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Thread: Mongolian Madness and the Gobi Desert

  1. #17
    Hi Sniffy,

    yeah, we spoke to a few ex pat's in UB who'd be there for 11-years and expalined that even 8-years ago there wasn't a single high rise building just a few thousand ger.


    It's one of the reason the traffic is now so bad, as the road infrastructure simply keep keep pace with the increase in traffic volume. Once we got out of the UB, the country side help us quickly forget the traffic. Like stepping back in time.

    Cheers
    Simon
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  2. #18

    Mongolian Madness Part VI

    15-09-2009

    By some miracle we’d hauled ourselves out of our sleeping bags when the alarm had buzzed at 6:30am, we knew we had to make some good miles today.

    By 8:25 we were packed and had two strong coffees each. The open plains we’d camped in continued but just ten minutes after leaving I’d noticed Lisa falling behind. Back at her side it wasn’t hard to see she was upset. What’s wrong I asked. “The front of the bike is wobbling like crazy, it’s horrible to ride’ she blurted. Her front left fork was completely soaked in oil, her left fork seal had dissintergrated. There was no way I could fix it here. We have the seals but no ATF fluid left over from UB. I did my best to ressure Lisa that the problem was minor. It was easy for me to say I’m not the one riding the bike. At the same time I was wondering if the problem was with the 19” inner tube that was now wrapped around her 21’ rim, or the fact that her front tyre wasn’t sittign on the rim equally all the way around.

     

     

    For the next 2-hours we didn’t break the 26 miles per hour mark. That changed after being chased for a mile by two huge dogs that had launched themselves out of one of the gers’ we’d passed earlier. Apparently they thought we were good sport.

    The deep corrugations (washboard) were making the slower pace all the more frustrating. Mid morning came and went and we found ourselves diving into deeper pockets of sand before pulling up in wide plains that stetch into the horizon. We were surrounded by a blanket of bright plant life that painted the landscape yellow, red, purple and orange. Checking our position confirmed we were in the Har Es Nuur National park. We pushed on after a few photos knowing time was against us.

    Now at some point we’d managed to leave the main track and headed almost due north, our route getting smaller and narrower, our speed limited by the hundreds of gullies and dried waterways that crossed our route. By later afternoon we were on the southerly edge of Lake Har Dorro Nuur- finally a landmark we could use to work out our position. We needed to ride due west through the mountain range we’d been watching getting larger for the last 4-hours.

    Sudenly the landscape changed again with small pockets of green scrub grass adding a splash of colour to what had been a yellow dusty day. We were now on a stoney goat track, winding for what seemed like an age, before cresting a rise and rolling down a steep bank into a riverbed. The loose shale rock surface requiring a deft touch on the throttle, much like riding sand. An hour later and we’re out of the river bad and ridng a long, long scree hill, the remnants of an long forgotten glacier, heading down into another vast valley where we’d turn north west. This was fun and I could hear Lisa enjoying herself with the whoops and yells of octane-fuelled please as she rode down the scree slope that seemed to go on for an age. The fun was about to stop.

     

     

     

    At the bottom of the scree slope dense thickets of scrub meant leaving the track was impossible and we were now in deep soft sand.

     

    I’d managed to get through the first long section, adrenalin pumping, my hearts in my mouth. In my mirror I can see Lisa hit the ground hard. She’s trapped under the bike and gas is pouring out from the breather hose. Our difficulties were to set the tone for the next 3-hours. This was the hardest riding we’d done since Africa, well with the exception of the Amazon. We’d battle through one soft section to fall at the next. I dropped my bike 7 times in the first two hours on two occasions had to strip the bags inorder to right the big GS. We’d dropped the tyre pressure as low as we could, remembering that Lisa’s front tyre was inflated with the wrong sized inner tube. We were getting exhausted, our clothes and gear sweat sodden, our helmets and gloves thick with sand. A lone Mongolian rode up on a stocky Mongolian steed, stared at us like we were from Mars and rode off. Lisa took photos as I climbed one of the telephone poles hoping to see the course of the route and if it got any better.

     

    As we moved away from the hills the sand petered out, bloody hell I’ve never been so glad to ride corrugations.

