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2011 Mongolia Altai

We, Olivia, Pat and Peter, fly from Zurich to Ulaan Bator and are served by Aeroflott with punctuality and good service. In Ulaan Bator, UB for short, we meet Aynabek, the man with whom Peter organized the whole trip. He invites us for coffee, we discuss the remaining questions and he only says that we have a bit too much luggage. He leaves us quite quickly and forgets his Swiss cups, which we had brought especially for him. Now we realize that we are in a country where time ticks differently. The café quickly fills up with waiting tourists and miners whose flight has been postponed due to strong winds. We are in good spirits, but our flight doesn't take off either. The display board is usually illegible for us and when it is, it just says delayed. How was that? You have the clock, but we have the time We wait a few hours and after a 3-hour delay we board the local Mongolian Airways plane. We disembark directly on the tarmac and end up getting our luggage there too, which is placed on a trolley.

Our guide Berdibek is waiting for us in front of the entrance. He will guide us through the mountains of the Altai for the next 4 weeks. He takes us to the driver and his off-road vehicle. A somewhat older vehicle, a Russian off-road vehicle, probably around 30 years old, and we wonder whether we will be able to fit all our luggage into it. The driver plays chauffeur to the hotel, then we go to Aynabek's house to pick up our equipment for the horses and our parcels with the food supplies. We are invited by the family for tea, which is mixed with milk and salt. There is also a tourist there who has had his rucksack slashed open on the black market and has just run out of money. We take the first family photos and they won't be the last. Berdibek is very tired as he has just returned from a tour and his wife is waiting at home with a 1-month-old baby. No wonder he wants to go home and we have dinner alone in the restaurant. There are nice pictures of the food on the menu, but all but one of them is accompanied by the comment that it doesn't exist! Hmm; a translator comes from the next table and helps us. It's probably the power cut that means the kitchen can only make one dish. We sit in the dark and wait for our food. The power comes back on and then so does our food, to which Peter and I order a beer each, only here there is beer for men and another for women. We arrive at the hotel at 22:00 and fall into bed dead tired. 





Thursday, 11.8.2011 Olgii - Zost Erek

We wake up fresh and alert at 6°. We had to save the toilet water as it only flushed once. There was no breakfast. Instead, Peter is busy with tools on the saddles to make them suitable for our luggage. Berdibek arrived at 8:30, 30 minutes earlier than promised. We buy a phone card and then go to the black market to find some blankets as saddle pads for the horses. We are much too early, most of them open much later. Olivia is not prepared to pay the prices quoted and Peter has to start bargaining.

We are surprised at how expensive everything is here? About 1:1 if you subtract a few zeros from the Tugrik. 1 dollar is about 1000 Tugrik, the local currency. The same level in the supermarket. It's almost 12 o'clock when we finally get a coffee and sandwich in the restaurant. In comparison, eating out is really cheap. We have everything we need and now the jeep is full to the brim and we set off into the countryside. The tarred road ends shortly after Olgii. We fill up the car with gas. The price of gas is a little more expensive than here. We drive along the Saksai River on the rather bumpy dirt road to Zost Erek, where the horses are supposed to be waiting for us. We arrive and there is the next surprise: we are with the driver's family and there is no sign of our horses for miles around..... Instead, we first have chai, the obligatory tea, with milk and salt, which is unusual for us at first, but we have little trouble with it except for Peter, who has to get used to drinking so much tea, as it is known to be his favorite drink. Normally you drink at least 6 bowls in the morning, at lunchtime and in the evening, but the quantities are a bit much for us and you have to be careful that you don't get a refill as soon as the bowl is empty. The hosts are very thoughtful. You have to put your hand on the bowl to make it clear that you don't want any more. The women are quick to prepare the tea and we watch with interest. Water is heated in one pot, milk in another and then the whole thing is mixed together with some black tea and salt. The housewife first tastes the tea in a bowl before serving it to the guests. The guests and the men get it first and then we two women. The tea tastes good and there are various bowls and plates of cheese, butter and whipped cream on the table. Peter becomes our taster, because some of the butter doesn't suit our palates. When Peter says it's OK, I try it, but Olivia is very reluctant. The bread made from flour and water is baked in butter. Depending on when it was made, it is either fresher or already hard. The cheese is a thing of its own. The 90-year-old grandpa is delighted to see us and is extremely interested in our equipment. We go outside and in the distance we can apparently see the horses coming with our binoculars.

We don't quite understand which are our horses. Berdibek's English is not the best and so there are some misunderstandings. We wait and 3 of our horses arrive first. We start to test-pack our saddles and look in vain for the 2 horses that are supposed to be 1.5m tall... Surprise, 1.5m is at most 1.4m in Mongolia, Peter will have to make do with a smaller horse or the horse will have to make do with him. After 2 hours of laughter and with the help of the people, we are ready to start a short test ride. Bidan, the horse owner, comes with us and first takes the packhorse that Berdibek is supposed to take. The horses are quite sensitive to steer and we set off in the beautiful evening light.

We are invited to dinner and leave the food we bought at the supermarket. We have soup - kush - a simple stew with homemade noodles, sheep or goat meat and maybe a few potatoes and carrots. We learn our first Kazakh words such as Heidltetun - good night, Heidltetan - good morning. Rachmet - thank you, ayran, chai, kumys are words I already know. In the semi-darkness, we set up our tents for the first time under the critical gaze of the nomads and then go to sleep at 22°°. I have trouble falling asleep after all the black tea and a dog barks for most of the night.




Friday,12.8.2011 Zost Erek - Hopte sin, Saran Khol

It's 5:30 when we get up and we're fresh. We don't get breakfast in the ger until 7:00. We look for our horses, or rather just one, the packhorse, which was not tied up. It was supposed to stay nearby.... Our driver looks for the animal and brings it back. We'll tie it up on the way. The horses are tied to the halter with a long rope and fitted with hobbles to make sure they stay put.

We pack our stuff onto the horses and I take the packhorse first, as Berdibek can't really understand our objections to tugging on the bit. The animal quickly passes into Peter's hands, as it just lets itself be pulled as soon as no one stays behind and pushes. Peter has more power and it also has the unpleasant characteristic of stopping suddenly, almost pulling you out of the saddle.

We're riding at a comfortable walking pace, but soon we try to start trotting and see how the luggage holds up. We make it a few meters and the packhorse starts to slip. I let out another scream, but it was too late. The saddle is hanging under its belly and the horse doesn't like it at all, it bucks away at a gallop up a hill until it's all loose. I scramble after it with my horse, Berdibek follows and we collect the horse and the saddle. Meanwhile, Peter inspects the damage and mends what is broken. We lose just under an hour repacking and then set off along the Kohvd River through a colorful landscape. There are a few trees here by the river and the sun shines out of the cloudless sky. We have to keep repacking the packhorse until lunchtime until everything finally holds. Peter becomes a master at tying knots so that the luggage holds. My horse sets a pretty brisk pace and runs ahead of the group. We can see the village of Sakasai from afar, at least for us it's a village, there it's more like a town. We come to another river and in this valley it is simply swampy near the river. We try to get to the water, but are told by the nomads who make hay here that we can't go any further.

So we pass herds of yaks, sheep and goats. Every now and then we also see a camel. It is very dusty on the gravel road and hot, the sun is burning down from the sky and our horses are not used to walking for long stretches and are slowing down. It is difficult to motivate them to keep going.

We get away from the river into another valley, make our way through the swamps until we reach a ger where we ask for grass and water, because our horses need something more than just grass that has been gnawed down several times by other animals.

We have to get used to it, there just isn't that much here. It doesn't get any better in the valleys where there are a lot of Gers, because they all have herds of cattle and it's late in the year. Most of it has been eaten away.

It's warm, so we all take a dip in the refreshing river. Berdibek has been riding all day in a fleece sweater and down jacket and now almost has sunstroke. No wonder with the temperatures. We can enjoy our trekking dinner in the glorious evening sunshine. We covered around 34 km on day 1.




Saturday, 13.8. Saran gol - Torag Valley  

We have breakfast with morning dew. I try out the petrol burner, but Peter has already heated the water on his little burner by the time it starts. But now we know how it should work.

We load up the horses, walk the first few meters and arrive at the next ger. There we are invited for chai. We accept. A boy holds all our horses, Peter unpacks a few chocolate bars and we have our second breakfast. This time we can drink plenty of liquid. We are asked to take a few family photos and send them to them. It's not easy for people to get photos out here. I promise, only they have to wait at least 2 months, as we are only at the beginning of our journey. Freshly fortified, we ride towards the big bridge to cross the Saran gol. The horses don't do well on the gravel paths and keep trying to run off the track, but it's not really any better there either. So it drags on for 2 hours and we hope that it will get better after the bridge. It is hot and after the bridge the ground becomes even more barren, we only find some greenery directly along the river. We feel like we're in the middle of the desert and the song "I ride throug the dessert, on horse with no name" spits around in our heads. Finally we reach the river crossing where Peter wanted to cross into the other valley. There is a ger here and the grandpa tells us that we won't be able to get through because of the high water level. What now? We discuss the new route over a cup of tea. The tea provides the water, but it gets really hot in these temperatures, especially as the stove is roaring. It looks dry and we hope that we can get water again. We can see a hilltop in the distance, which we still have to cross to get a good spot for the horses. It's 2 o'clock in the afternoon and we still have 20km to go. Almost impossible here. Finally we come to a small oasis with green grass, but they are making hay here and we are sent 2 km further on, where there is a stream and grass. In the evening, camels move to the stream and we also have to walk a few meters to get water for cooking. We are sitting in the middle of a magnificent landscape. The full moon rises and we have a great evening atmosphere.




Sunday, 14.8. Torag Valley - Tongent oisn - Orzon Tan  

We get up at half past six and the burner is used again straight away after I managed to light it the night before. The water gets hot faster than with Peter's ignition. We manage well with both burners. The bread is running low and we should have milk or yoghurt for the muesli, neither of which is available. We trot through the valley at a shaggy trot and pass a ger where a goat is being slaughtered. The people have no time and so we are not invited for chai. Our horses eat prickly undergrowth as there is no grass. The animals are undemanding.

At 12°° we reach the Tongen Pass at 2300m. We should have gotten there the day before. There is no grass here either. We are on the border with China and vehicles keep coming towards us on the dusty road, which is visible from afar from the cloud of dust.

We reach the town of Tongen and finally find enough grass for our horses by the Tongen River. They pounce on the grass, but eat for about 30 minutes and then start to doze. They don't eat much at all.

