After one night in the city of Khovd, we hit the road and headed north-west into the mountainous region. Despite the region being semi-desert, the drive was very scenic due to the numerous mountains, several of which are covered in snow year-round.
Despite being on a major route between Khovd and the border with Russia, there were surprisingly few vehicles on the road. We have become accustomed to not seeing other vehicles on the road for a couple of hours but we thought there would be more traffic on this route. We went over 90 minutes without seeing another vehicle.
One of the cars that we did see had overtaken us earlier but was now waiting at a water crossing, with the occupants looking like they were unsure how to get across. One crossing option looked quite deep but there was a nice shallow section close to it, although it had fairly steep banks at both sides. A quick inspection revealed that it wouldn’t be a challenge for the Defender, so I lined up for the shallow section and crossed with ease. I’m guessing that our demonstration helped because the car overtook us again later that morning. I’m constantly amazed by how local drivers navigate these roads and hazards in standard two-wheel drive saloon cars.
Our first destination was the small village of Tolbo, located about 14km south of Tolbo Nuur (lake). Later in the year, Tolbo hosts a festival for the region’s famed eagle hunters, so we were hoping that we might be ale to see one of these hunters and a Golden Eagle.
We got to Tolbo around lunch-time, so we sought out a village café. I really enjoy eating at these local cafes, and we have tried to find them for lunch whenever we’re on the road. They are always very simple places: a small room, fitted with a few basic tables and chairs; a serving counter; and a small place to cook behind the counter. Cooking facilities are very basic and often, there is only one meal choice for lunch, depending on what the cook has prepared for the day. When eating at these humble eateries, you know that you’re eating what the locals eat. They also provide an opportunity to interact with locals, albeit with smiles and gestures. These cafes are certainly not set-up to cater to tourists but they are well worth a visit!
In this particular café, we indicated that we would like to eat and the cook suggested soup. We readily agreed to the suggestion and soon, two bowls of soup were produced from a big pot. The soup had lots of mutton-filled dumplings as well as some carrot and potato. We were also given bowls of green tea and then some cut and peeled apple for dessert. The total cost for this delicious lunch for two was 5,000 MNT (less than $1.50 each).
After lunch, we showed a photograph of an eagle hunter to a few people, gesturing in an attempt to ask whether there were any in the village. Based on the responses that we got, we assume that there were not. So, we left the village and drove north to Tolbo Nuur. The main road runs up part of the eastern shore of the lake, so it is easy to see.
There was a strong wind blowing across the lake, from the south-west. We wanted to camp at the lake but realized that we’d need to find a spot that was sheltered from the wind. At the northern end of the lake, there are some large rocky hills, so we drove to them and wandered around, trying to find a spot that was sheltered. The wind manages to find its way over and around these large rocky outcroppings but we eventually found a place in the lee of one of the hills, where the wind was at least reduced. We pitched the tent up against a large rock and also used the Defender as an additional wind-break. The location was beautiful. With Tolbo Nuur to our right and snow-covered mountains in front of us, we had the best of both lake and mountain views.
This was our last camp in Mongolia, as this morning we arrived in the town of Olgii where we’ll stay in a hotel. That will allow us to get cleaned up and make an early departure in the morning for the Russian border. Based on the smooth tarmac road that we’ve driven on today, I’m guessing that the tarmac will continue all the way to the border. So we may have driven our last Mongolian dirt road.
Mongolia has been an amazing place to visit but more adventures await. Tomorrow we cross into Russia for about three days so that we can reach Kazakhstan.