    It was approaching 7:00pm and we needed to stop, breathing a sigh of relief we let our guard drop, surely we’d passed the last of todays obstacles? Of course not! Lisa and I pulled up and simply stared, in this arid and parched landscape our track had disappeared, vanished.

     

    Ahead of us a marshy landscape that had now submerged our route. We picked our careful way for an hour around the shallower parts with our feet and boots soaked and cold. The wheels sliding in the thick mud. As the daylight disappeared we found solid ground and pitched our tent behind thick bushes. The front of the tent with our cooking gear and bags felt like sanctuary after a hard days riding. Lisa has down brilliantly after some pretty technical riding, especially considering her wobbly front end. (oh er Missus!)

    Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

     

     

    ...................

    16-09-2009

    ...................

    The light green wind swept bush around us gave off a wonderful lemon aroma, a great way to start the day. Packed up we found the track from last night and began detouring around the deeper pockets of sand. To our right knarled black mountains proceed their taller neighbours painted in pastel brown, a long thicket of clouds line the crests.

    Eleven miles later and the track had broadened finally turning into a criss-cross of possible alternatives ultimately all leading to the same place, Khovd. The stony rattling track finally turning to soft earth as we roller coaster though rolling hills and plains. As we crest the last tall rise a large Obo appears in the middle of the path. A circular stone wall 20 feet wide holding more piled rocks, decorated at four points with wooden staffs and thousands of blue scarfs which all flutter in the wind a tribute to safe travel. White nylon rope links each staff decorated inturn with more bright scarfs, this time red, white and yellows included. A worn and beaten path encircles the Obo, after locals passing stop and circle the shrine 3 times before making an offering for good fortune and onward travel,

    Down in the valley Khovd is a sight for sore eyes, spreading itself wide on the open plain at the feet of the Altai mountains which lie just behind. Tall rocky peaks standing still, ever present, the proverbial sentinals. The dusting of snow as ominous as it is beautiful. We have to cross them.

    Down in the town we choose the better looking of the two hotels and after standing in the mainroom for ten minutes the women from outside who’d seen me come in, brushed past me and barks, “no room”! Maybe because I’m tired, who know’s, but after checking that I’d heard right and again being told no rooms, I snapped what I hoped was a sarcastic thank you and walked out. I was pissed. Dissproportionalty? Maybe, but she’d seen me go in and let me loiter for ten minutes. Ten minutes is a long time when you’re stood like a spare prick at a barmitsva, looking for anyone to make eye contact with you.

    At the Khan bank the lonely looking security guard used hand gestures, tapping his watch and shaking his head, explaining that the bank was closed for lunch, we’d not realized the clocks had rolled back an hour and although our watch read 1:30pm, it was 12:30pm local time. The growl in my stomach was reason enough to explore the run down building opposite with the faded restuarant sign hanging up front. Like so many times before the surprise of the inside had us reeling. New metal chairs each covered in smart red vynl circle half a dozen stout looking tables, each inturn decorated with intricately woven table cloths. Twelve locally painted works of art depicting the surounding landscapes hang on the walls, six on each side, each one set back into it’s own alcove and frame with a hand cut gilt wooden frame. With a guess taken at the menu 20 minutes later and two huge piles of sliced and cut beef sizzled on hot plates at our table, each garnished with half a sliced onion. Our six military dressed dining companions suggesting this is a military restaurant. With peach and orange juice served the bill came to 11,000 Tug ($7-£5). There was no way we could finish the food. We ended up cramming the remaining beef into one of the small empty juice bottles. It’ll make a decent addition to our evening meal.

    Back outside as Lisa got suited and booted I’d ducked into the now open bank and changed $100. Filling up both bikes set us back 80,000 tug and the vast majority of what we’d just changed. Out in the wilds the cost of gas has sky rocketed. At the small market we picked up three bottles of water and drew a crowd, doing our best to answer the usual questions of how many kilometers to the litre and maximum speed.

    After a cursory drive around we’d both decided that Khovd hadn’t given us reason to stay or spend our limited Tugrik and so after plotting in a GPS point to Tolbu Nuur and lake south east of the town of Ogiy we set off.

    North of town the sandy wide track required our attention as the bikes slid in familiar fashion. A few miles out of town and we’re picking our way around a rock strewn landscape, our heavy bikes bouncing off the larger of the rocks.

