The first four days of our 18-day trip into the Mongolian nowhere were largely driving days, and after the first day, we left the paved roads behind and headed out onto highways of dirt tracks that criss-cross each other through the countryside. There are no road signs, so drivers navigate by landmarks, and by having driven the roads countless times on countless other trips.
Our first major stop was at Khovsgol Nuur, or Khovsgol Lake, in northern Mongolia. The lake holds 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water Here, the landscape was completely different to what I’d expected. When you picture Mongolia, you generally think of the gobi, or the steppe – flat or undulating barren landscape – not North American or Russian style forest.
To get to the lake, we rode Mongolian horses from the town of Khatgal, where we spent one night, and met some Russians who sang folk songs and played guitar long into the evening.
Riding a Mongolian horse is not like riding English or Western style. The horses aren’t broken in the same way, so unless you’re a Mongolian horseman you can never quite get them to do what you want them to do. You hold the reins in one hand, and the saddle is incredibly uncomfortable (though the saddles we rode on were leather, not the traditional wooden style!).
By the time we got to the halfway point, in the middle of the forest where the only sounds were the wind in the trees, insects and the horses farting now and then, my knees were killing me and I could hardly walk when we stopped for lunch.
So I did what all good Australian horsewomen would do and opted to continue the rest of the way in the van. It was worth it though – the view of the lake from the van was incredible. The second largest lake in Mongolia, it almost does look like ocean.
Am currently travelling across the roof of the world to Nepal from China, so posts will be infrequent until late October.