A few villagers come by and one of them says we just have to go over the hill and we'll find grass and a Kazakh family. The suggestion was well meant, but as it was already early afternoon, we decided to stay right by the river. We are sure to have water there and are more likely to find grass. We keep seeing men making hay, which is done in such a way that the highest tufts of grass are mowed down and the rest is left to be eaten by the herds. We reach a ger and are invited for tea, but first we want to look after our horses and set up our tents. We have to cross water several times. The question arises, how do we get back to the ger? We apparently take too long and 2 women come over to us armed with a thermos flask and bread. They are wearing rubber sandals and walk through the river. In return, they get Swiss chocolate.

It's warm and we can go and wash up. A girl comes by on a horse and chases away the goats that want to visit us. Later, the father arrives on his horse with his two sons, all three on a pony. We are given milk and yoghurt for breakfast.

The full moon shines brightly over our tents and we can't find the off button.

 




Monday, 15.8. Orzon Tan - Oigr Oisn

6°° wake up, it's chilly in the morning but as soon as the sun appears behind the mountains, it quickly becomes pleasant. We look forward to muesli with ayran (yoghurt) and fresh milk. Peter has tasted it but didn't realize that it was Kumys, fermented mare's milk. The muesli tastes strong, Olivia refuses and I stick to the ayran. Berdibek drinks the Kumys for dessert. Peter takes it in his stride. My saddlebags, now broken, are left behind. The plastic tie-down hooks don't do what they promise in this terrain and we have to see if we can get some iron ones. Aynabek had warned us.

My horse "Hirre", which means yellow horse, runs off at a brisk pace. Olivia has swapped the packhorse for hers and is now happy as the animal runs much better. But now the pack saddle no longer fits properly and it has to be sorted again. The new packhorse also has trouble walking over the boulders because of its long feet and it is easier with the pack. Only Peter's horse and the new packhorse don't harmonize with each other. We enter a colorful valley that slowly narrows. A large herd of horses comes towards us and we examine the interesting colors that exist here. There are 64 different color names for Mongolian horses. Eagles circle above us and at lunchtime we emerge from the stony desert into a grassy riverbed where we take a break. We turn left into the next valley, see camels in the distance and a shepherd tells us which way to go. We are back in the middle of the stony desert and it doesn't look like green fodder. We keep seeing families' winter quarters, but what do they want to live on here? We see the dung of the yaks and goats piled up around the quarters, which is stored for cooking and heating in winter. It now seems absurd to us to have given the horses worming treatments at the beginning, because the dung is collected and used as fuel. This means there is no fertilizer left for the soil, but the worm infestation is also kept to a minimum. Finally we come to a small stream with about 100 square meters of green space. Not exactly a lot for 5 hungry horses. We make sure that we don't put our tents on the last of the grass so that the horses can have every stalk. To begin with, we only hobble the horses so that they can choose where they want to eat and they are tied up for the night. However, they only eat briefly and then lie down to sleep. The horses have little trouble lying down anywhere, even with a full pack. That was a change of routine for us, because lying down with a full pack doesn't usually do them much good. I climb barefoot through the stream to see if the grass is any better. Peter lies down to recover from the tugging with the packhorse, which is not exactly the purest of pleasures. The tents are quickly erected in the wind and we retire to the tent for a meal of trekking meals and snacks. Waste is disposed of by burning it. How the families deal with the garbage varies greatly. Some keep it neat and tidy, others leave it all lying around. Vodka bottles are often simply thrown away in the countryside and sometimes it's just broken glass.

 



Tuesday, 16.8. Oigr Oisn - Hoigr Valley  

We get up a little late. Peter's 6°° is not the usual temperature in this country. It is too cold in the morning and only when the sun comes out from behind the mountains does it become more pleasant. Depending on which mountain it comes from behind, it can take a long time and then we still have to get out.  The horses are freed from the ropes so that they can eat better again, but the animals are only hobbled and try to disappear over the stream. The attempt is a real washout because Peter has to wade through the river in his boots and the horse doesn't want to go. As the animals, and especially his, are very good at tug-of-war, it's not much fun leading them. Berdibek is on the other bank with 2 others and they are blocking. I sit on my bareback horse and go to help him. But my horse doesn't really want to either, so I have to push hard. Together we get the horses across without Berdibek getting his feet wet.  In the meantime, the tea water has cooled down again. We now make our muesli with the Indian chai latte tea and it works very well. You have to be flexible, especially when the bread has run out. 

We saddle the horses and take a group photo in our blue frocks so that Peter's mother can see her work worn. He had one made for each of us in red, blue and white. They really stand out in the landscape.  Peter's horse refuses at the stream and almost rips the shoe off its hoof. Half of it is sticking out inwards and so we can't go any further. As the horses are not used to being hoofed and Peter's horses are not at all cooperative, we have to use the local method and turn the horse over to look for the shoe. The horse knew exactly what was going on and didn't make it easy for us. After some back and forth, the horse is actually lying on the ground and half of the shoe is now gone anyway due to the scramble. But now we know how to do it and Berdibek proudly tells us that it's the first time he's done it and otherwise he's just watched. Super. But giving hooves would be easier!  

Late and slightly sweaty, we can finally set off at 10°. A few kilometers further on would have been the lushest grass, but there are flags in the grass which means that you are not allowed to stay here. The grass is for haymaking and for the winter. The landscape is breathtaking and for the first time we see the distant glacier peak of Tavan Bogd, the trademark of Mongolia.  Meerkats keep scurrying past us into the holes. Unfortunately, they are much too fast to take photos. The marmots are extremely quiet and you usually only notice them when the horses almost step on them. We also keep coming across skeletons of animals that were unable to cope with the harsh winter conditions or that have fallen victim to a wolf. You could study anatomy here.  

We reach the lushest grass in a swamp and let the horses graze for a while - they deserve it after the narrow-gauge diet of the last few nights. The horses are very adept at avoiding the holes left by the marmots and meerkats. They find every goat path with certainty and sometimes you wonder why the mount suddenly takes a completely different path.  

We reach the Jolpak valley and in the distance we can count 9 gers. We ride past herds of cattle again and again, take our photos and urgently want a chai. We get one at the 1st ger. We bring the obligatory chocolate bars in return. It is hot and we are quite thirsty, Berdibek in particular suffers most from the general lack of tea from his point of view. Peter wants to buy a sheepskin, but the price seems very high to us. Later we realize that we are in the tourist catchment area of Tavan Bogd. Now everything becomes clear to us. We arrive at the border of the Tavan Bogd National Park and only have to go a few kilometers further to a lake where there is supposed to be better grass. But it's not that quick. We only have a permit for the other route we had originally planned. We would now all have to take the bus 25 km to the military border and get our new permit there. Out of the question, who will look after our luggage and horses? Handing over our passports is not an option either. Only with a little patience do we reach our destination. We pay an extra 10 dollars so that we don't have to drive there and the national park ranger does it for us. Good things take time. It's already half past 5 and we are invited for chai. We accept and save ourselves the trouble of boiling water for dinner. As we were also offered bread and cheese, a mushroom soup from the bag was enough for dinner.  

A few kilometers before the pass we find grass by a stream, what more could you want? I take photos of a herd of yaks in the evening light, with the glacier sparkling in the background. We are now in the Hoigr valley just before Tavan Bogd at 2700m and spend the night here in our tents. The cold wind makes us eat in our tents. We keep seeing jeeps driving past us. Further down is the tourist camp. Every now and then some stop and they come from all sorts of different countries.  

A week has now passed since our departure from Zurich. Time flies by. 




Wednesday, 17.8. Hoigr Valley - Chuwet Kol - Chaichon

We two women refuse to ring the 6 o'clock bell, because when Peter snorts because it's cold, we don't even need to get out. The ground is freezing and we wanted to wait for the warming sun. 30 minutes later, the sun is already shining on our tent and we wriggle out of the various layers we had covered ourselves with. After breakfast, I start burning garbage, which is slowly working better, but the aluminum trekking bags are not really suitable for this and they are not biodegradable either. The manufacturer should think of something else. When we are finally ready to go, a jeep comes crawling up. I have a bad feeling: I hope it's not a deja vu! The military arrive, but they only want to check our passports and take a few photos. Probably photos to prove that work is being done from time to time. We can ride on undisturbed. We creep up the mountain with our highly motivated 4-legged friends and break every record for riding at a snail's pace. We reach the lake that we wanted to head for the evening before. It's a good thing it wasn't enough, because it's surrounded by swamp and would have been soggy. It lies against the picturesque backdrop of the glaciers and invites us to linger. We get closer and closer to the glaciers of Tavan Bogd and finally we have all 5 in full splendor in front of us. Berdibek explains the names to us from right to left. Marchen, Quiten , the highest at 4347m, with the glacier 200m wide in between. In the foreground is Burglud, which means eagle, and in the background, invisible to us, is Friendship, which borders on Russia, China and Mongolia. To the left is the Archant . Berdibek can't tell us the others. 20 minutes further on, we enjoy the glacier panorama over lunch. We eat nuts, apricots, pumpernickel and cheese bought at the supermarket.

First the path leads us back in the direction we came from and then the descent is quite easy for us down to the Sarakol, which springs from the glacier water here. The packhorse suddenly has the saddle between its ears due to the descent and has to be re-saddled. All the luggage has to come down for this. Meanwhile, the horses have a somewhat meagre feed break. Down in the valley we see some gers and a lot of eaten pastures. Looks bad for us. We have to get to the bridge that crosses the Sarakol. Peter was a bit surprised when reading the map that a bridge is needed over a glacial stream, but this is a traveling stream. The horses don't like the bridge and it takes a bit of persuasion to get them across. On the other side, we buy some bread for 5 dollars at a ger, but we are not invited for tea. Apparently there are too many tourists here. So we walk along the mountainside, 100m further up a herd of camels follows us, but we leave them behind. Olivia is walking to spare the horse. The Chuwat Chaichon lake we head for has more grass, but the water is not very good as it has no inflow. It tastes brackish. Olivia still has glacier water with her, but it's very high in minerals! We don't notice too much of it at dinner. We walk bareback with the horses to the lake to water them and then ride up again. At dinner there are differences of opinion about what is comfortable and what is not? We won't make the route to Bulgan planned by Peter at the pace we've been going. The horses are simply too slow and we are used to a different pace. This time we'll spend the night warmer. We are also only at 2584 m altitude. The peaks of Tavan Bogd can still be seen in the background. They glow in the sunset - the old glow.

We are visited by 3 drunken Mongolians who have just come back from the hay harvest and are galloping up the mountain. What are we doing wrong with our horses?

