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'05 Round The World - Part 3: Mongolia - Tomsk - Kazakhstan
Greg & Natasha, Jacek

 


To read a day by day report, click STORY.

 

Mongolia
3331 km in 14 days

Amarbayasgalant Monastery

Ulaan Baatar

Mongolian highways and people.  Out of 3331 km, only about 300 km of our route through Mongolia were paved.

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Altai Region, Novosibirsk, Tomsk
1560 km in 4 days

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East Kazakhstan
1378/1498 km in 2 days

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Day by day in Mongolia (3331 km in 14 days), Russia (to Tomsk - 1560 km in 4 days) and through eastern Kazakhstan (G/N: 1378 km; J: 1498 km):

Day 45 (20) – July 21, Khahta to Monastery, Mongolia – 266 km
Day 46 (21) – July 22, Monastery to Ulaanbaatar – 343 km
Day 47 (22) – July 23, Ulaanbaatar
Day 48 (23) – July 24, Ulaanbaatar to Mandal Govi - 283 km 
Day 49 (24) – July 25, Mandal Govi to Dalandzadgad - 328 km
Day 50 (25) – July 26, Dalandzadgad to Gobi - 146 km
Day 51 (26) – July 27, Gobi to canyon before Bogd -154 km
Day 52 (27) – July 28, canyon to mountain top past Dzuunbayan-Ulaan- 295 km
Day 53 (28) – July 29, Dzuunbayan to Tsetserleg - 201 km
Day 54 (29) – July 30, Tsetserleg to Baydrag - 233 km
Day 55 (30) – July 31, Baydrag to Tayshir 273 km
Day 56 (31) – Aug 1, Tayshir to Darvi - 244 km
Day 57 (32) – Aug 2, Darvi to Bayan-Enger - 321 km
Day 58 (33) – Aug 3, Bayan-Enger to the border by Tsagaannuur - 244 km
Day 59 (34) – Aug 4, border to a field by Gorno-Altaysk - 539 km
Day 60 (35) – Aug 5, Gorno-Altaysk to Tomsk - 708 km
Day 61 (36) – Aug 6, Tomsk
Day 62 (37) – Aug 7, Tomsk
Day 63 (38) – Aug 8, Tomsk to Stantsionno – 170 km
Day 64 (39) – Aug 9, Stantsionno to Chictyunka – 408 km
Day 65 (40) – Aug 10, Chictyunka to Krasnyy Aul, Kazakhstan - 274 km
Day 66 (41) – Aug 11, Krasnyy Aul to Ucharal – 690 km
Day 67 (42) – Aug 12, Ucharal to Kokpek – 688 km (Jacek to Kyrgyz border – 808 km)


STORY - written by Greg.

Day 45 (20) – July 21, Khahta to Monastery, Mongolia – 266 km

At the border we were directed to advance to the front of the line. That was a nice gesture. Naturally we drew all the attention. Jacek socialized with curious Mongolians while we talked with some Buriyats. Soon we were let inside the customs area. Friendly and obviously curious Russian border officers asked us the usual questions and requested our motorcycle papers. We handed in our customs declaration forms received in Petropavlovsk Kamchatskiy. Obviously this wasn’t enough and we knew it but we kept quiet. An officer came out and requested the “pink paper”, a permission to drive our bikes in Russia which should be issued upon entry. We explained that we weren’t issued any in PK. Finally they asked Natasha to write a report explaining what happened. That seemed to be enough and they let us go without further hassle.

At Mongolian site we were processed by the book. Our data was entered in a large book; we purchased insurance, paid for photocopies and were sent to the head officer’s office. A very little man sitting in a big leather chair greeted us. He talked on his walkie-talkie to some people, stamped our papers and let us go. Jacek stepped into the border both and caught sharp looking lady officers having a glass of vodka. They took all the stamped papers and with smiles waved us good bye. We also managed to change some money before leaving the border area.

This is Mongloia, the country where the number of sheep (10 million) is far greater than the number of people living here. It was hard to believe that we actually made it to this legendary country of never-ending steppe and nomadic people. We stopped at a “delgur” (store). The choices were quite basic: cookies, candy, canned meet and fish, water, pasta, rice, soft drinks but no bread or perishable items. We took some water and rode off.

