An Adventure by 4WD and Trekking in the Wilds of Mongolia
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Mongolia, "the Land of Blue Sky", still remains one of the world's truly undiscovered travel destinations. The uninitiated are likely to conjure up Mongolia as a land of boundless shifting sand dunes and barren mountains with camels and horses roaming in the deserts and in sparsely populated river valleys.



Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia is a huge landlocked country, over 1.5million sq km in area - about five times the size of Malaysia; but has a population of only 2.4 million - about 10 percent of Malaysia's population. However, Mongolia, "the Land of Blue Sky", still remains one of the world's truly undiscovered travel destinations.

The uninitiated are likely to conjure up Mongolia as a land of boundless shifting sand dunes and barren mountains with camels and horses roaming in the deserts and in sparsely populated river valleys.

But, Mongolia is a high country, with an average elevation of over 1,000m above sea level, and much of it is covered with grasslands or steppes even in the Gobi Desert in the south. In northern Mongolia, there are high mountains rising to over 4,000m with snowcaps all year round and the slopes are covered with larch forests. There also exist many big fresh-water alpine lakes amongst the mountains like The Great White Lake and Lake Hovsgol.

As tourism in Mongolia is in its early stage and the developers have only just begun to exploit the country's opportunities, the whiff of adventure still remains in the air. Nevertheless, the high-altitude wilderness retreats are ideal sanctuaries for the hard-core mountain trekkers who are in search of adventure and profound solitude.

Four trekkers, Kenny Lim, K C Cheah and the writer from Malaysia and Larry Logue from America, with a average age of over 55 years old, were in Mongolia from 12 June 04 and went on a 16-day's expedition to Karakotum and Lake Hovsgol and trekking along the lakeside and in the mountains.


Our itinerary consists of two parts:

Part one - Travel by 4WD from Ulaanbaatar (UB) to Karakorum, Mongolia's ancient capital, then westward to the great White Lake and finally to Lake Hovsgol.

Part two - Trekking along the shore of Lake Hovsgol and in adjacent mountains.





Journey by 4WD from UB to Lake Hovsgol (13th to 18th June)

Mongolia is a vast country with poorly developed road infrastructure, and thus traveling by land is difficult and time consuming.

However, to admire and appreciate the natural beauty in a land of nomadic herders tending to their animals on rolling green steppes beneath blue skies, traveling by road is the only viable option.

We arrived in the Mongolian capital, UB, near midnight on 12 June 2004. The next day we met the proprietor of Karakorum Expeditions Mongolia Ltd, the company we engaged to organise our travel in Mongolia, to finalise our travel arrangements.

After a quick city tour we were on our journey westward to Karakorum in a 4WD Russian van. It was fully packed with luggage, tents, foodstuff, cooking utensils etc. And besides the driver, Sukhee, the others accompanying us were the guide, Gana and the lady cook, Nara. We were all very cramped in the van, and the ride was bumpy when the van went over unpaved roads and tracks.

The initial stretch of the road was paved and in rather good condition. But as we moved further away from the capital city the condition of the road deteriorated. Half way to Karakorum the road was unpaved and bumpy.

The landscape along the way was quite stark and most of the hills were barren and little life could be seen.

The journey to Karakorum, a distance of 375km from UB, took nearly eight hours and by the time we checked into the ger camp it was nearly 9.00pm.

A ger is a circular white felt tent and is home to many Mongolians even in urban areas. The outer and inner layer is normally canvas with a layer of felt sandwiched in between. The covering is supported by a collapsible wooden frame. There are no windows but there is a door, which always faces south. There is a circular opening on top of the roof, which can be covered if necessary. A woodstove is placed in the center of the ger both for heating and cooking.

A ger is a mobile structure and can be transported by carts pulled by oxen. It can be re-erected quickly.

Karakorum is the ancient capital of Mongolia, first established by Chinggis Khaan in 1220. After 40 years the grandson son of Chinggis, Kublai Khaan moved the capital to Beijing. Karakorum was then completely destroyed after the collapse of the Mongolian empire and today there is not a relic left.

However the ruins of Karakorum helped to build Erdene Zuu Khiid, the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia in the 16th century. The monastery was enclosed in a big compound and had nearly 100 temples and 300 gers with some 1000 monks residing in them. However this was subsequently destroyed by the invading Manchus and today though it still retains much of its former glory it has only 3 temples remaining in the enclosure.

The next day (14th June), after we have visited the Erdene Zuu Khiid in the morning, we proceeded with our journey northwest toward Tsetserleg, the "Switzerland" of Mongolia, which is surrounded by scenic mountains with many buildings on their slopes.

We stopped in Tsetserleg in the afternoon and went for coffee in a shop, Fairfield, operated by an expat English couple. Though we were supposed to camp in Tsetserleg for the night, we decided to move on because we had a long journey to the Great White Lake tomorrow.

We arrived at River Tamir, about an hour drive from Tsetserleg, in the late afternoon and decided to camp in the lush plain by the riverside. We noticed there was a camp nearby which was under renovation but was closed. Sukhee and Gana went to approach the owner who kindly consented to let us put up a night in the unoccupied A-frame huts, an offer we could not refuse.

Beside the camp there stood an enormous rock formation protruding out of the flat plain. The legend has it that there was a huge and ferocious serpent in the area terrorizing the local residents and livestock and one day a local baatar (hero) hurled a huge rock at the serpent and crushed it to death. The baatar was then given the choice to marry the most beautiful maiden in the area. He did, and today if a man wishes to marry a girl of his choice he has to hurl a stone over the top of the rock. All my fellow trekkers tried but none got anywhere near to the top and as for me, my stone did not even reach the rock!

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