 



Thursday, 18.8. Chuwat Chaichon - Teglt Tinowa Pass 3149 m - Tahilt Valley

Waiting in the tent for the sun was not possible this time, as it would have to appear behind a mountain and that would have been 9°°. But it's not that cold and after a short time we were ready to go. The morning ritual: Peter packs the packhorse, Berdibek holds one or more horses, Olivia and I saddle our horses and then do the holding post and the other saddles Peter's horse. Berdibek then saddles his black horse. All in all, we manage quite well. The path into the next valley changes from boulders to hummocky grass tracks to marshy meadows. Everything is possible. The descent into the Chara airk valley is easy. In the distance, we can see gers standing against the backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks. In a ger, we are served tea by a 10-year-old girl. Her mother is with the sheep and goats and her father is at the pass with the camels. We buy a felt doily and as we don't have any change, we get some bread to go with it. I am surprised when it meows. The little brother had a kitten in his arms. I've never seen cats in these countries before.

The girl's father comes riding up on his horse as we set off and tells us that they are also going over the pass with the sheep, goats, yaks and camels. Dark clouds gather and it starts to rain. But the drops evaporate on our shirts within seconds. We watch as the herd climbs over the pass. It doesn't look easy from below. But as we head towards it, we can see the path and it's not dangerous, just strenuous to walk up there to spare the horses. The Tuwa ride over it with their horses, the camels loaded with the dismantled gers. On the Teglt Tinowa pass we puff up to 3148m. The descent is easy but very dusty. As it never rains much, the dust swirls up with every step and the wind does the rest. We catch up with the Tuwa and are offered cheese that doesn't taste very good, which makes us shiver and this time has to be covered up with chocolate flavor. I get some small crumbs, I'm careful, but they taste good. Sugared yak cheese!

We take a break about 100 meters from the Tuwa. It's still so warm that we can finally wash our hair again; dried in the wind you look like you've been blown away! We have to put up our tents in a hurry because dark clouds and rolling thunder are approaching, but it's all about nothing! It rains briefly and then the spook is over.

Berdibek doesn't want to go with us to the Tuwa, for whatever reason? Peter insists that we go, armed with flasks and nut sticks, and we have a fun evening. We are given tea, this time quite milky and the tea consists of mountain herbs. The people are fascinated by our photos and Peter has a movie night for them with the pictures he has brought with him on his cell phone. The alpine yodel hangs in our ears for the rest of the vacation. A cashmere goat also loves our nut sticks. A boy makes fun of it and sits on it, and it runs away laughing.

Our horses are finally really fat in the grass. We have now been out and about with the horses for a week.

 



Friday 19.8. Tahilt Valley - Hotton Khol

In the morning, our tents are wet from the night's rain and the sun is a long time coming. Next to us, the sheep have been bleating all night and we can hear our horses chewing the grass. After we have finished our breakfast, we are invited back to the Tuwa for chai. We leave 3 frocks as a gift, one for each of the men and the 2 boys get 2 stickers from the Mainzelmännchen and are happy with them!

The Tuwa have a sweet pastry until I realize that it's shortcrust pastry. It tastes delicious. By the time we've saddled up, they've already passed us down into the valley. So we can see which trail they are taking. We soon have to ride, as it is always swampy and we have to cross the stream several times.

We meet a group of Israelis who ask us about the pass. Soon we see the Sarangol again, still carrying icy gray water from the glacier. On the other side of the river we see a group of tourists on horseback. The Aiu valley was surrounded by colorful mountains and snow peaks in the background. We stopped at a lake, which was surrounded by a lot of biting midges, but there was grass and that was important for us in this country so that the horses had enough to eat. I got caught, I had to go into the bush twice... I just don't know why and it's not getting any better. I suspect the raisins? We still have 18 km to go to reach the large Hotton Khol lake. Not really a distance for us, so Olivia and I push our 2 horses to go faster. Together they spur each other on. However, we are repeatedly slowed down by swamps and evasive mountain paths, which are difficult to climb as we can hardly find the paths. Peter involuntarily becomes separated from his horse, which has once again seen a ghost. We catch him and nothing else happens apart from a bruise.

The landscape widens, a cloud front rolls in like the day before and a storm blows in our faces. There's not a blade of grass here, everything has been gnawed away and we have no alternative, we have to keep going. Fortunately, the rain stayed away! After 2 hours we come to an adventurous bridge that wouldn't stand up to an MOT and shortly afterwards we arrive at the entrance to the Aral Tolgoi National Park. We show our passports and are allowed to pass through after the border guard explains to Peter that the Chinese border starts right next to the road and that everything there is dangerous. Peter shows him his GPS and the Chinese border, which is still a good 50 km away! Topic settled! Everyone crosses the barrier, only my Zausel sees ghosts there, great laughter, but then the herd instinct wins out. We finally reach a river and find water again to fill up our water bottles. There is grass near the lake, but it's all swampy. The horses can't really lie down and rest and we have a space problem with the tent. Peter heads to the lakeshore on his own to see if it's better there. To our left is an eroded mountainside. I climb up there to get an overview and there is about 100 square meters of grass waiting for us, which the cattle didn't like or overlooked and left standing. We were lucky and the river is just 50m further down and easy to reach. There are even trees so that the toilet issue is a little easier. Peter, Olivia and Berdibek set up the tents and I fire up the burners because we're all hungry and thirsty after the long day. It starts to storm badly and so it's too dangerous for me with the petrol burner and I have to make do with Peter's ignition and a stove. It takes a correspondingly long time, I wait outside in the drizzle and Berdibek partly keeps me company. Building the tower with the 3 pots is a bit risky, but it's quicker this way, but you can't leave the burner alone. The perseverance in the rain is worth it and is rewarded with sunset and 2 rainbows. The evening atmosphere is gigantic with the old glow. The day was long and we go to bed dog-tired.



Saturday, 20.8. Hotton Khol - Sari Tompak

It is damp and clammy when we get up. The promised sunrise is behind the mountain instead of over the lake. So it takes a while before it arrives and we have to pack our tents up damp. Other riders shag past us at a slightly faster trot, but they don't go quickly either. We have to accept that this is the local pace. Shortly after 8°° we are ready to go.

We ride along the Hotton Khol, which is 50 km long, all day long. Peter takes a refreshing dip in the lake, which is only a few degrees above zero.

The air is hazy and we are in a wide valley, which doesn't encourage many photos but is easy on the battery. At lunchtime, we have chai in a ger and the family are delighted with the photos we have with us. Peter makes cinema live again with his cell phone photos and alpine yodel singing. A young woman is a teacher and keeps everyone in check. They are happy to receive a few postcards. A boy was kicked in the head by a horse in the spring and has been partially paralyzed ever since. He now wants to go to the doctor in September. Peter gives him a Swiss army knife. While we are drinking tea, a brief shower passes over us and by the time we leave, the sun is shining again. 3 of our horses are lying down with their full packs, which is practical for me as I can pack everything up again in comfort. We pass through larch forests, alternating with steppe and stony deserts. At half past four we find a stream with lots of grass, about 500 m from a ger.

Olivia and I unsaddle the horses while Peter and Berdibek walk to the ger and try to organize dinner for us, as trekking meals are now running out. They come back with the good news that we will get food and tea, only that was probably a language problem, we brought our pea sausage soup and mashed potatoes but apart from tea and bread there was nothing else. We took lots of photos of the family, the 52-year-old grandfather and his grandchildren, showed our pictures and the son initially refused to shoe Peter's horse. After another conversation, he agreed to shoe the horse the next morning. Berdibek had found a shoe on the way that we could use as a replacement. The size of the shoe doesn't play the biggest role here. Fortunately, Olivia still had a few horseshoe nails with her, which are marveled at. Peter has to prove that he can mow with a scythe after claiming that he also makes hay like the nomads. The Kazakhs didn't realize that this only meant mowing and that we normally make hay with large machines. They were a little skeptical about the whole thing, but the Kazakhs were definitely very good at mowing. The sun was setting and we were escorted through the swamp or bypass to our tents.




Sunday, 21.8. Sari Tompak - Dajan Khol

We were allowed to sleep longer as the shoeing appointment wasn't until 8am. The sun shines again from the blue sky. Peter's horse is tied up and turned over and then tied up until it is immobile. It's not without its problems when you're sitting on the ground, trying to shoe and the horse is thrashing around. The shoe is on in a short time, it took longer to turn him over, he gets up and eats as if nothing had happened. Peter buys the leather lasso from the man for $50 and that pays for the shoeing.

We get tea and a young woman sits shyly at the table and keeps looking at Olivia. At some point it comes out that she is interested in Olivia's earrings. She asks how much they cost. It was 2 dollars 15 years ago. Olivia parts with her earrings and gets a bag of bread in return! We fill the thermos flask with ayran and set off at 10°.

The landscape is now hilly and our progress is slow. Every now and then the earth looks as if huge earthworms have been raging here, with fields of edelweiss in between and eagles and buzzards circling above us.

We reach a green valley, but Peter pushes on. We have to find a way across the river. Clouds are gathering and it's getting uncomfortable. Without the sun and the glowing mountains, the landscape looks pretty bleak. The horses aren't moving forward either and it's like martial arts to get the horses to move forward. The rider in front has the most trouble and so we keep taking turns. Aynabek's statement that we can't ride like the Mongols is true - we can't keep working the horses with the hooks so that they move forward properly, which is why we don't manage the 100 km.

I also think that the horses don't take us seriously for the most part, and we didn't get any whips. We struggle and after lunch at a barren place we decide to follow Berdibek's suggestion and ride between the two lakes and shorten the route to Altai. Later, Aynabek explains that we had given the horses too much food, which is why they didn't run. They only run when they are hungry.

We ride down to Lake Dajan and see some gers standing in the valley. The first one seems a bit uncomfortable, dingy and the people are quite noisy. We move on to a lonely ger. Berdibek wants to pitch his tents 500m beforehand. We don't understand why? We insist on going to the ger and asking for tea. The evening is an absolute highlight with the extremely obliging hostess, who goes out of her way for us. We are spoiled with tea and freshly baked bread and a variety of delicious cheeses. Olivia and I watch the bread being made and get to taste some fresh from the pan - heavenly, delicious, almost like puff pastry. Dinner is made with home-made noodles, similar to Flädli but without the egg but briefly fried on the stove, cut into small pieces and then thrown into the stew with mutton or goat meat that has been stewing for a while, a little water and salt added and the "Kusche" is ready. From time to time, carrots or potatoes are added as vegetables and fresh wild onions from the mountains. The woman says that her husband has died and she likes to have guests. Peter leaves his son a pocket knife and the woman is given a frock and fruit powder. He shows her how to mix it and the small children are delighted with the unusual drink. We enjoy the noodle stew, Peter gets the pieces of meat with too much fat but 1 bowl of the food is really filling. Hard to believe. After the meal, the goats and yaks have to be milked. Peter wanted to help, but this is women's work and so I had the honor of trying it out. Berdibek warned me not to be afraid of the yaks. That wasn't the problem, but the teats were so small and hard that I couldn't get a drop of milk out, and the yak didn't like it either and hopped away. At least it was worth a try and the women had something to laugh about and so did we. The men go to catch the goats. But Peter refuses to climb the whole hill. It's dark and we go into the tent so that we don't disturb the family too much while they're working. My bowels are rumbling again and the vodka doesn't help much either. But the Kügele do, so at least I don't have to go out at night.




