In Search of Trees: Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur to Tosontsengel, Mongolia

Dead larch tree trunk on an open grassland, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

Dead Trunk
Larch trees lay fallen like modern sculptures on the expansive steppes of central Mongolia. (Ikh-Uul Их-Уул, Zavkhan Завхан)

It looks like such a short drive: 

From Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur in Tariat, Arkhangai Province, in Mongolia’s central west, it is just 203 kilometres through the Tarvagatai Mountains to Tosontsengel, in the western province of Zavkhan. That is about three and a half hours “without traffic” – and we expected none. Plus, we had the bonus of paved roads for much of our journey.

It was my third day of bumping along in a utilitarian Russian UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) four-wheel-drive vehicle organised by Within the Frame and local guides G and Segi. It was a short-driving day, considering the overall distance we needed to cover to reach our final destination, but it was off-season, and we were constrained by the availability of ger-camps in the almost deserted countryside.

It was my fifth day of living in hastily-purchased and borrowed clothing; Air China had finally found my suitcase, but they were offering no provisions to get it to me! Fortunately, our brilliant guides had connections everywhere and – at my own expense – my belongings and I should meet up by the end of the day. Even better: we had been promised ready-access to hot showers (which might be our last for several days), so it would be good to get into camp early. 

We started our morning with a short hike up Khorgo Uul, a volcano in the Tariat district in the mid-western Arkhangai Province (see: Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur), then pointed the trucks west through the steppes and forest-steppes of Mongolia.

Cashmere Goats alongside a gravel road, Tariat, Arkhangai Province Mongolia

Cashmere Goats
Driving is slower when you have to give way to the regular flocks of goats and sheep that wander into the roadways. (iPhone6)

UAZ four-wheel drives on the grass, Tarvagatai Mountains National Park, Zavkhan Mongolia

Lunch Stop
Like a wild-west wagon train, we pull over and huddle the UAZs around the lunch tent at a likely looking spot in the Tarvagatai Mountains National Park. If you are looking for a shelter, the patches of larch trees are a long walk away… (iPhone6)

Larch tree on an open grassland, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

Larch in the Wind
There are a few more trees at our next stop: the European larch (larix decidua) is the dominant forest species in Mongolia. With autumnal yellowed needles, the few trees standing on the open steppe are bent by the wind that blows through the passes.

Base of a European larch, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

Larch Trunk
The twisting, reaching, trunks are very decorative with their roughly textured bark.

Dead larch tree trunk on an open grassland, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

Dead Trunk
European larch (Larix decidua) trees live between 100 and 350 years, so I had to wonder about the dead trunks around our stop. These trees like well-drained soil, which is why there are more of them on the slopes than on the flat.

Close-up of tree bark, Zavkhan Mongolia

Almost Abstract
The tree bark presents a beautiful pattern.

Clump of grass on an open grassland, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

Grasses on the Steppes
We are in the high plateaus of the Khangai Mountain Range; sparse grasses grow, and the mountains provide a backdrop.

Yaks on a sparse rocky hillside, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

Yaks on the Hillside
Domestic yak (Bos grunniens) somehow manage to find grasses and sedges high up on the mountain ridges.

Man with a drone and drone controls, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

The Drone
One of our participants takes the opportunity to fly his drone across the plateau. (iPhone6)

Two Mongolian men on a motorcycle, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

Motorcycle Riders
There is not much traffic; two men in their traditional deel coats, and no helmets, smile as they pass us.

Pale green Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod on the roadside, Zavkhan Mongolia

UAZ
In spite of the dusty roads, our drivers manage to keep the Russian UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) four-wheel-drive trucks spotlessly clean: …

Reflection Pale green Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod on the roadside, Zavkhan Mongolia

UAZ-Selfie
… so clean you can see yourself in them!

Three Mongolian men, UAZ in the background, Zavkhan

Mongolian Drivers

View through the UAZ window at wooden bridge, mountains in the background, Zavkhan Mongolia

View from the Truck
Closer to our destination, the road gets bumpier. Rough wooden planks serve as a bridge to the next patch of gravel.

Cabins, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Cabins on the Plain
There is no sense of crowding at Selenge Lodge where we are camped out for the night. Pretty little cabins are located well away from the gers, …

Torn greenhouse in a sun flare, , Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Winter Greenhouse
… and away from the greenhouses which sit empty in the winter sun.

Torn greenhouse in a sun flare, , Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Winter Greenhouse
The season is clearly finished: nothing is growing inside, and the torn sheeting flaps in the icy cold wind.

Mongolian woman and her two children, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Family
The people who look after the camp are happy to pose …

Mongolian woman and her toddler, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Proud Mum
… in the brightly angling afternoon sun.

Mongolian youth, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

The Elder Child

Two Mongolian men and a boy in firelight after dark, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

In the Firelight
The light falls quickly over the camp. Surprisingly, there are still enough trees for a bonfire! We all gather around it after dinner. (iPhone6)

Mongolian mother and toddler in firelight after dark, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Mother and Child in the Firelight

 Boy with a Bucket, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Boy with a Bucket
Early next morning, the son of the owners goes about his chores.

Mongolian Sheep Dog, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Mongolian Sheep Dog

Mongolian woman in the Kitchen, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Woman in the Kitchen
As we prepare to leave, mum at the counter …

Mongolian Father and Baby, Selenge Lodge, Tosontsengel Mongolia

Father and Baby
… and dad at the back door, see us off.

And so, after a feed of Khorkhog (Xopxoг – an awful lot of mutton and offal stewed with hot stones in a pressure cooker), a hot shower and a night’s sleep, we point the UAZs ever-westward and set off on another day’s drive.

Text: Happy Travels

May all your roads be less bumpy!

Happy travels –

 

Photos: 24-25Septembery2016

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