Still on asphalt we were escaping some heavy clouds coming from Russia. The scenery was breathtaking: rolling grassy hills, small Yurts seen in a distance, horsemen rounding up sheep. It felt immediately that no one was in any hurry, that relaxing was the name of the game. Naturally we couldn’t avoid seeing poverty which was much greater than in Russia and living conditions visibly worse.

We stopped for a much deserved lunch made up of bread and Russian “tushonka”. The weather was great, not very hot, just comfortable. In our first town, Darhan, it was quite scary to slalom between large open manholes. It was on a turn when I heard a crashing sound. Oh no! Jacek skidded on smooth but sandy concrete. Luckily he was OK, his foot was saved by his pannier.

Out of nowhere a car showed up. Several curious guys came out of their fancy Nissan Terrano and together we assessed the damage. The windscreen was bent and most importantly the luggage frame was broken. We made a “bzzzzzzz” noise, which is an international word for welding; the guys scratched their heads and finally showed us to follow them.

They took us to a big empty warehouse where in an unbelievably short time we managed to fix the problem. They were welding Jacek’s rack and we straightened the shield. At one point there were five people working on the bike. Quite awesome people, they refused to accept any money.

After lots of “bayartas” (thank you) and a common picture, we left the warehouse.

We continued on the concrete slabs of the main street. Darhan seemed to be a busy place, lots of people,  cars, businesses and billboards. Apartment buildings were also in decent shape and nicely painted.Few kilometers further we turned west onto another asphalt road which showed in Jacek’s Lonely Planet book as the right way to Amarbayasgalant monastery. 

In Orhon we experienced first hand life contact with local people. It was time to eat so we stopped at a roadside “restaurant”. Using a combination of Jacek’s phrase book and finger pointing we managed to order “badatay”(rice) and “mah”(meat). They also included tea with milk which I didn’t even touch. The food was actually delicious though I would question the level of the cook’s hygiene in the kitchen. Friendly locals continued to flock around our bikes precisely examining them and trying to touch whatever was possible. They really enjoyed Jacek’s phrase page as they could read their Cyrillic letters and clearly pronounce their harsh consonants.

Soon we found a turn off to the monastery. It was just a twisty dirt road meandering spontaneously between hills. The track would sometimes veer off in a different direction leaving us puzzled which turn to take. In such a case the combination of Lonely Planet’s GPS coordinates chart and my Garmin Rino unit provided the best possible navigation. I just punched in the coordinates for the monastery and we followed the line. The ride was a good introduction to Mongolia’s magnificent scenery. It just felt so wild moving slowly thorough the valleys.

We approached an area with widely spread yurts, horseman, feeding horses and sheep. The monastery emerged in a distance. It looked so secluded and definitely mysterious.

We pitched our tents a few hundred meters from the compound immediately attracting a visitor, a dog. The animal seemed to be well trained as it clearly started to guard our new territory.

Jacek made a use of his binoculars and spotted two horsemen approaching us. You can’t really hide here. When the two horsemen, wearing their traditional long robes, arrived they greeted us and also showed their big Russian binoculars. I guess with such distances between yurts they come in handy.

The Mongols thoroughly inspected our machines especially pointing at the radiator and we also showed interest in their horses which they were so proud of. Since we couldn’t really keep any conversation going they trotted off.

The sunset was purely magical. The setting sun illuminated a cloud turning it into a warm red filter. Breathing fresh Mongolian air I slept like a log on my newly acquired mattress.                              

Day 46 (21) – July 22, Monastery to Ulaanbaatar – 343 km

http://www.amarbayasgalant.org/

At 9 a.m. we were today’s first visitors. There seemed to be no one around so we tried to stick our noses in every corner. It was so peaceful and magical, only singing birds interrupted the silence.

At around 10 a.m. little “monk junior” showed up but didn’t want to speak to us. I think he was just shy or…….very busy. Actually Jacek caught him playing a Game Boy.

Soon more little and bigger monks gathered before the entrance to the main temple. They opened it and disappeared inside. Two monks climbed to the balcony and sounded their horns. It was not until an older, English speaking monk showed up that we were allowed to enter. We sat quietly and listened to their morning prayers. It was interesting to watch the young ones. Some yawned, others ate and the one with a Game Boy continued to play it. He muted the sound though.

By now more guests started to show up, mostly Mongolians but also some Europeans. There aren’t any public busses here so most of the tourists have to take an organized tour from Ulan-Baataar.