 

Monday, 22.8. Dajan Khol - Hava Khol (Black Lake)

We get breakfast in the ger and the woman asks us where we were in the evening? We try to get Berdibek to clarify that we didn't know what was polite and what wasn't and Berdibek wasn't there to translate in the evening. Everything was fine again, she wanted to offer us fresh milk, but we got it after breakfast and saddling the horses, just like in grandma's day, the milk tastes good here. She didn't want to let us go. After many final photos, she invites us to come back. It is hard to say goodbye to this warm-hearted woman.

The night was starry, but now clouds are gathering again and everything is gray in gray. The chattering wild geese keep flying up in front of us and here at the lake is a real bird paradise. However, we don't know enough about it. We pass shepherds and ask about the prices of sheep, horses and camels, which are the most expensive animals at 1000 dollars. A pony, like the one we have, costs around 700-800$. We pass the lake and head towards the Kolagash Pass with its 2800 m ascent. We take a short lunch break on a plateau, rain clouds are getting closer and closer and we want to pick up speed so that we can leave the plateau behind us. But the view down into the next valley doesn't look very promising. We climb across the slope on unrecognizable steep paths down to the lake. Berdibek has a problem with his 2 horses. I take over one of them and Olivia lets our two run free behind us, which usually goes quite well. It's almost snowing and we can now guess that the pass crossing won't be easy. I thought Berdibek knew the way, but that wasn't the case, which came out a little later. We have to climb over scree slopes and struggle to find the way again and again. Peter has the route on his GPS, so at least we know which way to go. We finally find the Ziegenpfädli. It's getting hot in all our clothes. The sun comes out and we can stow our things away again. Climbing is much easier this way. After about 2 hours we have made it. The horses have fought their way through here like mountain goats without a scratch. Mine got stuck in the river with one foot and pulled himself loose, but luckily nothing happened, not even a scratch. Unbelievable!

Olivia doesn't want to continue at Peter's pace, but he is determined to reach Bedibek's sister's ger. There would have been grass further up and we could have joined the sister the next day.

We descend through a vast steppe landscape. The sun alternates with dark rain clouds and the rising wind is icy. Now and again it sleets, so at least we don't get wet! Peter sets a pace that is not easy on this rough terrain, scree slopes alternate with marshy meadows and we can rarely trot. It's already 3pm, but after 3 hours we actually reach Berdibek's sister. She's out shopping in Olgii right now! That's life.

We are warmly welcomed, given chai and Peter charges his batteries at the solar station, which then causes a brief power cut. But this seems to happen quite often and a couple of flashlights are there in no time. We hope to be able to recharge everything in Altai. The many children here are very curious and we feel constantly laughed at by a boy as we two women sit in front of the stove to warm up. At dinner, a bunch of people from the other ger turn up and join in the movie night! It's unusually late for us when we crawl into our sleeping bags at half past ten.




Tuesday, 23.8. Hava Khol - Altai City

When we get up, everything is covered in ice, which is why it's not dripping from the tent. We quickly pack everything up while it's still dry, even though it's icy. At 7°° we are allowed to sit by the stove in the ger and drink tea.

Olivia and I look after a lame yak, leave a few kisses behind and hope that the animal will soon be better. It looks like a pulled muscle.

We say goodbye with a few photos and head along the lake to Altai. My horse really steps on the gas again. Apparently it comes from Altai. It could always run like this!!! This makes riding really fun again. We pass through colorful valleys again, take a leisurely lunch break in the sunshine and enjoy the mountain panorama. The rain has washed everything away and the sun is shining brightly from the clear, dark blue sky. We lie down in the sun and so do the horses. Now Peter has had his rest and Berdibek pushes on, he wants to go to his grandfather and thus to his family. He has spent the whole time collecting the hard cheese we were given as a gift especially for his grandpa and his rucksack is really heavy. So we continue at a brisk pace, but my horse doesn't agree with the route we've taken and would prefer to go in the other direction. We ride along the Sorag oisn River into Altai. A small plane flies overhead with a few tourists, a noise we are no longer used to.

Every now and then a few motorcycles pass us on the dusty road, which the horses don't like at all and they don't like cars either. Shortly before Altai we pass 2 cemeteries and then along the river we come to Berdibek's grandfather's house. A big hello and surprise when we turn up. The horses are quickly unsaddled and everything is dragged into the house so that we can have tea straight away. We then go shopping and browse through all the stores. There's pretty much everything here, just nothing we need. The colorful T-shirts and jackets, pants and other things are not to our taste. However, we do buy a Coke and 2 bottles of beer and juice as we have to wait for the package that Aynabek was supposed to send us. Children go to school during the winter months. They stay with relatives or friends in the village where there is a school. This family means only sister, brother, mother and father for the child. That's why the families in Mongolia are so extensive.

So we have time to wash ourselves and our clothes by the river. Peter gives me an old shampoo, which is now more oily than soapy. Olivia gives me some to wash out my hair, but there's no chance with the cold stream water. Peter supposedly didn't notice? So we have pomade in our hair. At least it's freshly washed and so is the two-week-old laundry. We are invited to dinner. This time we have "Kusche" noodle stew with goat meat hanging in the middle of the ger. It's lucky that everything is so dry here and so well preserved. A sheep or goat lasts about a week for dinner. Here we also get some vegetables and even bay leaves in the stew. People go to bed quite late. We sit in the ger with Grandpa and the rest of the family sits in front of the TV in the house with one of the daughters who has suffered very severe burns and has to stay in bed. It looks really bad, but there is always someone in the family to sit with her and look after her. She is very patient in her bed and only whines when the ointment is applied.

The night is starry and so we can at least visit the local area after a beer and as we sleep in the house, I don't have to dig out of several layers under my sleeping bag.

We are now almost 2 weeks on the road and according to Peter's planning we should be here in the 1st week. It's now clear that we won't make the planned route to Bulgan. We have to look for alternatives. We will take a day off and then make a detour to the eagle hunters that Aynabek recommended and then ride back to Zost Erek via a shorter route.




Wednesday, 24.8. Altai - break day

We lie in bed until 7:30 a.m. and are still the early risers. We have breakfast shortly after 8am. We don't want to disturb the whole family, but it's not that wild here. People just go back to sleep under the covers in the ger. The girl in the house sleeps through most of the morning. I ask for some warm water to get my oily hair clean, which was very pleasant. Peter hangs on. Two of us manage to wash our hair with a jug of warm water. Peter repairs the saddlebags and the tents in the room and then we go back to the shopping mile and have another look at the various stores. You can always find something different. I like a pair of camel hair socks, but they are just too small. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to visit the mosque. We see a drunken man who is turned away by Berdibek. He then mounts a magnificent horse with a saddle and richly decorated bridle. The horses are already patient! Our horses enjoy the rich grass and the peace and quiet. We get freshly made bread for lunch, it simply tastes the best and we eat a lot. Berdibek has brought some ayran for us to try. We wait for the cab to bring our other supplies, including horseshoes. We check the horses' shoes. They have now learned how to shoe and we can inspect them all. It seems that only Peter's horse really needs re-shoeing, the others just need a nail or two replaced. We manage this without knocking the horses over.

In the room, the little girl is crying for some unknown reason. I give her some of our juice and it seems to be a balm for her wounded soul. She calms down again. Then we go back to the horses and have to cross the adventurous footbridge, half of which has already given way under Berdibek in the morning. On the other side, a family has just arrived from the mountains and is setting up the ger. We join the party to help set it up and take photos. The individual poles have to be reasonably level and the middle section, where the stove pipe goes, has to be. Finally, we are invited for chai and they thank us for our help. The interior is not yet ready. The little boy had already used the ger as a toilet before it was built, but that is not seen as a problem. We arrive at Berdibek's grandma's house well fed and ready for our evening meal - he just calls them his grandma and grandpa. His real grandpa has been dead for a long time. They are actually his father's brother and his wife. During the day we recharged all our batteries. Peter tries to call home to give a sign of life. Phone calls are not so easy, it takes time to find out how to do it. For dinner this time we have rice stew, balau, cooked with a little water. We are looking forward to getting to know another dish, although the basic units don't vary much with the meat. We don't even miss the salad and Peter misses it even less. He feels at home here, if only it weren't for all the tea! So our break day was also quite eventful.





Thursday, 25.8. Altei Aktiabak ( eagle hunter)