    A long flat straight had allowed us to kick the bikes into fourth and we’d even managed to hit 56mph for the first time in days. The billowing dust clouds kicking up from our back tyres brings a broad smile to my face as I watch it hang in the air behind us. Pulling up to the side of the track to wait a few seconds for Lisa I’m joined by two young men on an ancient Russian bike, it’s peeling orange paint clinging to the rusty frame. Pulling two small wires from under the seat the rider turns off the engine. Their western style bomber jackets blazened with Biker logo’s like Arai, Honda and Pirelli seem at odds with the surroundings and the wooden and beaten steel of the rifle that the passenger has slung over his shoulder. With Lisa pulled up we check over each others bikes swap warm handshakes and without a common language the two boys thrust the rifle in my direction and offer me a few shots. Stones are balanced on the ground some 30 feet away.

     

     

    Now we all know as a Brit’ I’ve no business holding a gun letting alone firing one in the foothills of the Altai Mountian range in north west Mongilia, but who am I to refuse. I was like a kid at Christmas. This is the stuff that makes travel great. Unthinkable scenarios that play out without a script. So there I am amongst the mountains, Lisa spouting off words of warning inbetween bouts of laughter as I hoist the rusting weapon to my shoulder in a vain hope that I can convince these two hardened mountain men that I’ve got a clue what I’m doing. My two well intended shots both miss there mark, bringing loud laughter from our new friends. With the stone targets moved 20 feet farther back they hit both with ease. With photos taken and warm wishes expressed we go our separate ways. The smile on my face remains for the rest of the afternoon.

    Late in the afternoon and the weather is looking an ominous, dark clouds blot out the sun and the temperatures plummets as we climb higher into the mountains. Our stoney route skirts around mountains that climb out of sight. The loose shale and black stones pull at our wheels and require our concentration; the switch for our heated grips got flicked an hour ago. We ride the floor of a wide deep valley for 2-miles, feeling dwarfed by smooth rolling hills left and right. Protected from the wind, the dust we are kicking up hangs in the air. In spite of the cold we have to stop for photos.

     

    An hour later and we’re feeling exposed, we’ve had light snow and hale and can almost touch the clouds, weaving around vast puddles and the marshy areas we finally pull up in front of our first deep water crossing. The young boy we’d seen on the horizon had run to see us and was enthusiastically pointing to our left. Several small rises hiding a shallow spot where crossing would be safer. On the other side we shook the water from our boots and gear and got on the gas; the idea of getting stuck up here is worrying, if the rain continues the route will be a muddy hell.

     

    On the open plain at 9,500 feet we stand up, leaning hard forward over the bars as the wind slams us from the west; we knew we had to get ahead of the next rain storm that was coming in fast. It was now getting dark.

    We finally bounced our way over a dozen or so old tracks and down to the edge of lake Talbo Nuur, pulling up 7-miles short of the gps point we’d entered back in Hovd.

    We cooked again in the front of the tent, doing our best to stay warm. Lisa did a great job, cooking up a can of spam she fried with a can of green beans that she then mixed with a dark packet sauce we’d bought back in Japan. Served with a good helping of boiled rice we felt we were eating like kings.

     

    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  3. #19

    Mongolian Madness Part VII

    .................

    17-09-2009

    ................

     

     

    Out of the tent it was a good ten minutes before I remembered to close my mouth. Last nights dark and ominous shapes transformed into a view I can best describe as breath-taking. The lake, an impossible blue contrasting with the weather kissed yellow wild grass, which climbed the side of the mountain disappearing into deep mauve shadows. Deep ravines line the mountains and lead our eyes to the freshly snow dusted peaks. Our pack up wasn’t fast, interspersed with random photo taking.

     

    With the bikes loaded we readied for the off only to have a moment of panic noticing that Lisa’s front tyre was flat. The knot in my stomach was growing until I tracked the problem down to a faulty valve. With the offending valve switched out for a spare it was 5 minutes of hard pumping before we could finally head off. Our electric pump has simply given up in the face of the challenge of Mongolia.

     

    On the bikes we crossed the dozen or so tracks we’d battled with last night and found the main route, distinguishable only because of its deeper worn groove.

    To our left and right open plains spread into the distance disappearing into the steep mountain flanks. Oranges, ochres, yellows and deep purples all blend to make up a landscape that you’d been forgiven was a ‘photoship creation’.

