|Heading north directly from the Gobi the landscape became more and more green. We actually even hit a sealed road for a while which provided a bit of a break from bouncing round in the back of the machines.
Our first stop in the centre of Mongolia was the Khogno Khan mountains where we camped up in a valley full of melting rocks - well thats what they looked like anyway. It was a lovely setting. After we set up the tents Shaun and Pete did the hunter gatherer thing to get firewood for our campfire for the evening which I must say was a pretty good one.
That evening we got to know the real side of the Mongolian drivers and their vodka habits. Essentially a bottle comes out and a nip glass gets filled up which gets passed onto you and you have to drink. Once you have finished it gets refilled fairly promptly and it is rude to say no, so rather a lot gets consumed. In fact I think about 6 bottles were drunk straight that night! The drivers get fairly plastered and in fact our driver Barb tried to get into Rixd's tent that evening which was quite funny! This is despite him being a married man with 4 kids!! Infidelity is not an issue here apparently!
Anyway the next morning Shaun was rather hung over so we stayed round the campsite until he sobered up, and then after lunch went for a walk in the mountains, firstly walking past Ovgon Khiid monastery built in 1660 and you guessed it, destroyed by the Russians. The walk up the valley was lovely as there were hundreds of wild flowers about as well as some trees(there are hardly any trees in this country so this is quite a rare thing). We walked up to the top of a pass and then decided to follow a dried up stream bed back down the other side which ended up being a bit of a trek back to camp.
It was then off the following day to Kharkhorin driving past loads of kids outside their gers who would run out and try and sell fresh airag (fermented mares milk) as we drove past.
Kharkhorin was Ghenghis Khan's capital in 1220 however permanent structures were not erected there until after his death by one of his sons. It was the capital of the Mongol empire for 40 odd years before being moved to Beijing when the city was abandoned and destroyed. The remains of the city were used to build Erdene Zuu Khiid monastery in the 16th Century - the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. The temples were quite impressive even though only a fraction of them remain today.
We stopped off for lunch at a local restaurant where we consumed Mongolian noodles and kebabs (which made a welcome change from the monotonous food provided on the trip). After picking up a few snacks in town we drove to the Orkon River which was to be our next campsite. This provided an opportunity for a refreshing swim (well a quick dunk anyway) to wash some of the dirt which had been accumulating since the Gobi and subsequent dusty roads.
From there it was a quick drive to Tsetserleg where we had lunch in a cafe owned by a couple from Devon (why the hell you would want to live here is anyone's guess). However we were quite pleased they did as it meant some normal food! We had a brief walk around the town - which was quite a typical Mongolian town - dirt streets, dilapidated buildings set within fenced off sections and of course lots of Gers (which are rapidly being replaced by more solid structures). We ended up at the monastery where we picked up a local dog who then proceeded to follow us around town even waiting for us outside the supermarket and fighting off other dogs who came near!
It was then west through hilly countryside to Chuluut Gorge - a deep rocky gorge - this was quite impressive and totally unexpected. After a brief stop to enjoy the views and get plagued by flies (this was to get worse the further north we went) we entered the Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. This is a landscape which has been shaped by its volcanic past. Our first stop was to climb up the extinct Volcanic cone of Khorgo Uul which was quite a deep crater with lots of scoria around.
Our next campsite was just a few km further by the White Lake - a large fresh water lake surrounded by volcanic hills with lots of trees (which meant plenty of wood for the boys to make fire not only to keep us warm at night but also to keep the flies and mossies away!). On our free day here we decided to climb an adjacent valley which provided great views over the adjacent lakes. We sat down on the rocks and enjoyed the views for awhile before heading back through the fly infested forest to the lake. We then had a wash and very brief swim (it was bloody cold) and watched the Yaks being herded for milking. After a stunning meal of fried salami, potato and carrot (actually not the worst meal we had) we went straight to bed and watched TV on the ipod as it was raining (we sure know how to have a good time!!).
Next day it was northwards towards the aimag (administrative centre for the northern Mongolian region) of Moron.