We pack very little for 2 days, so that only the packhorse has to carry anything. Peter and Berdibek go through the river to fetch the horses. It's sunny and warm in the yard. Berdibek's little black horse quickly takes a dust bath with relish and we almost can't get it clean. With the narrow-gauge luggage, our horses are moving quite quickly. A few more Gers have joined us overnight. We hope to find the eagle hunters up in the mountains. Without luggage, our horses are much quicker and we manage to persuade them to gallop across the meadows. However, we chafe our calves on the saddles again, especially Peter and I with our English saddles. My old summer jumping saddle is a popular object. Everyone loves it, but Berdibek is the first to get it as a new owner in exchange for a pair of horsehair ropes. I joke with him, because every time someone asks, the saddle gets more expensive! The only good thing is that I can't take that many ropes with me in my luggage. I'm glad that the saddle is now being used and appreciated again. We pass herds of cattle again and again and see families descending into the valley. Then we meet a group of tourists, some of whom are still in bed at 10°, which is unimaginable for us. We are offered coffee and tea. The group has a local for almost every tourist. The woman who is the guide for Zakhvan Tours speaks quite good English. Everyone has their own task, unlike our team, where everyone can do everything and fill in for everyone else. It's exciting that I can find jam and tea bags from EDEKA in the middle of nowhere. It's exciting how goods fly all over the world. The tourists themselves came from England, Australia and New Zealand. We move on, meet nomads again and again, pass skeletons distributed as puzzles, gallop at a brisk pace and reach the Sare gobi valley over the An habak pass, where we count 37 gers. The eagle hunter is supposed to be at the very back. At the beginning we meet an older man who is setting up his winter quarters. He explains to us that the eagle hunter there in the valley died six months ago and his son's eagle was cut off. Yes supiii. He sends us back to the 2 Gers we saw clinging to the mountainside. There was another family there who had eagles. We are a bit surprised that Aynabek didn't know this, as he refers to the cooperation with the eagle hunters on his homepage. So we head back. It has become quite chilly and windy. Berdibek asks about the eagle hunters, but his son is in Altai and his grandfather is visiting his neighbor. We have to wait. We get chai and here too there is a chick and a young one being suckled. We set up our tents. I try to climb the hill but after every bump the next one appears and the mountain never ends. I admire the fields of edelweiss and descend to the eagles. Berdibek and Peter have also emerged from their tents! We watch the eagles from a safe distance so as not to disturb the animals. The 2 eagles are tied to a chain close to the ground so they don't have too much freedom. We go back to our tents and the 56-year-old man who directed us here arrives on his horse. He knows the family very well. He puts on the traditional costume and wants to show us the eagles. In the meantime, the somewhat portly 60-year-old grandfather returns from his visit and the whole old man from the ger, aged 82, also comes in his traditional costume. The eagles are pulled onto the glove by the chain and don't really feel comfortable. Olivia can't get much out of the spectacle. We take lots of photos. Then we are allowed to hold the eagles. Peter looks the eagle in the eye a little skeptically in the photo. Berdibek is full of pride and when I hold the panting eagle in my arms, I feel sorry for it. The stronger and faster females are stolen from the nests to hunt, accustomed to humans and trained. After 1-2 years the eagles can be used, but only in winter when it's cold, otherwise they don't come back. The eagles are even capable of killing a wolf, which was shown to us in a video the next morning in the ger. The one man, Kondirgen, would shoe our horses, but only when his son is back and he is probably stuck in Altai. We cook our dinner in the ger and let the people taste it. Some of them are enthusiastic, which surprises us, as Berdibek has rejected everything strongly spiced. After we have finished, we are invited for soup, that's life. Olivia has managed to get us the tent that can be unhitched. Half time, we can get some comfort after the men have had the wool blanket the whole time. What luck that it starts to blow like a gale in the night. I keep hoping that the tent will withstand the storm. At some point it goes bang. A ground anchor has been ripped out of the ground. We try to hold it up from the inside, which is no easy task when the wind is pushing against it all the time. We call for Peter, but he only really gets out of bed after the third call for help and screws the herring back in from the outside. We get a signal from the ger that we should come down, but what if the tent flies away without supervision? It doesn't have to, it's not raining. It held until the morning.



Friday, 26.8. Aktiabak - Altai

We get our breakfast in the ger and now the son is here too. It was he who had asked us to move into his ger at 2 in the morning. We discuss the shoeing of Peter's and Berdibek's horses. Berdibek's black horse is a really nice animal that simply cooperates and after a short time he has his 2 shoes on. Hoof trimming is unknown here and so it's better if they walk the hooves off before the next shoe is put on. Peter's horse makes more of a fuss when he puts his shoes on and his son quickly realizes that it's not so good to eat cherries. But he gets his shoes on too. It's still freezing cold and the wind isn't making it any better. After the work is done, we come back to the ger for another cup of tea to sort out the payment. We are also charged for the tour of the eagles. We pay 30 dollars. We are also shown a video of Tavan Bodgd and one of the eagles shooting a wolf. We sit in the ger at 11 a.m. in the sunshine and watch TV. My jumping saddle is admired again. Olivia has made it clear that her Podium saddle is not for sale and nobody is really interested in Peter's Wintec saddle. They're not really good in terms of material either. We go down the hill and our horses are really fast this time. Berdibek takes off when his horse stumbles, but catches himself standing up. We start to make dashes. Olivia and I let our horses speed off at a gallop. When I realize that the horses are not racing blindly but are paying attention to the path, I have no qualms about picking up speed. We meet an older nomad, but unfortunately we can't talk except for Salem and have to wait for the men. The man pulls out a really stylish pair of gold-rimmed sunglasses. We grin to ourselves and hold on to them. When Peter and Berdibek have caught up with us, we head towards Altai at a more leisurely pace. We ride through without stopping and are back by 14°. In the meantime, many more Gers have arrived and our place for the horses is currently occupied by a herd of yaks. Berdibek takes them back across the river overnight. We pay a visit to the local hospital, go on another shopping spree and then dinner is served. We bring a cappuccino pudding for dessert. Time flies by. We now come to the second half of our journey with the horses through the Altai Mountains.

 



Saturday, 27.8. Altai City - Cholak Dabat (valley) - Sagsai River

It rained during the night and a cloud hangs over us, from which it drizzles, behind which we can see blue sky. We get our breakfast and there is another person on the floor in the ger who has come to visit. You are quickly invited to spend the night and there is always room. Nobody seems to be bothered by the fact that we are already having breakfast. We take some family photos and get some bread for our onward journey. We don't need much longer to pack our horses. Our team has settled into the morning ritual. It has become much colder and the sky is now completely overcast. We head down the valley and on the first hill we can see the path we rode to the eagle hunters the day before. The horses probably know what's in store for them and let themselves be driven again. Berdibek tells us which way to go, but not a word about the fact that there is a military station up ahead. What happens? We have to wait until they have checked our passports. There has to be some tension. If you don't have permission to go through there, it can be expensive, i.e. around 200$ per person, Berdibek tells us and says it doesn't have to be that way, we got the permit for the whole region in Olgii. It takes time, because every passport has to be studied carefully and copied letter by letter in the building in the distance. Unfortunately, we are not invited to tea. We wait in front of the ger, surrounded by curious children on their double-seater bikes. Next door, the yaks bleat, or rather it sounds more like pigs grunting, which irritated me a lot at first. We actually get our passes back and are allowed to continue. The mountain to our left is covered in a white cap, it has snowed and it has become much colder. The sun is no longer visible and a cold wind is blowing. Peter finds the temperatures pleasant, Olivia and I put on everything we've got, Berdibek is freezing as usual anyway. We wonder what he does in winter. Because so far the harbinger of Mongolian winter is here, but if it really is supposed to be minus 30°C in the depths of winter, that's something else. The lunch break is cut short considerably and we continue along the river, hoping to find a ger, but for the time being there is nothing to be seen far and wide and that means something when the area is flat. Finally, in the early afternoon, we spot a white dot at the far end of the valley and head towards it. We pass large herds of horses and are amazed at how many different colors there are here. You can usually tell which is the stallion by the color if it is very distinctive. We pass by a wintering area that is not yet inhabited and hope to spend the night there to get out of the cold wind. But first we go to the ger, which is 1km further on. Berdibek and Peter ask around, Olivia and I wait with the horses. It's getting a bit cold and we're freezing. Peter finally comes out and relieves us of the uncertainty. Tying up the horses and drinking tea. There's plenty of grass and tethering stakes here, so the horses can make the most of the break. This is the first time we have stayed with a Mongolian family. The ger is much smaller and more simply equipped, but this does not detract from the warmth of these people. We now have to swap Rachmet for Bayatla - thank you. I finally see a tanned goatskin lying on the floor. Otherwise the skins are always on their way to China. We are invited to stay and gratefully accept, as it is really uncomfortable outside. After 3 cups of tea, we want to free the horses from their luggage and set up our tents. The Mongolians arrived here the day before, which is why there is still so much grass around the ger. The man sent his two sons away when we arrived. Now he comes with 13 rainbow trout and gives them to Peter, telling him to prepare them. The children also allegedly pulled the trout out of the stream by hand, which we would have liked to have seen. Peter takes the fish from the stream and prepares them. Meanwhile, the soup is cooking in the ger and the woman tries to have a conversation with Olivia and me. There's another pussycat here too, which warms our laps as a cuddly cushion and is very trusting. The men are busy outside somewhere. The "cuddle" is ready, nutritious as always, the fat eyes float on the hot water. For dessert we have the fried rainbow trout. Peter has a bit of trouble with the temperature of the stove, it just doesn't turn down so quickly and so the pan with the fat has to be brought down again and again so that the fish don't fall apart too quickly. Everyone tastes and is impressed by the fried trout. The sun has come out and it's a great evening atmosphere. We take lots of photos of the 70-year-old man and his horses. Then there are the camels and the rest of the family. The man has 10 children with his wife, who is 13 years younger. Most of them are already grown up. One little one is still sitting around in the ger. One young man is shy. He doesn't dare come to the table! We don't understand why? Allegedly because of Olivia, who father would like to have as his daughter-in-law. Peter asks how many camels he would offer and a joke arises that continues for the rest of the trip. We explain what it's all about and the man is prepared to pay 6 camels. But how do we get them home? In our hand luggage? Olivia doesn't want to stay here, although the young man is quite nice. There's a difference between going on vacation and living like this all the time. The woman is not doing so well, she is in pain and we understand that she was in hospital for 20 days in Ulaan Bator for treatment for stomach problems. We withdraw so that she can rest.

 



Sunday, 28.8. Cholak Dabat - Kisilja

The weather has changed again and the sun is shining from the sky, but it is still much cooler and the landscape looks much friendlier. We have to decide which route to take, depending on the weather, and as it is now playing along, we take the longer and supposedly more beautiful route, over a pass that takes us quite close to the Chinese border, which Berdibek is terrified of. The ground is freezing, but when the sun is shining like this, the temperature doesn't really matter. I take my long johns off again before we say goodbye to this family with farewell photos. The landscape becomes more varied again and we find plenty more Gers. Peter tries to pick up the pace, but Berdibek has problems with the packhorse or his riding horse. He has been much slower since the Altai. Peter goes to the back to help him and I speed up at the front so that we get to the crossroads in the other valley a bit faster. It's only 15 km. But it can drag on if the horses don't move forward. We reach the crossroads around midday and meet motorcycles with 5 people each. They want photos of themselves and the motorcycles, which are faster than the horses. I can understand why they exchanged them. They explain that there is no problem with the route we want to take. But Berdibek is still not convinced. He would rather take the easier and shorter route. But we still have time before we have to be back and would rather take the nicer route. We find lots of discarded vodka bottles along the road. Unfortunately, they don't rot. We cross the river and have lunch surrounded by a herd of yaks. We had the thermos flask filled with hot water in the morning, which is now used to make pea soup, just like the day before. It is very nutritious and puts something warm in your stomach. Peter has a problem with his horse when mounting because the saddle has slipped. The horse runs off with the saddle bucking under its belly. We have trouble catching it again. One strap is broken and the saddle has suffered a bit. Nothing else has happened. We re-saddle, Peter mends the broken strap and we can continue. We get tea at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, again with a Mongolian family. The rooms are smaller and Peter bumps his head at the entrance, as it doesn't go up immediately after the door as usual. We are sitting having tea and the TV is on right next to us. A conversation doesn't get going as the Turkish soap opera is more important. The distances to the lake vary greatly. Everyone warns us about the Chinese border and so we follow the river, hoping for a windless spot with lots of grass. We find one 4 km before the lake. We set up camp by a stream bed with plenty of grass for the horses. In the background are the glacier mountains bordering China. The walk to the water is a bit of an adventure, as we have to keep hopping from hubble to hubble to get to the water without getting our feet wet. As today is Sunday and we have enough hot water, we get a 3-course meal, even with dessert. Once again, we can sit outside until half past seven until the sun disappears behind the mountain and it gets fresh again. In the tent we can hear the horses grazing and the sound of the stream. We haven't seen any more herds of cattle here.