The ride back to the main road was just a matter of following the earlier recorded GPS track. We stopped to see two Izh riders trying to patch a 2 inch gash in their tube. They were preparing an enormous piece of rubber to glue it onto the tube. In order to take the rear wheel off their bike they had to disassemble the whole rear of the bike, curious construction.  

Despite our worries our first fill up in Bayangol was uneventful.  

At first the capital looked just like another Russian city. We followed the main street to the center where Jacek, with his Lonely Planet book, went to search for an accommodation. While watching the bikes we were surrounded by suspicious young onlookers, mostly male, who without any reservations examined our machines. We heard about some cases of theft so we just watched the guys to make sure they didn’t take anything.

A sharply looking skinny gentleman pulled up in his tall 4x4 Mitsubishi minivan. He introduced himself in rough English as Jaggy and asked if we needed any help. As a travel agent/guide he was very curious about our trip and offered to book us a hotel. By this time Jacek came back with good news. He found a guest house in a nearby apartment building. Since Jaggy wanted to invite us for an evening out we agreed to meet him later that evening.

At the guest house our multilingual host named Serge, showed us to his 3 room apartment. He owns several places like this one and rents separate rooms to tourists. We got a basic room with 3 beds and a Chingis-Khan throw hanging on the wall.

 

Late that evening Jaggy in the company of his wife and his friend took us to a restaurant with live band. We chatted, had some delicious food and listened to a local rendition of “Hotel California” performed by “Yellow Bear”. The band was actually quite good. I think Jaggy had too much beer because he couldn’t stop talking and his English actually got better. To wrap up the evening we visited the highest point in UB City where a monument to Soviet soldiers fighting for the freedom of Mongols was erected. Thanks to Jaggy for an interesting evening.                          

Day 47 (22) – July 23, Ulaanbaatar

Day of exploring the UB City.

We visited a local department store, most likely built by Chinese, where we found a cleaning tape for our camera and explored Mongolian souvenirs. We took a long walk to the Bogd Khan Palace, a rather run down museum with quite interesting though not much taken care of theme artifacts. http://www.legendtour.ru/eng/mongolia/r2208.shtml

On the SUKHABAATAR SQUARE beggars and souvenir seller were a bit of a nuisance but we coped with them politely. We headed for the Chinese department store to stock up on souvenirs. They have an interesting system of payment: first you pick an item and receive a paper from a clerk, second you go to pay for it, and third you come back to pick up your item. What a waste of time.

At the post office/tourist center we sent our first postcards, found a detailed road map of Mongolia and checked our emails. We wrapped up our cultural part at UB City visiting the GANDAN MONASTERY. http://www.legendtour.ru/eng/mongolia/r2212.shtml

This time we were a bit disappointed. It was still interesting but the complex was in a rather poor state. The main attraction was the five story high Buddha located in the main building.

Back at Serge’s we asked Urna, Serge’s son, to take us to his garage. The little guy was more than happy to assist us with minor repairs. He also enjoyed a bag of fruit that we bought for him as a thank-you for his help. 

In the evening we decided to hit the bar scene again. To our disappointment all places were deserted. That Saturday was surely not a popular night out. We ended up in the same bar we were the day before with only a few guests and no band. 

Day 48 (23) – July 24, Ulaanbaatar to Mandal Govi - 283 km 

Serge was in a hurry so he let us take our bikes out of the garage and disappeared. We said good bye to the UB City taking a group picture with some people on the main square. We stopped for only a few minutes and already were surrounded by curious onlookers.

With a full tank of gas plus a small jerry, extra supply of oil,  two bottles of water each and basic provisions for a couple of days (pasta, Russian tushonka, canned fish, chocolate, cookies, bread) we attempted to leave the city.

GPS is good when following a track or turning in desired direction but it is not very helpful when there are many tracks to choose from and they all veer in similar directions. As soon as we left the city and the asphalt ended we actually got lost. The track we were on didn’t seem to lead in a desired direction. In the suburbs of UB City traffic was sparse. I stopped the only vehicle driving through the establishment and shouted “Mandal Govi” but naturally I had no idea what the driver was saying. We ended up following that car to the nearest turn where we had to ride over a bridge. The rest was quite easy. I found the right track and we just followed it south through some hills and beautiful valleys. Once in a while other tracks would crisscross or our track would split into a multilane ”highway”. Usually the outside tracks were smoother as they were recently “added” to the network.