    The route however, needed our attention as deep gravel has our wheels sliding when we gaze off for a second too long. The sharp stoney surface has us rattled to the chore. Riding the steep valley down to a police checkpoint we’re bought to a dramatic stop, the lone officer blanking us for a good ten minutes until I’m finally forced to get off the bike and introduce ourselves. The howling bitter wind has already almost pushed us off the bikes more than once and we’re battling to stay upright. It had also begun to snow very lightly.

     

    With a cursory look through our passports he sniffs, hacks up something from the base of his stomach and with force spits up a flem ball the size of something unatural into the wind, seemingly taking pleasure in the distance it travels. He looks at me apparently for approval. My blank unimpressed stare doesn’t endear me further. I’m too cold for this shit. He begrudgingly lifts the makeshift barrier and we’re again heading down the valley. Olgiy spreads out before us, wide and squat. A concrete ramshackle town seemingly built in haste. With the lonely planet checked we easily found the Blue Wolf Travel company and ger camp and so began our evening of frustration.

     

    I’d confirmed the price for a ger as $7 per person and checked if the ger had electricity, we desperately needed to recharge batteries. The yes seemed emphatic. Shimen’s English was broken but understandable. Her suggestion that we make use of the Mongolian sauna later in the evening sounded of pure genius. Two hours later and our frustration was growing. The hot showers we’d so looked forward to we were told “No work, no work”! When we inquired as to how to use the sauna we were told…”No, no, not today”! Inquires as to why landed on deafs ears, the staff seem disinterested.

    As night drew in I headed over to the ger to plug in the batteries. Not only was there no friggin electricity but we’d been given the only ger with no power whatsoever even going to it, not even a bare light bulb. By now the wind is again howling and the gaping holes in the tired ger are now blazingly apparent.

    Back inside I do my best to hide my impatience, admittedly fuelled by fatigue. Over the next hour we were also given 3 separate prices for the nights stay and told that we should pay 2,000 tug for the sauna and 1,000 for the shower. This just infuriated me as neither, we were told, were available. We’re left with the feeling that the staff are just taking the piss!

    I managed eventually to get us changed to a small ger with a light bulb, it still didn’t have a outlet where I could plug in. At this point I was past caring.

    We hooked up in the evening with a Spanish couple and did our best to muster our aleady forgotten Spanish. Hungry we ask to order some food at 8:00pm and were told emphatically…”No, finshed”. When I pushed the point, I was told that we could eat but only eggs. Our Spanish friends had ordered just five minutes earlier. This was getting ridiculous. I ask could we have what they had ordered, a simple dish of rice and mutton. “Oh, yes” came the matter of fact answer as if this had always been on offer. Ten minutes later and four small portions were served at our table. Cheeky bastards had simply taken the food cooked for two and split it four-ways and of course then still charged full price to each of us.

    By 8:30 we were being kicked out into the night having been given the bill of 7,000 tug and having handed over our money we made tracks to bed. Shimen’s voice demanding we return to sort out a problem with the bill was the last straw. In cold stern English I explained that I wasn’t happy, I would not return unless she could explain what the problem was and that I’d sort it in the morning. At this point we decided to say to hell with this and leave tomorrow for the Russian border. We’d planned on staying; we need a day of rest before a notoriously frustrating border crossing.

    The damp mattresses and wind that blew through the holes in the ger made for a sleepless night. I finally manged to doze off around 4:00am.

     

     

    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  4. #20
    Never knowingly understood Click here to find out how to Subscribe
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    Great photographs and terrific reading

    You've got us all right in there with the pair of ya

    Adventure.GS
    Tours, training or custom made earplugs ... it's all here.

    "If you want the rainbow then you have to put up with a little rain" Dolly Parton

  5. #21
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  6. #22
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    Super read and a wife in a million !! ....

  7. #23
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    nice pics ... excellent use of filters and underexposure

    Sorry I missed you guys in Almaty!

    Good luck

  8. #24
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    Fantastic, just fantastic... i'm jelous...
    Great pictures, not wanting to clog the post if anyone knows what camera the 2 are using send me a pm please.

  9. #25

    cameras

    Hi Santrix,

    We're using a Nikon D300 and a Nikon D70s, we also have a cannon point n' shoot.