 



Monday, 29.8. Kisilja - Dalla Khol

Oh, miracle, the morning starts warm, but it is cloudy and snow showers are approaching from China. We still have just under 4 km to go to Lake Harakol, which we wanted to reach the evening before. We were lucky again, the lake is beautiful but quite swampy. We are surprised that there are no herds of cattle up here, but plenty of grass. Apparently the fear of the Chinese is too great. What if the animals cross the border? The sun briefly casts its light on the lake, in front of us a blue sky and behind us the threat of thick gray clouds from China. A great view that opens up before us. But then an icy cold wind comes up and we quickly try to make our way up the mountain flank. It gets too cold for me, I descend to lead something and get warmer again. But at some point I have to get back on, because I don't have the strength to pull my shaggy bike up the mountain at 3000 meters. Even Peter is not too hot for once and also leads. The first snow-covered peaks are approaching and the streams are starting to ice over. You could be forgiven for thinking we were in Switzerland, except that there are no signposts for hikers. On the pass, the streams are completely iced over and we are standing on the Jasil Kol Dabaa Pass at 3317m. It can be cooler at the beginning of fall. If the weather was fine, we would have a fantastic view. We quickly take a photo and descend into the valley in the hope that it will get a little warmer and we will find grass for the horses. The hot water - or pea soup - we brought with us from the Thermos revives our spirits. We enter a low-lying valley and pass several small lakes until we reach the Bsau Khol. It is bright blue and surrounded by colorful mountains. You could be forgiven for thinking that the painters had poured a different pot of paint over every mountain here. But this is not our destination for the day. The sun is shining from the now cloudless sky, only now an icy cold wind is blowing. After 2 hours we reach Dalla Khol, our destination for the day. But where to spend the night? In the middle of an open field with no shelter from the fan? Once again we are lucky. A Kazakh comes riding towards us, who was rounding up his goats. He invites us to his ger for dinner, but it's at the other end of the lake. We grit our teeth, close our eyes and get through. We pass the family's winter quarters and the woman drops everything to make us a cup of tea. The place is great for us, but the horses don't have much to gnaw on. We park them on the mountainside, where there is less wind. We are glad to finally get out of the wind and enjoy the chai and the freshly baked bread. The cheese is quite edible here, but the butter is really sour. We are invited to sleep in the ger and this time I throw my reservations about sleeping with so many people under one roof overboard. I dread having to put up the tents in the storm. We feel much better after tea and we put our luggage away. The evening light and the lake invite us to take photos again. The night in the ger was surprisingly quiet, no snoring and the children were also very quiet. Berdibek was allowed to sleep in the bed, but was still freezing because he didn't use his sleeping bag, just a thin blanket.



Tuesday, 30.8. Dalla Khol - Sur Khol

When we get up and go outside, there is an icy surprise. The stream, which was still carrying water in the evening, was now completely frozen. It must have been around -10°C and it didn't thaw that quickly. It's not particularly warm in the ger either and the stove takes a while to give off heat. The weather has changed, sunny without a cloud, but cold and the wind has dropped considerably. W e saddle up our horses, which have come up short. They make surprisingly good progress. Perhaps we have fed them too well? Because the racehorses don't get anything to drink for a day so that they run faster... who knows?

Nevertheless, we take a 30-minute break to feed the horses at the first good grass. Peter wanted a second breakfast, as we had originally planned it that way. Olivia and I don't really want anything as we had a good breakfast in the ger. So we set off along the Dalla Khol, again and again through marshy meadows and along the icy streams. There are skeletal remains lying around from time to time. You can't be squeamish here. The landscape is magnificent. It reminds me of Nevada and the Painted Desert, as colorful as everything shimmers here. The sand-colored mountains are reflected in the deep blue lake and a herd of goats and sheep stands in front of it. Wild geese fly up chattering when you get too close to them. Thanks to Peter's GPS, we can deviate from the paths and climb up to the more beautiful viewpoint. This allows us to look back at the snow-covered mountains. On the other side is a huge valley in which there is a single shelter, in the distance a shepherd rounding up 3 yaks. In the next valley we meet a nomad with his bay horse rounding up his huge herd of sheep. The questions are always the same: where from, where to and why are we on vacation in Mongolia? In this valley, the prospect of water is poor. I finish my bottle of water at lunchtime, which I almost regret later. We watch a motorcyclist carrying several canisters to fetch water from a small lock. The next one arrives 1km further on. This could be fun. But we want to get to the lake and think we'll definitely get water there. Wrong! 5 eagles fly overhead, the nomads leave and we see a lonely ger on the other side of the valley. The stream has dried up. We trot towards the lake like the last of the Mohicans. The horses drink the murky water because they are thirsty. Only we can't even get through the mud to reach reasonably clear water. There is plenty of grass here, but we need water. Peter and Berdibek look on the other side of the lake to see if there is an inlet. No answer... We have no choice but to ask in the ger, they must have water from somewhere. So we drive our hungry horses the few kilometers back to the ger. The children play outside, but none of the adults show up. My first impression was that this was going to be fun, but it was very deceptive. When the adults finally notice the visit, we are invited for tea - this time without milk, as the animals have already left - and dinner. They are waiting for the driver to take the ger away and are actually there for the last day. We were lucky again. They show us where the water is, or rather the man likes to drive around on his motorcycle and bring us water. We unsaddle the horses and Olivia rides back to the lake with Berdibek so that they can eat. I'm going to ride them again later with our guide as he's afraid they'll be stolen, which I can't imagine happening here, but our host also thinks we should get them back. OK, he should know. They are brought back on the bike. Peter mends a few straps and I record our experiences. We are allowed to sleep in the ger again. We stow our stuff and only take the essentials inside. One of Olivia's UNO games is one of the most important utensils of the evening. The woman tells us that she loves having guests, which makes us feel much more at ease. She makes an extra dinner for us. "A kurdak", fried noodles with meat and onions, heavenly good. It becomes our favorite dish. Olivia teaches Berdibek and the two children how to play UNO and when I've finished writing, Peter and I join in. It's great fun and the whole family loves it.

We get our dinner and then Berdibek and I fetch the horses before it's pitch dark. We get the motorcycle as a cab again. No problem for 3. on it, helmet compulsory? Nobody asks. He drives very carefully and knows every bump. We trot up the slope in the dark. My horse feels much safer than I do. Trotting in the dark without a saddle is a bit like a ghost ride, only it doesn't spit. While we fetch the horses, the wife is supposed to be cooking dinner for her family, but forgets to do so because she's so busy playing UNO. After dinner, we play two more rounds and the children are now really into it. We are provided with all the family's warm coats. We shouldn't freeze this night.

 



Wednesday, 31.8. Sur Khol - Tolbo Khol

Peter can't stay in bed any longer than 7°° and gets up. So does the father of the family. Peter tries to light the oven. The wife grins to herself out of bed and we watch with interest. But it doesn't really work. Apparently it's not that easy to light the yak dung. The man comes along, takes a piece of an old rubber sole, lights it and the pile starts to burn. We get up too and soon the tea is ready. With the help of the whole family, we are soon ready to go. Photos of everyone and the bike and the man with his children and the promise to send some. We hope that they will actually get to the people. But as they will all come to Olgii at some point, it should be possible for Berdibek to distribute them at some point. This family is moving to Olgii for the winter anyway and wants to return to Kazakhstan next year. We first go to the waterhole that Berdibek was shown and then, on the way to the lake, we look for the bottle that Olivia lost the day before. Berdibek and I suddenly both head towards a brown something and we have indeed found the bottle. The horses are moving very quickly again, but don't feed them? However, we let them graze in the next meadow. A man comes down from the mountain for a chat. He tells us that he has an eagle, which he used to kill the foxes and from which his jacket is made. We ride along the Tolbo River and after the next bend we have a fantastic view of the next valley. Gers stand by the watercourse with the reddish-brown mountains behind them and the herd of goats on the other side. The yaks are standing in the water to cool off, as the sun is burning down from the sky. We move down from the high mountains into lower regions and now see more and more gers in the valleys, which will be staying here until November before they finally move to their winter quarters. Peter cuts the lunch break short, we don't understand why, just to recharge the batteries, the rush? He picks up the pace and when we arrive at a beautiful grassy spot with clean running water at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Olivia and I stay behind. Peter and Berdibek ride to Tolbo City without luggage. We wash up after a good week. It's sunny and nice and warm, finally time to wash my hair again. I'm just getting dressed and when I look up, there are spectators. It's a whole herd of yak babies. It's just as well there's no shepherd around. We set up the tents, which can only be done in pairs, and start to stow our stuff away when a horde of boys approaches from the ger with curious hellos. But that's where the conversation ends. They soon leave again when they realize that there's nothing to take from us. We start boiling water because we have time and have just poured the cappuccino when we hear the men coming. We had hoped for a cozy women's afternoon! The water is soon hot for dinner. Peter has been shopping and brings Coke, juice and cookies. Berdibek wishes me a happy birthday and I'm sorry to say that I don't have one until the next day. Now the shopping trip was understandable. We sit in the evening sun and enjoy the last warming rays. We'd already had enough in the tent when it was too uncomfortable outside. I take the men to the neighbors for a chat. Olivia stays behind and learns vocabulary for South America. We are invited for chai and are served un kurdak, it's a shame we've already eaten, it tastes delicious because we try it politely and I would have liked to eat more. Interestingly, we find a TV, video recorder and solar panels in almost every ger. Here, too, the energy revolution is coming, albeit only with 1 or 2 bulbs, but still. People use the daylight outside to work for as long as they can and then around 9pm they prepare dinner and process the milk. Peter's hat is always a source of amazement and the children are proud when he puts it on and we take photos. One of the men is an eagle hunter and the eagle sits just a few meters away from us. We have to find our way back in the dark through the bumpy slope, then jump over a few more streams. It wasn't easy for me in daylight, but following the men in the dark was even more difficult. We make it back safely. 