In Delgertsogt, an establishment in the middle of dry nowhere, we stopped near a little log shack which I thought was an outhouse. It actually ended up to be a local water source, a 50 meters deep artesian well. Naturally we attracted some people and soon we were surrounded by water thirsty locals who came by motorcycle, car or by foot with their huge aluminum cans. In almost all of Mongolia there is no running water so people have to bring it from wells.

Water was pure, cold and delicious.

Before Mandal Govi there were signs of gravel road construction or completion. Drainage pipes were laid and distance posts described the road.

We arrived in the evening and headed for the centrally located gas station. This time we drew a lot of attention. Beside other people, an Izh, Ural and scooter riders showed up and did the usual dance around our bikes often concentrating on water cooling. Hotel Gobi, a nicely decorated lonely building was pointed so we went to check it out. In it a group of Danish tourists enjoyed an evening meal. Mandal Govi serves as a midway stop for people heading to Gobi. It is rather impossible to make the 600kms in one day.

Unfortunately all the rooms were taken but at least we were invited to have a supper (some left over noodles) and beer. With many Dens already in front of the hotel taking pictures of us and wishing us good luck we rode into the darkness. It didn’t really matter where we went as long as it was a bit further from the town. Maneuvering between some objects and skidding thorough sandy ruts, I took a turn to the top of a stony hill. I don’t recommend anybody riding their bike off road at night.

All we could see were the few lights in the distance. As the moon rose the expanse of the land revealed its rugged moonlike surface.                                         

Day 49 (24) – July 25, Mandal Govi to Dalandzadgad - 328 km

The wind was so strong we didn’t sleep at all. During strong gusts it flattened our tents completely. The emptiness was almost magical but little friendly.

We went back to Mandal Govi mainly to refill our water bottles. We found a well where an attendant, a girl, was in charge of dispensing water. It seemed that people were giving her some money so we also contributed. Men squatted around our bikes learning their design but didn’t ask any questions.

We took a short tour around town’s center. It was actually bigger than we initially thought. Variety of buildings stood along two one way concrete slab streets and between the streets there was a basic park with benches and concrete Lenin’s monument, a legacy of Mongolia’s communist past. People dressed in modern cloths hurried to work. The town was slowly waking up.

More barren but still green steppe seemed never-ending. Some sections were so flat and smooth that we could fly at 100km/h. Huge flocks of sheep and goats grazed everywhere, even on the track. It was a lot of fun scaring them. They would run in front of the bike and suddenly veer off as if this was the right moment. Groups of graciously moving camels appeared but they also started running when we approached. I felt like I was visiting a zoo without borders.

At the “cross roads” (few single tracks) we spotted a large herd of camels. They rested around large stone tubs possibly waiting for something. It was a shallow natural spring covered with boards and stones so the camels couldn’t contaminate it. I took a pity on the thirsty animals, grabbed a nearby laying rubber pail on a stick and scooped some water. The camels behaved peacefully without excess pushing and patiently waited for my next scoop. It was a hard work so Jacek took over.

Long stretches of the track were corrugated and often covered in sand of unknown depth. Our bikes were getting a good and happy shake test when Jacek decided to stop. The chain guard got loose so it wasn’t anything serious but it certainly felt scary as we were now in the middle of a barren desert.

In Tsogt-Ovoo we stopped by a store for canned fruit refreshment and sat on a concrete slab wondering what could people do here, in the middle of a dry desert.        

Déjà vu, Jacek’s bike is down, the same problem but different screw. He tightened another screw and we were on our way.

Just like there was a problem with finding the right way out of any town, now we found ourselves sort of lost getting to Dalandzadgad. We were heading in right direction but strangely riding through some suspicious military area. Oops, here the sign said in Russian “be careful, mines”. I am not sure if I was scared. I think I was too concentrated on navigating through dried mud ruts and worrying to make it before the rain. A huge cloud was coming from the East.

A tall smoke stack marked the existence of a power plant. We really didn’t want to stay there so we gassed up with an 86 leaded and moved on.

The area was as flat as a table. To the East I could still see the city lights but the buildings disappeared behind the horizon, except the smoke stack; to the South, a growing mountain range. Anywhere else: NOTHING.

We camped basically anywhere, it didn’t matter. The rain never came.         

