Further across the Gobi to high altitude goldfields
What a fantastic day! Little did we know when we headed off at 7.40am that we would cover over 405 km – a record. We had been told that 300 km was about all you could do in a day, but we wanted to get a bit closer to UB if possible.
We drove for 9 hours and 20 minutes to cover 405 km – you can work out the average yourself.
After a night in the Earthroamer, when it was freezing outside and we found the puddles of water all frozen solid, we headed along a reasonable road to the east – nearly making a mistake and going in the wrong direction once or twice.
Shortly, rather than following any road at all, there were just multiple tracks across the Gobi Desert. Can you imagine it? Even when there are signs of the Millennium Road (which have been beautifully made up with huge funds by the Government), most drivers head off to the right or left of it because the corrugations are so bad.
|Everyone makes their own road - the more direct the better - and never go on a Government made road!|
The Gobi is extraordinary. It goes from a sandy desert (like our Simpson Desert) to a stony desert (similar to the Sturt’s Stony Desert), and we even stopped on a clay pan – identical to the type of clay pan you see in Australia.
|Rough and bumpy dirt tracks.|
|Flat desert to the mountains.|
|These Russian made vans could travel at a fast pace over the corrugations with no trouble.|
What is different is the animal life – there are camels and we even found a herd of yaks. There are goats with their herders, sheep, and occasionally cattle, but there seems to be no water at all – and for hours on end we saw no one except an occasional truck passing. It is a barren, remote, high altitude plateau of between 6,000 and 7,000 feet.
|Horses grazing in the Gobi Desert with the Mongol Altai Nuruu Range in the background.|
We wondered how the Mongol empire was able to rule from this remote and inhospitable (to humans anyway) land.
|We stopped to check on a new rattle in the vehicle.|
|Coloured sands in the Gobi Desert.|
|We bounced along these tracks.|
We had typically been stopping for lunch at a ger and having beaut Mongolian food with the locals. However today we decided we would cook our own lunch in the Earthroamer. It was pretty simple – a cup of soup heated by the kettle powered by the inverter, and Saos with Vegemite. We enjoyed our lunch while looking through the windows at the magnificent scenery, with the mountain range to the south and the desert running to the north and east – the direction we were heading.
|We stopped on this clay pan to make some lunch in our Earthroamer.|
|Many tracks run beside each other - it's finding the smoothest that is the problem.|
In the distance, about 30 minutes before we reached the Baydrag River, we could see Boon Tsagaan in the distance. It is a magnificent fresh water lake which we unfortunately couldn’t get down to. The river and the lake were basically the only water we saw.
|We saw very little water out here in the desert so herders have to use wells and troughs to water their animals.|
One of the extraordinary highlights of the day was crossing the Baydrag River, which drains from the northern mountains into Boon Tsagaan Lake. We had to cross the river a number of times. The first time, when Pip took the photograph, it wasn’t too deep. However at one stage Dick drove a little too quickly and the water came right up over the windscreen. If the window had been open – which it was during the previous crossing – the whole vehicle would have been completely flooded. We were in 4WD low range, having no idea what the bottom of the river was like.
|Dick and Eldos checked the water crossings to decide which was the best way to cross each stream - this one was only a mini gutter but it could easily have bogged a 7 tonne Earthroamer.|
|Earthroamer crossing a branch of the Baydrag River that flows into Boontsagaan.|
|Crossing the Baydrag River.|
|The big splash over the windscreen.|
Eldos, who is travelling with us, spoke to a local man who was sitting beside a ger to get the best directions for crossing the river. It was flowing quite strongly. We were fortunate that it was still April, because in May, June and July (when more snow has melted) it is very difficult to get across.
There are no bridges here because basically there are no roads. Anyone who has been following our journey on the Spider Tracks link would note that at one stage we were about 40 kilometres south of the road that connects Altay to our destination, Bayanhongor. At one stage Dick looked up the GPS position and put it on the atlas. Finding that we were so far south of the road he was pretty well convinced that we were totally lost. Luckily Eldos had been on this route a number of times before – mainly at night by the sound of it – and he was convinced that we were on the right track. Fortunately we were.