Thursday, 1.9. Tolbo Khol

The sun comes out early as the valley is vast. To celebrate the day, we have a candle cut in half, otherwise it wouldn't have held in the mini cake, which had to serve as a candlestick. Everyone gets a small mini cake and then we soon ride off to Tolbo City, as Peter has to pick up the batteries he left there for charging. It's really busy here. We are also on the main Olgii - Ulaan Bator road. Every car stirs up a lot of dust. We park the horses. Berdibek stays with them and we go to look at the stores. In the 2nd shop we meet a woman who speaks very good English. She is an English teacher. Berdibek could take lessons from her. Peter asks for a Kashmiri fur for me, but they are all in Olgii and we'll come back there. I wanted to refresh my collection of furs from every country and Kashmir would be a good fit for Mongolia. A camel would be too big! We buy 4 Snickers to celebrate and are really spoiled. When Peter wanted to pick up his batteries at the other store, he was asked to pay 10$ for the store and that was definitely too much for him. Berdibek had to mediate. We were then able to agree on 5 dollars. We reach the end of the small town and Peter uses the public toilet. Only the walls here are not made for his height and so a bit more is always sticking out than he wanted. The landscape is barren, dry and dusty. We spend the whole day walking along the Tolbo Khol and have chai with a family over lunch. There is a hide of an animal hanging here that we can't identify. Did the man kill it with a stone? Peter shows us his photos and we have to stop, because when another guest arrives, he smells so bad that we leave the ger in a hurry. Instead, we get some fresh ayran in the next ger. Olivia doesn't want any, I try some and empty her bowl too. Towards evening, it becomes difficult again to find grass for the horses. We ask in a ger and have to go back a few kilometers. A group of young horses awaits us there, who find the action exciting and romp around between our horses. For dinner, we have a trekking meal with elk, which Peter has brought with him, and for dessert, the sour cherry liqueur I brought with me. Berdibek doesn't like it, so he gets the last cake. It's getting windy again and clouds are gathering, but it stays warm and it rains a little at night.




Friday, 2.9. Tolbo Khol - Sar Khol

In the morning we have pure sunshine again, no trace of the rain. The dry ground soaks up everything. We have breakfast in the ger where we asked for grass the night before. We ask about the dead horse we saw about 200 m from the ger. It was killed by a wolf. Supposedly there are a lot of wolves here. That was months ago, but the sun preserves everything really well here and the dryness doesn't contribute to the decay. The good man here now wants to offer 10 camels for Olivia. The price increase is immense. We are curious to see how this will continue. We cross a small pass into a green valley and drive along for hours. You can understand why people used to believe that the earth was a disk. You can't see anything but the horizon and so we move along. The line of sight to Zost Erek goes to the right and my horse always wants to go there, but there are a few small hills in between that we should avoid. It is again difficult to convince the horses to go in the other direction. We have to go onto the road that is currently being rebuilt and can't see a thing because of all the dust. Huge excavators are heaping up stones and a few workers wave to us. It is approaching 12 o'clock and there is no grass to be seen for miles around. There is no water either. We have to get to the Sar Khol, otherwise it looks bleak again. A couple of tourists from Olgii stop in their car for a chat. Peter has to quickly lash something to the packhorse. In the meantime, they grab Peter's horses, one sits on them and the other takes photos! Don't take things too seriously. The sun must have got to me, I feel tired after the lunch break and want to reach the rest area as soon as possible. We pass a herd of 11 camels belonging to the next ger at Sar Khol. Soon afterwards we see the Sar Khol, with a ger in the foreground that we are riding towards. Shortly before, there is lush grass and a small stream. We lie in the sun and enjoy the peace and quiet. Olivia does a wash. After 2 liters of water I feel better again. We get chai in the ger, but are not invited to eat. The good man offers 12 camels, we laugh and say that we have only seen 11 because they belong to him. He has the camel stallion and the young animals in another pasture. Nevertheless, the deal doesn't go through. We still have enough trekking meals with us to cook and we also have running water outside our tent door, so we can sit outside again in the warm weather and watch the sunset. Our trip is slowly coming to an end and we are distributing the remaining supplies more generously. We don't want to take it home again. Berdibek explains to me the different methods of cheese production: for Akirimchik, white cheese, the milk is boiled, a bowl of ayran is added, filtered, i.e. the water is allowed to drip off. The rest is the cheese, which dries in the sun and is hard after 10 days. This explains the degree of hardness of the cheeses. More ayran is added to khurt, stone cheese, and it is also mashed, then cooked for 5 hours and dried after filtering. It can be kept for 1 year. No wonder, it doesn't go down quickly. It is soaked in tea and then slowly sucked. The process for khizil irimchik, the red cheese, is the same as for white cheese, except that it is cooked for 4 hours. It is soft for about 10 days and tastes very spicy, similar to Maggi. It can be kept for 3-5 months. The food here is very simple but nutritious. We had 3 different dishes with slightly different ingredients. The basic dish is always noodles, sheep or goat meat, a few potatoes, carrots and onions. Only once did we get rice stew. Balau was the rice stew; Kusche, the noodle stew and Un kurduk the fried noodles, our favorite. We hadn't heard many good things about Mongolian cuisine beforehand, or rather Kazakh cuisine in our case, but we were pleasantly surprised at how well we were looked after and didn't really miss anything. You just have to get used to drinking a lot of tea. These people have been living with their own products for centuries. Milk from yaks, goats or sheep, ayran, yoghurt, butter and whipped cream. A goat or a sheep is slaughtered every week or so and the pieces of meat hang on the wall in the ger, air-dried. As there were no flies when we were there and it was quite cool, there was no smell. We don't know what it's like in summer at other temperatures? Plastic comes from modern times and has to be incinerated. There is usually not much waste. The juices on offer in the supermarkets all expired when we bought them. We always had a disposal problem, the recycling center wasn't there! You can get by with a lot less than we think.  

 



Saturday, 3.8. Sar Khol - Zost Erek

The last day of our round trip. It was warm that night, we were only at 1800m. The night was starry and we could see the Milky Way very clearly. In the distance, the lights of cars using the main road kept flashing. We head towards Zost Erek along the lake. Peter wanted to go over another pass and I wondered about the direction we had taken. But today Berdibek is supposed to be the guide and he has decided on a less steep pass. We first come to the valley where the camel stallion is supposed to be, but we don't see him. We ride on and the valley becomes wide and dry. I thought that my horse would be running at a brisk pace today as it was finally going home, but unfortunately not so. It plods along at a leisurely pace. After a long climb, we finally reach the top of the pass and it takes just as long to get back down into the valley. On the way, we meet some shepherds who are resting here with their camels and animals. The stove from the ger is also set up here. The tea water is already boiling. We learn from the shepherds that our horseman is already on the lookout for us. We get to Zost Erek but the ger is no longer in the same place. We have to ask where the family has moved to. Just a few hundred meters further north. We ride along the river and Bidan comes riding towards us on his white horse in his Sunday suit and slippers and is clearly happy to have his horses back safe and sound. We quickly unsaddle, the horses are simply left to run, they are at home! We are invited into the ger, Bidan shoos Olivia and me to the women's side, Peter and Berdibek to the men's side. They have visitors from neighbors and friends. Around 20 people are sitting in the packed ger. We're a bit taken by surprise and it's really hot in here. Peter goes to escape to get rid of his 2 shirts. They've put him at the back on a chair with the atas, the older men. Ata means the older one, Apa the older one and Apakei the younger one. A lot more was explained to us, but I couldn't remember all the names. We don't understand much in the ger, but after a while the eldest in the ger stands up, bows to the host with praying hands and leaves the ger without a word. Word quickly spreads that we are back here. Bidan recognized us from afar as he came towards us. The owner of the packhorse passes by, as does the owner of the black pony. They are all happy to have their horses back. We thought the horses all belonged to Bidan. My horse doesn't belong to him either, but to the driver who brought us. Peter's horse took first place in a race, which we would have liked to have seen, this horse in full action, because it wasn't ready to run fast. Mine came 2nd, although I noticed a few times that he could run well when he wanted to! We just had to make it clear to people that we needed the horses for another 2 days. There were a few misunderstandings about the length of our trip. We wanted to do a 2-day tour, but then agreed on 2-day stages. This meant we could ride without luggage and leave our tents. We make the most of the warm sunshine and go for a swim in the river. It's wonderful to be so freshly washed and have fresh clothes on. The tents are inspected as we pitch them. Peter plays volleyball with a couple of people, I withdraw as I've never really liked the game. Berdibek tells us that they want to slaughter a sheep and we want to see it. The sheep's throat is cut and it bleeds out. You can understand why slaughtering is forbidden here. It takes a few minutes for the sheep to die. Except it is quick, they are really fast. The sheep's head is roasted over the fire. To get at the brains, the man snips at the ears. We watch the action intently and hope that we don't end up in the embarrassment of having to eat sheep's eyeballs. We actually find someone who can play the tombra, the local musical instrument. The owner of the packhorse takes a while to tune it and then plays a piece for us. We applaud and he leaves the ger in a hurry. We eat dinner separately. The visitors in the neighboring ger and we at Bidan's, who urges Olivia to take a few photos next door and then we are sent away again. We are served sheep's head, but thankfully decline the sheep's eyes. The men give us the non-fatty parts of the meat. We each take a bone, which is placed on a plate and the pieces of meat are cut off, the rest is put back on the plate. We show photos of our tour and everyone wants to see the pictures of Tavan Bogd. The surprise is great when we show the pictures. The first woman who has treated us so graciously is the sister of our local hostess. She is delighted when we show her the pictures and tell her that she is doing well. We discuss the excursion plan for the next two days. The next day, Bidan accompanies us and takes us to eagle nests in the mountains and we collect wild onions. The last day we will ride down the valley to Bujond on our own again. Then the packhorse and the black horse go back to their owners.




