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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Steppe Adventure

I think our trip out to Dornod (Choibalsan, Buir Nuur, Sumber and Khalkh Gol) is best expressed in a photo-blog.
We drove 14 hours in the public Furgon (UAZ) to Choibalsan on a relatively overcast and nice day. 14 hours was a pretty short drive and we got there with no problems. We spent 2 days in Choibalsan where I got to show my UB friends around and catch up with all my old Choibalsan friends.

Ochiroo and I outside the Light Center Orphanage

Toroo's baby, Yussentumor (9 metals) PreNadaam archery contest in Choibalsan (Sidenote: They are shooting in the direction of the Mormon church)

1939 commemorative tank in "Friendship Park" in Choibalsan
Lenin looks over the rubble of the old Russian section of Choibalsan
1939 war statue and mosaic, outside the Choibalsan Museum
After being in Choibalsan for 2 days, we jumped into the "Dornod 6000" and headed for Buir Nuur. It was ride filled with very flat landscape, steppe eagles, gazelles, and herds. Because we were going to a border area, we had to stop at a few military outposts and register. We had special permission from the government in UB to go to these areas. The military posts were so random and remote , but all the "roads" led to them. There were always little , scrappy kids playing around outside who were pumped full of candy, a delicacy from the city.
The Dornod 6000

Stretching a military checkpoint
Amazing steppe land
When we were close to Buir Nuur, we weren't sure if we were actually seeing the lake or a mirage. It was just looming on the horizon. Once it was in full view, we were all instantly in awe. Large bodies of water are rare in Mongolia (minus lake Hovsgol) and we could not see across this lake.
Buir Nuur, China 11 miles in the distance

Buir Nuur at sunset, Annie, Rachael and Todd in their skivvies.
After the lake we went to Khalkh gol soum which apparently used to have a large, wonderful orchard. However, after the Russians left, the orchard fell apart. Now animals graze at bushes and trees. I bet it was nice to have fresh fruit back in the day. After that we went on to Sumber to see Ikh Burkhant. Consequently the shrine is located next to a military check point . They found some flaws in our documents and ordered us to take some cute kids, a pregnant woman and an old man in our car to the next town as punishment...cute kids as punishment, ha! On the way to Sumber soum we stopped at several war moments. They were a strange site out on open steppe land.
IKH BURKHANT INFO: a huge image of Janraisig (Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit) carved into the hillside. The carving was commissioned in 1864 by local regent Bat Ochiriin Togtokhtooriin, or To van (van means ‘lord’) and was reconstructed between 1995 and 1997. Source
Ikh Burkhant at a distance

Ikh Burkhant

2 of the cute kids we had to drive to the next town
1939 war monument
1939 Khalkhiin gol war museum, Sumber
What the war may have looked like: panorama inside the Sumber Museum
Memorial to the soldiers inside the Sumber Museum. Sumber is kind of a sad town. You can see remnants of businesses and buildings that used to be. However, after the Russians left, everything was dismantled. We did get to see some really great community horticulture which my friend Todd is photo documenting. We also visited a bee keeper and his bees. He convinced me that getting stung by a bee had medicinal properties and that I should allow him to sting me. The fool that I am, I let him. He picked a bee outta the bunch and jabbed it in my arm. I had to keep the stinger in for 30 seconds (pictures to come). At first it didn't hurt that bad, but then it hurt like hell. Thank GOD I hadn't developed an allergy to bee stings. Consequently, I do feel stronger! Sadly, it is not the season for honey yet. We drove back to Buir Nuur for one more night and a 1/2 day of swimming, and headed to Choibalsan.
We stayed one more night with my friend Naranbayar in Choibalsan and caught the furgon home on Saturday morning at 9. It was raining... a lot. Rain is a huge problem on roads with no pavement. Needless to say, it took us 12 hours just to go 123 km (72 miles) . The entire day was about getting stuck in the mud and pushing the cars out. With public buses like this, 2 buses travel together on long journeys to bail each other out. However, we had to rely on bigger cars like the the one pictures below. All in all it took 20 hours to get back to UB. It was rough for us as we were sitting next to the engine block the whole time (in the UAZ, the motor is actually next to the driver, so the people in the row behind him have a big engine block which is about 10,000 degrees burning their legs). We drove through the night and finally made it home.
Big car to the rescue
Some of these pictures are care of Christian Packard. His blog is here:
and for another view of the trip check out Todd's website: that link will take you directly to his post on Dornod.


Andrew Campbell said...

welcome back from Planet Dornod!! Ikh Burkhant... wow. I guess it doesn't suck to go in the winter after all if it means you don't have to push your forgon.

best from here

PS: nice to see Ochiro again. And Yussentumor... what a handsome young man!

yan said...

I think you could have asked the furgon driver to turn the the first bank the other way round (so that passengers in the row behind the driver sit backwards). No idea if this particular driver would have been willing or able to. But on one of my furgon trips last year the driver did just that, on a guanz stop.

Ulaana said...

The furgon had that capability, but we were carrying so much stuff and so many people, I think forward seating was best. I never complain about the hot engine seat in the winter!

Anonymous said...

great pictures! i'll pass on the bee stings, thanks. :)

Maysam said...

Itُ s really too depressing that you couldnُ t try the honey but I think that bee is so happy for trying you!!

Ulaana said...

I'm sad I didn't get to try the honey too! I'll be sure to post pictures of the bee stinging me. It was a little crazy.

John said...

Brilliant trip through the site of the Soviet engagement in that far flung corner of Mongolistan. Marshal Zhukov earned his spurs there! Wish i could have joined ya. We'll just have to do it again in the near future. Love JR