Day 50 (25) – July 26, Dalandzadgad to Gobi - 146 km

As soon as we came out of our tents two locals on a popular Chinese 125cc, four stroke moped appeared from nowhere. They insisted on taking us to the entrance of the canyon we planned to visit, for a fee. They were quite puzzled when we rode off in an opposite direction. They didn’t know we needed to fill our water bottles.

Jacek gave me the coordinates for the entrance of the National Park and we headed west. The track became very rough often crossing numerous dried creeks with loose stones and climbing steep hills. We made it safely to the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park entrance where were surrounded by more friendly Mongols.

A small building was their headquarters/small museum in one and several yurts served as souvenir shops. The presence of tourists was evident though not overwhelming. A couple from California confirmed the existence of ice at the bottom of the gorge but they said it was minimal. We paid an entry fee and were told to follow the track for next 5 kilometers.

Gradually descending, with mountains on both sides of the track, we arrived to a parking lot. An English speaking woman, apparently a ranger, told us we could leave our bikes here and no one would touch them. Interestingly, as long as we were there the locals had enough courage to look, touch, try the gas and clutch lever and some even wanted to sit on the bike. As soon as we moved away they all did too. I think I like this kind of tradition.

We followed a creek down to the narrowest point of the gorge where a 20 meter long slab of ice was glued to the rock, a curious phenomenon, ice in the desert. On the way back we listened to relaxing sounds of a popular instrument “morin khuur”. The young guy played for us two contrasting pieces, he was actually pretty good. 

http://www.face-music.ch/instrum/mongolia_instrum.html

At the parking lot a new group of tourists arrived with a guide. It was so bizarre to look at a tall and strong, not fat, German girl trying to sit on a small Mongolian horse. The horse surely looked smaller under her.

To get to Bayandalay we rode in a dry riverbed and often in a small creek through yet another narrow gorge. The scenery was already spectacular but my experience became even more magical when I started chasing wild horses. I felt like I was in a movie. Was I a horse or a rider?

We climbed a steep long hill to end up on yet another plain. It looked like the top of Grand Canyon.

Deep sand shows no mercy for speeders. Going on a third gear was too fast for this turn. I jumped the bank and dug the front wheel into deeper sand; my pathetic mistake, the bike went down.    

In Bayandalay the gas station was closed so we just waited. Someone showed up, looked around and left. Soon an attendant was brought on a motorcycle and more “bikers” showed up. The pump had no electricity so the gas man pumped manually working hard for his money.

By a food store we managed to communicate that we were hungry. It was hard to understand what the woman was saying but eventually we were invited to a “hotel” to eat. We were placed in one of the basic rooms with a table. By this time a few more people appeared including an English speaking lady. She told us that we would get goulash with noodles in soup. The food that was prepared especially for us from scratch was actually very delicious.  

The track west became gradually very rough. It went through a large green valley with some gers and lots of animals. Often we had to speed to get away from huge dogs the size of sheep. Momentarily it was quite scary as the dogs would attack in packs.

The sun set and it was time to end the day. I think this was still a National Park. We could see some animals moving in the distance, mainly antelopes. We just sat there, looked at the shapes of the mountains and the millions of stars in the sky, magnificent. Tonight we slept in a total silence.  

Day 51 (26) – July 27, Gobi to canyon before Bogd -154 km

We were very close to the sand dunes and we could feel it. The heat was gaining strength. We packed up quickly and were almost ready to go when Jacek’s bike decided to take another break. It was the starting system again. We went through the whole procedure of disassembling the starting relay again but it didn’t help. The bike wouldn’t even start when bypassing the relay. I took out my battery and we checked for connectivity, it worked. We checked the terminals and indeed it was the minus in Jacek’s battery that had bad connection. In already scorching heat we fixed the problem.

Our progress was very slow as the track continued to deteriorate. We would often dip 1 metre down to a dry creek in a moment to come up again. Big stones and more sand made the first gear the only option.

The dunes appeared in a distance with another mountain range towering over them. It seemed it was some sort of illusion, a mirage. We came very close to the dunes, perhaps a few hundred meters. It was senseless to go any further as the sand was soft and deep. Some locals showed up with their Chinese scooters. They were going to Sevrey, a town on the other side of the dunes. They said it was only 4 kilometers of deep sand and then a hard road. We watched them struggle through the dunes. They were falling of their scooter and eventually pushing them through. I think they made it just fine.