When we say “the right track”, at one stage there were twenty tracks ahead of us going across the desert – all basically running in the same direction, but some heading over one side of the hill and other ones going a different way. It appears that the direct route, which is about 360 km, is where the Millennium Road is planned to go, but it follows a lot of the high ground. The route that we were on was favoured by the truckies – and did we see some incredible truckies! They are quite extraordinary people.
|These Russian made vans could travel at a fast pace over the corrugations with no trouble.|
Eighty percent of our driving was not on a road at all, and just driving across the desert we could mostly get up to 50 or even 60 kilometres per hour. On anything that seemed to be constructed as a road we were down to 20 or 30 kilometres per hour. Some of the sections were incredibly rough. At one stage we heard an enormous crash in the back. When we eventually stopped we found that our beautiful television set had come off the mounting, broken the plastic back of the set, fallen onto the bed, then bounced down onto the marble seat back-cum-table and crashed to the floor. All the leads were torn off and the whole back of the cabinet was smashed open – but Dick plugged it into 12 volts and the TV appears to work! Isn’t that amazing?
One of the most exciting sights of the day was about 27 kilometres south of Bayanhongor. We came across extraordinary goldfields. There were thousands upon thousands of little shafts with piles of dirt beside them, and when we were there, a few dozen gold fossickers seeking their wealth. If you want to look up the gold digging using Google Earth, they are at 46° 01’N 100° 28’E.
We stopped and inspected the goldfields. It appears that the whole area is rich with gold. It is great to see the locals are getting the money – not huge multi-national companies.
|The least industrialised gold field in the world. This small group was typical, some hand tools and sieve and a lot of hard work.|
As we arrived into the town of Bayanhongor we stopped at a service station to refuel. The fuel cost was $130 Australian dollars for 92 litres. So to give you an idea, to drive 405 kilometres across the Mongolian desert (sometimes in low range 4WD) spending all day seeing the most incredible scenery costs about $130 in fuel.
The Mongolian people are the most wonderful, friendliest people in the world. When we stopped at the service station, another vehicle also stopped and the driver came over and tried to talk to me in Mongolian. Of course I couldn’t understand. He handed me two little trinkets. I had no idea what they were for. One was a shell and one was a little ring of what I think is a mineral. Eldos had gone off to talk to the service station attendant. Eventually I got Eldos and asked what the trinkets were. They were good luck charms to make my driving safer. What a wonderful thought.
|A couple of locals from Bayanhongor riding out of town.|
|Homes in Bayanhongor.|
|Young boys walking beside the road.|
|We are suprised to see this electronic sign across the main street in Bayanhongor.|
The driver then insisted that we take a photograph of him, which we did, and not being Polaroid we said we would post it to him, so he wrote his address in Mongolian in our diary. We will have to get Eldos to translate it into English so we can send a photograph. Pip took an amazing candid photograph of the driver filling in the diary, and his wife and kids looking on.
|Our friendly Mongolian who gave us the good luck charms giving Dick his address so we can post him the printed photo.|
|The good luck charm man and his friends with Dick.|
We are now parked behind a small hotel in Bayanhongor. It is interesting – we were looking for a place where Eldos could stay but every hotel was totally booked out due to the Children’s Olympics. It appears that Mongolia has never won a medal in the Olympic Games, so the Government is now encouraging the young to partake in sports to enable Mongolia to eventually win a medal.
|We parked at the rear of the hotel in Bayanhongor.|
|Inside Eldos' hotel room which cost $15AUD for the night plus $5AUD for us to use the electricity to plug in our heater inside the Earthroamer.|
|Having dinner with Eldos.|
Here in Bayanhongor it is very windy and cold. It is 9° outside. We are hoping to head to Kharakhorum tomorrow – the home of the original seat of the Mongol empire.
For the day we managed to drive 405 km. Our moving average (since we left Khovd) is 42.4 kph, which isn’t bad. We are quite pleased with it.
Today 405kms 26,310kms since Anchorage, Alaska