Sunday, 4.9. Zost Erek - Adlerberg - Schopkar täs

Surprise, the horses are gone! The black one that was tied up is gone too. He pulled out his stake and went home to his mare. Since he wasn't hobbled, it seems to have been easy. Ours are with their herd. Bidan sets off for his early morning exercise to catch the horses. How do I get some work? Grandpa watches the action with his binoculars. Bidan manages to catch Peter's horse, sits on it and tries to drive the whole herd in our direction. Peter and Berdibek want to help him, but our crooks run past them at a stretched gallop despite the rope. Tired? Not a trace! Bidan's gray horse can't be caught at all. Berdibek goes after him and the herd, Peter runs after ours down the river. Olivia and I wait for things to happen. Bidan comes riding up, throws me the rope from Peter's horses and I can see what I'm doing, not a word understood. He just doesn't seem happy about the action. We saddle Peter's horse, I wanted to come to his aid. But then the men appear with the horses in tow. We can't see where they've collected them. Peter is standing on the other side of the river and doesn't want his feet wet. I ride over and give him his horse. Only if I hold the slipping saddle for him to mount, how do I get on the horse? I manage to jump on without a saddle, we ride over and saddle our shaggy saddles. Bidan has had breakfast in the meantime and we can set off 15 minutes late.

Bidan's white horse is very fast and we have trouble keeping up with ours. We arrive in a beautiful, remote valley. The path is littered with boulders, so the horses have to be careful, but little attention is paid to this. They run unperturbed over the scree. Bidan stops at a side valley. This solves the mystery of the hide we had seen. He kills an animal that is slowly climbing up the mountain and trying to escape. It takes a while for the poor animal to die and then we can see that it is a wild cat. We wonder about this type of cat as it is so slow and has quite short legs. He only killed it for its fur, the rest is probably dog food. We have our own opinion on this, but other countries have different customs. We leave the horses tethered to a stone. They wait patiently until we come back. There is nothing to eat. We climb higher and higher up the steep mountain path and see the eagles circling above us. Bidan asks us to be quiet. You can see the eagles' white droppings on the reddish-brown rock faces. We can see them approaching and flying over our heads. We would never have found it so remote without a local guide. Berdibek tells us that it takes up to 4 men to catch an eaglet. You have to keep a close eye on which one you want, because you can only use the females for hunting as they are stronger than the males. They are caught in mid-July, about 1 month after they hatch, when you can distinguish the females from the males. The females are stronger and faster than the males and have a larger body. They can weigh up to 8 kg and the males around 6 kg. It then takes about 1 year of training before they can be used. We move on to look for the onions. The path goes downhill over hill and dale at first and to keep Bidan's pace, I have to trot after him again and again. I ask myself why I've always descended on paths at home. Peter gives up trying to follow on foot, as his horse can only be pulled anyway! We reach a rugged valley, the sun is burning down from the sky and we start to sweat. We take a break in the middle of the scree. The horses have found a load of hay that had been lost and are munching on it while we eat our lunch. Bidan tries a lot of our food. When it comes to pumpernickel, he just says we should take real bread with us tomorrow. I don't mind, but we have to finish our supplies. We pass onion fields. Berdibek and Bidan are digging out and collecting diligently. If we had a second spade, we could have helped, but as it is, we enjoy the view and take photos of the beautiful area. The horses are incredibly sure-footed in this terrain. They skillfully avoid the very frequent holes made by the various animals. In the middle of the mountain, Bidan pulls out his cell phone and starts making calls, as does Berdibek, of course. I can hardly believe it!

At a beautiful point, we can see all the way down into the valley to Zost Erek and Saksai. We take a few group photos. Bidan also wants to take some but unfortunately they are all blurred. It's not quite that easy after all. We pass another wintering area. The path is littered with undergrowth that gets caught in our shoes and socks. Apparently mice have collected hay in one of the houses! Who copied what from whom, the mice from the humans or vice versa? We continue to follow the path through the fragrant undergrowth, it smells like a herb garden. Bidan wants us to take photos here, well this path is not that spectacular for us, but we take photos. We make our way to the ger at a brisk pace. We get tea to rinse our dry throats. We go to the owner of the packhorse to take a few photos of his family. His pride and joy is an old battered car. It has to be included. Here we also see his second horse, which has the same long toes as our packhorse. We try to explain to him that the hoof position is not good for the horse and to emphasize the point, Peter is declared a professional blacksmith. Man's world!

We are then served chai and meat again. We are full and know that dinner is still to come. They make an effort. He plays the tombra for us again and then his two daughters sing along. We are fascinated. Peter and Berdibek bring a few presents over later. Bidan picks us up and we go to his workshop in the winter quarters. It's quite a comfortable house with lots of rooms, not like ours but decent by local standards. He shows us photos of his horses that have won prizes. A race like this goes over 30km and little boys and girls ride the horses bareback. Hats off! The winner can collect up to 1000 dollars, depending on the size of the race. He shows us his smithy where he forges the horseshoes from mild steel. Then we climb up to a cave in the mountain, which is said to have been inhabited by a Buddhist lama. The valley was a Buddhist center, when? How the lama got in and out of there, no idea? We go back and the little girl collects yak dung in her school uniform. She starts school tomorrow. Another sheep is slaughtered at the ger, this time especially for us. But still sheep's eyes?

No, we're lucky, but we now know what happens to the offal. They are cooked and served together with the brains and sweetbreads on a large platter. To me, it looks like an indefinable, unappetizing mass. Berdibek fishes out something brown for me. I'm skeptical and then pleasantly surprised, it's a piece of liver and tastes really good. So I happily take more of it. I'm happy to leave the white flabby stuff. Everything is used up here. Then we get some cuddles, so the lost pounds won't come back if we keep eating like this. The woman now has a lot of work to do with the slaughtered sheep as she is taking the girl to school the next day. We are playing with Bidan and Grandpa is always sitting on the chair. They now want to pay 20 camels for Olivia. Now it's getting really exciting. Thanks to all the tea, I have to go out again at night.



Monday, 5.9. Zost Erek - Bujand


It has cooled down. I get out of bed at 7°. Breakfast is served at 8°. This time our horses are here, we've tied them up again. Berdibek gets the fast white and we get our 3 browns as usual. We follow the Saksai River to Bujond. My horse runs very fast and I am surprised, but find it pleasant. We pass a small lake, which we had already seen from above the day before. It is nestled in the middle of 4 hills. We follow the river to the village of Zost Erek. It is a vacation village for children. Tourists can also come, but we don't know how to book them. The valley becomes narrower and wilder and we let the horses run ahead, which is sometimes like a rollercoaster, because they know the paths better than we do and if they think the path goes left, then they go left, even if we think it goes right. We come across 2 shepherds driving the sheep through a bottleneck. The two sit together on their horses and come with us. The older one is visiting from Kazakhstan. He stays with the herd and the younger one comes with us. Olivia and I have fun riding him through the bush. He grins to himself because he has a clear advantage as he knows the way. Berdibek and Peter follow at a more leisurely pace. But all in all, we are moving very quickly over hill and dale on narrow paths along the gorge. Peter tells Berdibek that this is our normal pace, but he just rolls his eyes. We have a lot of fun. After about an hour, we come across a family trying to catch two foals. We help, but the animals are quick. Some time passes before we have the two wild catches. They come from the mountains and this is the second time they have been caught so that they can get used to being tied up. Berdibek does a somersault during the action. When we realize that nothing is wrong with him, we have to laugh. That was cinematic. Unfortunately, Olivia had already packed her camera away. We get Chai in the ger, which is hidden in a small wood. The older man is now offering 60 camels for the two of us together, now it's getting exciting. I explain to him that he has to race us every day. At Nadam, the big Mongolian festival, there is a race between men and women. If the man wins, he gets to hug the woman and if the woman wins, she gets to whip the man. The man has now heard about our riding skills, so he is no longer too serious about the camels. When we pass his camels a little later, we can only count 24. It wouldn't have been enough anyway! We actually manage to trot the 23 km to Bujond, have a juice, talk to the village and take the shorter route back over the mountain. Now the grey horse realizes that it's going home and pulls up. Mine no longer wants to. Later we find out that it belongs to the driver who lives in Bujond. The way back is only 19 km, but it's up the mountain. We reach the valley again and Olivia and I let our horses run, so we arrive before the men. Bidan just laughs. We wouldn't have stood a chance against the white man. Peter says that next time we need four horses that are as eager to run as the white one. We unsaddle them, they run off and that's it. It wasn't particularly painful to say goodbye. We wash up by the river and pack up our stuff. There's not much left, at least for me. Peter gives away generously. I start bartering, as I've learned from Kyrgyzstan that not everything is available on the market. So I swap my Sigg bottle for a handmade yak hair ornament. Someone in the neighboring ger actually has a tanned Kashmir skin. I can hardly believe it. Berdibek proudly tells me that he has reduced the non-tourist price from 20 to 15 dollars. He learns more and I get hold of a very nice little Kashmir skin. Now people have realized that they can do business with us. It gets really nice. Bidan makes us chai, as the woman is not back yet. He starts cutting the meat for un kurduk, the fried noodles. That's what Olivia had asked for. Bidan has fun with Olivia and me. He puts a thick, warm coat on her and another one on me as an apa and I get a decorated belt in my old age's honor. I soon get really warm in the coat and have to part with it. The woman arrives quite late and is really busy making our dinner. It tastes delicious and we enjoy the last of the fried noodles. I want to sell my sleeping bag, but Berdibek wants a second one so he doesn't get so cold. That's fine, he's earned it. The evening passes with looking at photos and joking about our return to Mongolia.

We wait for Ainabek to pick us up in the jeep. All in all, the four of us enjoy 5 days of hospitality. The evening before the return journey, I ask what we should pay for the 20 nights. Bidan goes and asks his wife and comes back with the answer that it would be 64 USD. I can't believe it, and when he asks me if he could have my DIY tent instead of the money, I was happy to give it to him. The value of the material was 250 euros plus the labor. I felt better, but only for a short time, because 10 minutes later Bidan came back all sad and said his wife needed the money to go shopping tomorrow. If she goes into town with us. I give him 65 USD and the tent. Now someone is really happy. And so am I. The next morning, Bidan looks quite exhausted and hands me a hand-forged knife with a horn handle that he made on his forge during the night as a gift in return.

When Ainabek arrives, the jeep in which he wants to drive us to Bayan Olgii doesn't look very trustworthy. His left front tire in particular is just canvas, the rubber is completely missing. We refuse to get in and insist that the tire be changed. Reluctantly, he takes the spare tire, which looks slick but still has rubber, and changes it.

We drive back to Bayan Olgii and realize with horror that the time has now moved forward by an hour and we are an hour late. Arriving at the airport, the women put on all the clothes they can't fit in their luggage, as only 20 kg are allowed. We are already expected and asked to hurry to the plane as quickly as possible so that we can take off. As soon as we are strapped in, the plane takes off and takes us to Ulaan Bataar. We spend the night with friends of Berdibek and fly back to Munich the next day.

 



 

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