood, cut meat/carrot, cooking etc, the hygiene practises would make any health inspector faint. Takes almost 3 hours to cook. Have dinner at 11+pm, so whats new? Coffee brewed with Lake Khovsgol water - premium mongolian fare.

3 tents and a jeep? Evening at Lake Khovsgol

Ahhh... another grey wet morning. In fact, one of the wetter mornings... Hid in my tent; inventor of mp3 players should be given nobel prize. The 2 japanese girls in the other tent seems to sing quite well. 3 people in a 2-man tent would be too squeezy huh? Oh well. 11am and no sound/movement from Jai-me and his crew. What's he and his girlfriend doing? Rain let up a little. Went out to see if there's anything to shoot. The japanese love to write their journals. Very familiar. Oh good, they're starting the fire. Brunch I guess. Hope won't be another 3 hours. Luckily, it wasn't. Only 2 hours.

Trapped in a tent Quiet moment facing the sea

Poor domesticated reindeer
Rain got heavier again. Went into trance in my tent. Close to 5pm before we break camp!! Another personal record of time spent in a tent. Journey back, we stopped by reindeer family. Very commercialised. Feedback from other travellers that need to pay to take photos. But I didn't need to; guess its part of my "package". The reindeers are tied from neck to feet. Very cruel I feel. Was a total disappointment.

Reached back guesthouse close to 11pm. Jai-me asked me if I mind sleeping in the same gher as the japanese girls. Is he nuts?! Told him to ask the girls instead. The light from the firewood is pretty dim as we unpack our bags. Went out to pee and came back and they've already changed! That was fast! Had to go out to the cold again to change. They started writing their journal again. I turned in for the night

Had given up on sunrise shots. So when I woke up, its breakfast time. After breakfast, took some photos before packing up and preparing to leave for airport (remember its another 3 hrs ride). Ganbaa himself (with his wife and cute daughter) will accompany us to the airport. Apparantly, he has good contacts in the airport and everything was pretty smooth. Not exactly the best a trip can be, but certainly interesting. Weather had been terrible, and photographically, it certainly has not been as abundant as the Gobi, but sometimes, 1 or 2 good photographs is enough to make a trip, right?

Nakase Yu and Mutsumi

Ganbaa, his wife and daughter (the small one) Yup, this one

Photos & Text © Wu Swee Ong