To fully experience Mongolian desert Jacek and I climbed the two kilometers to the top of the dunes. Fortunately the clouds rolled in and it wasn’t that hot, well…..maybe 35C. The views from the top were unparalleled. We could see the town of Sevrey hiding at the bottom of the mountain. It seemed so close but it was a whopping 20km away.

At a nearby tourist camp, yes there was a tourist camp in the middle of Gobi, we had a delicious meal and took a warm shower. There were some western tourists in the camp who stayed overnight in cozy gers. We said thank you to the people who ran the camp and rode off, this time back north.

The scenery gradually changed from yellow to red to brown desert with traces of grass and even large bushes. After we passed through small mountain range life came back to normal. A ger, a car, a motorcycle, horses and lots of sheep; it was a lonely herder in the middle of nowhere.

We stopped to greet a “biker” returning with his wife from a “shopping spree”. He lit a cigarette, asked for water and confirmed showing to his trip meter it was 46 kilometers to Bogd.

We stopped for the night near a creek bed with small rugged mountains surrounding us. Jacek climbed to the top to find the end of the range but all he brought back was an inspiration.

Day 52 (27) – July 28, canyon to mountain top past Dzuunbayan-Ulaan- 295 km

We moved through a small gorge slowly being careful not to jump a rut. When we came out of it we could see more brownish smooth mountains and the track went right along their tops. That felt like being on top of the world. This “highway” was way more spectacular than the one in Yukon.

The mountains became more rugged and soon we entered yet another wild gorge. Most of the riding went in a twisty dry river bed so it was slow and very hard. The bottom walls of the gorge became completely blue. Was I dreaming?

All the way to Arvaikheer through Bogd and Guchin-us we enjoyed beautiful and easy green rolling hills with mostly smooth track surface.

Coming to town we gassed up, ate some most disgusting sausage (Mongols don’t know how to do sausages) and moved on. In the distance we could see a huge thunder cloud with lightning. Our track to Hujirt was taking us right to it. Suddenly I saw another truck veering off to the left and I took it. Soon we were bombarded with marble size hail. The track quickly became very slippery but we kept riding to get out of the cloud. After half an hour we came out of the cloud. The whole area looked white. We were lucky as we barely brushed against that cloud. As the hail melted away the sloped track turned into creeks making the ride very slow and dangerous.

A huge green valley appeared in front us with lots of sheep, horses and yaks with a river at the bottom of it. We haven’t crossed a river since we left Siberia so I was a little apprehensive. We looked at local guys cross it on their Izh first and that built up our confidence. I went first with Natasha without problem and Jacek followed. Slowly we started climbing a very long hill. Considerably rough track, big stones, tons of animals everywhere and widely spread gers were the feature, a completely new landscape. Luckily the dogs were too far to be interested in us. I slalomed between all the obstacles beyond the top of the hill honking when necessary and loosing sight of Jacek. Suddenly I heard his voice on the radio. He went down.

Since another thunder cloud was approaching we quickly moved to the top of the hill, found a flat surface behind a rock and set up a camp. Heavy rain lasted for maybe an hour and then the sky cleared showing the beauty of the universe.             

Day 53 (28) – July 29, Dzuunbayan to Tsetserleg - 201 km

Jacek’s small accident was caused by definite lack of space in Mongolia. He tried to slalom around a large uncooperative bull and a sticking up boulder. In effect his left pannier got caught by the boulder stopping the bike immediately and making Jacek learn how to fly. Fortunately the speed was low and the grass was soft.

Damage assessment came next. The pannier was ok but the rack was cracked and it barely held the pannier hanging. It had to be welded. I took some of Jacek’s stuff and we headed on the pretty much abandoned track to the next town, Hujirt.

At the gas station it didn’t take long to find help. We just showed the damage and were asked to follow a young guy on an Izh. He brought us to one of many private compounds where a family lived. A middle aged, short and stocky man came out. We tried to learn his name but it was rather impossible to pronounce. The closest we could hear was “Huanjer”.

During rack’s disassembly Jacek noticed that the other side was also cracked. We followed our helper to another building from which he took out two long shielded wires. One of them he connected to a large piece of steel, the other he held in his hand. He welded on the ground for maybe 15 minutes looking like he knew what he was doing. Indeed, the job was beautifully done with thick strong welds. He also brought a huge drill to fix cracked aluminum rear rack that also broke during the crash. Jacek thanked Huanjer giving him a considerable donation which was accepted with a smile. The whole process actually took no more than 3 hours. We left Hujirt uneventfully.