    The D300 was bought a year ago, when we agreed to start writing for an amercian bike mag RoadRUNNER. It's not a full frame sensor but the big plus for us is it has a self cleaning sensor. We're covered in dirt and dust most of the time so this a big factor as we can't get our gear serviced or cleaned.

    The D70's was ourfirst DSLR and we use the small cannon for candid portrait shots when it's not appropriate to stick a big camera in someones face.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers Simon
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  10. #26

    ...a quick update

    Hi guy's,

    Well, after a tough but amazing ride we'e half way along the Pamir Highway and arrived in Tajikistan a few day ago. Right now we're in Khorog.

    Lisa's suffered with altitude sickness over the last week as we're climbing through the elevation quickly. We reached 15,309 feet a few day back and our coldest night so far has been -22

    We're heading for for Dushanbe tommorrow, it'll take us two days, but where we'll hopefully pick up our Visa's for Iran and Turkmanistan, fingers crossed.

    I'll post the next Mongolian leg when we get there and can connect my laptop.

    Cheers
    Simon T
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  11. #27
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    All very exciting! Can't wait for the next bit!

  12. #28
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    Fantastic images

    Watch out in Uzbekistan for the worst drivers I came across (and regretted meeting!!!)

    http://travelpod.com/members/petcul
    We should learn from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism. [/I]

  13. #29

    Mongolian Madness Part VIII

    ........................

    ....................

    18-09-2009

    ....................

    With only a few hours sleep last night between the bitter temperatures and the howling wind we took slow heavy steps to reach the main room of the camp. The Spanish couple wwere already up and surprisingly still inside. Odd? They should have caught a plane to UB at 7:00am. A few minutes later and with coffee in hand we were hearing their story. Their flight delayed due to the high wind.

    My conversation was stopped mid flow, when I looked out the window and stared in disbelief. Just ten feet from the window sat two huge hunting eagles. I was so desperate to get outside I completely forgot to excuse myself from the conversation.

    Running back to the Ger I grabbed the camera and sprinted back to where the eagles and their owners were now standing. The two eagle hunters could have stepped off the set of Ghengis Khan and the birds were simply incredible. Both with wing spans in the 2 metre range. I spent the next hour photographing these amazing birds and their owners. I’m ashamed to admit that in my excitement I’ve completely forgotten the names of the two Mongolians.

     

     

     

     

    OK, I know this sounds a bit over the top but to be with these guys felt like such a privelidge, you could almost feel the history and culture and the pride both these men took in themselves and their birds. Their posturing and pose almost regal.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    With my memory cards full we needed to get some jobs done. Heading over to the other side of town and into the black market, we needed to find a new 21” inner tube for Lisa front tyre. I was also on the hunt for a new tubeless tyre valve. Whilst we were at it some engine oil would be pretty handy. We just don’t need 4-5 litres which so far is all we can find.

    Two hours later and we’ve perused hundreds of stalls all stuffed with shoes and clothes but not a sniff of the stuff we need. The cold was getting to us as well, so after flicking through our lonely planets we easily found the ‘Turkish Resteraunt’. The warm inside felt great and slowly our hands regained some feeling. We ordered a great oily soup and Lisa loved her noodle dish, with two strong coffee’s the bill came to 7,000 Tug ($5 - £3)

    Back at the ger camp I spent the afternoon catching up on website jobs and diary.

    Tomorrow we'll head back into Russia.

     

     

    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  14. #30

    larger images

    Hi all,

    someone asked on another forum for larger images of the eagles, so as I'd done the work I thought I'd post them here.

    Besides it's also a shameless bump

    enjoy.
    ............................
    These birds were truly amazing and if I'm honest a little intimating, but then again there hunting birds so they're meant to be I guess.

    Enjoy.












    all the best
    Simon:freaky
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  15. #31
    UKGSer of 2014 (Dead) Click here to find out how to Subscribe
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    As usual, riveting stuff, fantastic images (and not just the photos).

    Thanks.

  16. #32
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    Them thar piccies are terrific... keep 'em coming please

    Adventure.GS
    Tours, training or custom made earplugs ... it's all here.

    "If you want the rainbow then you have to put up with a little rain" Dolly Parton

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