The Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is heaven on Earth. Sublimely remote, I knew I was heading into lands so untouched and untainted by anyone or anything. It just made my heart sing. The joy of hiring my own driver meant I could stop whenever I wanted for photos. Japur knew where to go, often heading off course just to show me another awe inspiring jaw dropping view. As we headed to the promising almost mysterious Tavan Bogd peaks, we passed a few interesting archaeological sights. Being a bit of an archaeology nut I was desperate to see the petroglyphs at Tsagaan Sala (Baga Oigor) en route between Ulaankhus and Tavan Bogd. I’ve never seen anything like this. We scrambled up the scrabble and rocks. It’s a sight that has barely been mapped out by archaeologists. There are over 10 000 petroglyphs for 15km. On almost every rock there is an intriguing picture, there is something that stirs the soul and tickles the primal instincts in you and you gaze upon this art.
Japur showed me the cool stuff, you really need a local guide to show you around or you’ll be searching for days. What a remarkable finding, it gave me goosebumps looking at them and imagining the stories they tell.
Next we jetted off to Tavan Bogd. We had to get there early if I was going to catch a glimpse of the Potanii glacier and Khuiten Uul (the highest peak in the Tavan Bogd range and the tallest mountain in Mongolia). This mountain range is remarkable, its where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan collide with brute force to produce such awe inspiring peaks. Finally after some spine shattering bumping around in the jeep we stopped by the chief ranger in his ger with his family. He said our chances of seeing the glacier were good, and we were lucky with the weather conditions. Apparently all they have there is snow and rain, even in summer it snows. They’d be moving down the valley soon to their winter camp with their livestock. They were in for a tough winter by their own admittance, the sincerity with which the ranger spoke frightened me a little. Winter in that region is not fun, it is a life and death scenario and a constant struggle for survival in the most adverse weather conditions. He said that we’d have to walk to the glacier, some 17 kms or so away. We could take the car up to a point before the landscape became too rough to drive on. Japur wasn’t looking forward to the drive and I wasn’t looking forward to having to walk 13 odd kms their and another 13 back. But we were in luck.
The most wonderful bunch of crazy Mongolian geologists who were studying the glacier suddenly rocked up (haha excuse the lame pun). They all but begged me to join them and dragged me to their car (in Mongolia there’s always space for one more). They’d driven from UB to the glacier, an amazing and brave thing to do, if not crazy. I’d spoken to an Israeli guy who’d done the overland trip from Olgii to UB and he said it was the worst thing he’d experienced and wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy. These scientists were insane and cool and awesome. Their car could take us further than Japur’s and we wouldn’t be walking so long either. The drive was hell, back breaking, hip shattering, bone grinding head rattling stuff. The vodka shots on tap helped enormously. We finally parked on a verge and headed off to the glacier. It was a strenuous walk to say the least, but we were so lucky with the fine weather. The enthusiasm of the scientists was heart warming, I’ve never seen people get so excited about glaciers. There was wooting and running and jumping when we reached the glacier. We walked on it for a bit, and happily posed for photographs. We promised to send photos to each other (and sure enough as promised my scientist friends did just that a few months later.) It was great to experience and partake in the sheer delight of my new found pals. For a brief period of time we were fortunate enough to lay eyes on the mountain peaks above. The weather changed constantly with mist appearing out of thin air, and skimming off as quickly as it arrived. We stayed for as long as we could, soaking up the sun, beauty and ice. We started to head back and thank goodness we did, the mist came down so quickly we could barely see in front of us as we approached the 4X4. Then the sun danced for us again, and we had the most delightful picnic. Salty tea, vodka and what I later discovered to be horse sausage! It was the first time I’d eaten horse meat, feeling guilty and shocked it was too late to refuse. It was fine, at first I thought it was beef but my friends made very sure I knew it was horse and laughed at my expression upon finding out. All in all it was a glorious day and a highlight of my trip. The drive back was just as adventurous, I was glad to get out and into my ger for the night. It snowed overnight, I remember the eerie feeling of stepping out into the snow under the full moon in the early hours of the morning.