Wednesday and Thursday were amazing and, without doubt, were the best two days of the trip for me so far.
On Wednesday 21st May, we left Tsetseleg for the drive to Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake). The majority of the route was on paved road but eventually the paved road gave way to a dirt highway. This dirt track was the main road to Tsagaaan Nuur, so catered to all types of vehicles. Despite being a dirt road, we were able to maintain speeds of between 40-45kph. I have a video clip that will give an idea of what these ‘dirt highways’ are like but I’ll have to post it later when I have a wifi connection that will upload it at a decent speed (the current connection doesn’t).
When we got to Tsagaan Nuur, we discovered that we pretty much had the entire lake to ourselves. At least we were the only travellers there, as there were a number of locals who passed by our tent on their motorcycles or in their trucks. Two pairs of locals on bikes even stopped at our tent to investigate and to see our strange abode. We couldn’t communicate very well but a smile and a few gestures go a long way. And the small bottle of vodka that we gave to our first visitor was very well received!
Our camping spot for the night was amazing. We pitched the tent in front of a wooden hut (unoccupied), as we were trying to find shelter from the wind. We parked the Defender at 90 degrees to the hut to provide additional shelter. The combination worked well. Tsagaan Nuur has been called the coldest place in Mongolia, so we were grateful to be able to reduce the wind chill. We could also imagine why it is called the White Lake, as the lake was still semi frozen at the time of our visit. It was such a beautiful and tranquil setting. I imagine that things might be different when all of the tourist camps are open and the place is full of tourists but, in May, it was perfect.
The wooden hut that we used as a wind-break is part of a tourist ger camp, so there is an outdoor toilet on the grounds. And even the loo has a view of the lake!
We’d forgotten to buy charcoal for the Bush Pig braai whilst we were in UB and have since found that it isn’t available in this part of the country. We cooked dinner on the Trangia stoves but Klaus sorted out a nice camp-fire in the Bush Pig using a combination of scavenged wood and dry sheep dung. It worked a treat.
After dinner and a bottle of wine around the dung-fire, we called it a night around 9.00pm, as darkness moved in. Maybe we’re getting used to camping in cold weather, but the ‘coldest part of Mongolia’ didn’t seem so cold once we were in the sleeping bags.
You couldn’t ask for a better view to wake up to, and Thursday morning was quite a treat. I was awake at 6.30am and, soon after, climbed the hill behind our camp to get a better view of the lake and the surroundings. It was a thrill to realise that we had all of this beauty to ourselves.
After some breakfast, we packed up the tent and set off at 8.30am for the 78km journey to Jargalant – the mid-way point to Tosontsengel. There is a different route to Tosontsengel, using a better road, but we wanted to take the more scenic route (thanks to Murray at Fairfield Guest House for the tip on this route). A distance of 78km might not seem far, but it took us five hours to cover the distance and I enjoyed every minute of it! I was smiling the whole way. It was all off-road, with some some tricky sections. We saw a bit of everything regarding ground surface – mud, water, rock, gravel, sand and even a couple of sections of packed snow/ice. Throughout it all, the Defender performed flawlessly. She never put a foot wrong – as sure-footed as a mountain goat! The suspension (Bilstein shocks and LR springs) performed very well over the different terrain and took everything in stride. Hats off to David Lovejoy for all of his technical advice when I was developing the specs for the Defender and a big thanks to Clive and the guys at Causeway 4×4 for putting it all together.
I’m in the process of pulling some video clips from the dashboard camera and hope to be able to post some when I get to a decent internet connection.
We arrived at Jargalant about 1.30pm and stopped for lunch at one of the town’s cafés. After lunch, we began the second part of the route, to reach Tosontsengel. There’s a wooden bridge at Jargalant that is falling apart. Thankfully, a new concrete bridge has replaced it. We’d also heard that a bridge closer to Tosontsengel had collapsed and the current condition was unknown. We were therefore advised to cross the concrete bridge at Jargalant and travel along the northern bank of the Ider River to Tosontsengel, which is what we did. We managed that last section in four hours, arriving about 6.00pm. There was a lot of traffic on the south bank of the Ider River, so it appears that the damaged bridge closer to Tosontsengel has been repaired.
On the road from Jargalant, we got to be the rescuers instead of the rescued. A couple of locals had managed to get their truck stuck on a sand bank and needed a short tow to get them out. It was all done very quickly and, after a couple of hand-shakes, we were on our way.
There were two hotels indicated in the waypoints on my Garmin Monterra. The closest turned out to be the Skyline Hotel. We’d read in Lonely Planet that none of the town’s hotels had showers and that the bathrooms were all outdoors. We were therefore happy to find that the Skyline had both indoor toilets and hot showers. We later found that the hot shower is only hot after they plug in the water-heater for you and you wait at least a half-hour. We also found that the water to the wash-basins hardly ever works! However, the owner speaks both German and English, so we were able to get some advice on our upcoming route! We got the best twin-room in the hotel for about $30 for the night. The hotel also offers a laundry service, so the dirty clothes got a cleaning. The hotel restaurant has a menu in English and even had chicken and beef available, instead of the usual mutton.
Unfortunately, there is no wi-fi available in the entire town. The owner of the hotel offered the use of her personal Internet connection (a data stick) but I couldn’t get it to work with my Macbook.
Here’s a screen shot showing the route that we took, as tracked by my Delorme in Reach