As we approached Harhorin the cloud cover became more substantial producing more frequent scattered showers. Here we wanted to see Karakorum, the largest and the most visited monastery in Mongolia.

http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/cities/karakorum/karakorum.html

Indeed, the place was packed with Mongolian and foreign tourists. In front of it there was a big parking lot and a row of food and souvenir stalls. Despite the crowds it was worth visiting the compound. In the main temple we walked around a big Buddha and listened to monks pray. We weren’t allowed to film it.

We left Harhorin in the rain. The road condition varied from newly built raised gravel mound (already in bad condition) to clay dirt tracks cut to the side of a hill. I couldn’t believe passenger cars drove here; some of them were sliding down the hill like toys. Recent heavy rain produced a flash flood and all the gers along the road were in a foot of water. We met two bicyclists from Spain (they introduced themselves as Basques) who complained about the road conditions. Also there Jacek had another problem with his chain guard which got completely damaged so he finally got rid of it.

Further west the rain stopped and we happily cruised through the meadows. At the small river crossing, we rode through it easily, a passenger car attempted to get to the other side. Somehow the car made it across but eventually it got stuck in an embankment. All passengers helped to push it out and eventually succeeded but at what cost. They were dirty, wet and very tired. The car was slightly damaged and didn’t want to start. I guess this was the reality of life in Mongolian outback.         

We stopped for the night by the side of a hill with no one around.

Day 54 (29) – July 30, Tsetserleg to Baydrag - 233 km

We woke up to the sounds of horse nicker and neigh. It was a huge herd of horses slowly strolling down hill.

In Tsetserleg we checked the Fairfield guest house run by British expatriates, a popular place among backpackers. Considering the overall Mongolian prices their 5$ two egg breakfast was overpriced but we had it anyway. 

Outside a large group of local horseman and a few tourists gathered around us. We tried to answer all the necessary questions in several languages and with hands. It seemed all were happy because they gladly positioned themselves for a group picture.

Later when I was checking my battery the same horsemen lined up taking the whole width of the street and trotted in front of us. I think they were very proud of their horses.

We rode around for a while just to satisfy our curiosity, gassed up and headed for the mountains.

Initially the newly built gravel road was great but past Ihtamir it changed to an earth track when we turned south-west towards Egiyn pass. The rich green pastures were full of domestic animals and down in the valley locals lived in their sparsely distributed gers. Looking at the green of the valley was magical. Children on horses rushed towards. Was this heaven?

The track gradually became very rough with big pools of water, Kolyma déjà vu, large boulders and steep inclines. Sometimes we rode on a single “motorcycle” lane or beside the main track because it was just too rough.

 

Slowly we made it to the top. An Uaz 4x4 carrying Mongols caught up with us and together we threw stones on a pile. It is a tradition to stop at a highest point, throw a stone and leave a blue scarf.

 

Down the pass the track didn’t improve and we had to cross a small creek where I put the bike down. It started to rain and in general we felt tired. Around Baydrag we had to cross yet another creek. This time it was a few hundred meters wide river with many small creeks and hidden traps. Here I fell in one of the deep holes bottoming down completely and laying the bike down.

It was a rather hard day of riding. We camped in a meadow with mountains on both sides looking like taken from a fairytale.                          

 

 

Day 55 (30) – July 31, Baydrag to Tayshir 273 km

My battery showed first signs of weakness the day before and this morning it gave up completely. Natasha had to push me downhill to start.

In Zag we asked around and with a help of a local Russian speaking doctor were able to find a suitable battery. The clerk at the general store, open on Sunday, showed me a 9 amp new Russian battery for Ural. It was smaller but I really had no choice. At one moment it seemed that the whole town was helping to connect my new power supply. Some drilled holes, others cleaned the connectors and filled the battery with acid. The rest curiously looked making it one happy gathering.

When we finished we were invited to the doctor’s house for a snack. His wife served some kind of home made cookies, instant coffee from a Russian packet and Jacek requested a cup of Khumus, fermented mare’s milk. We actually had a decent conversation with the doctor who translated most of it to his wife and his son. He told us that they lived in the house only in the summer and moved to a ger for the winter. Since a ger is warmer and cheaper to heat most of the people in the village move to gers for the winter.

We said warm bayarla and bayarta to everybody and prepared to leave. The battery was very weak but slowly it turned the engine to a start.

We followed a decent track to Guulin where we joined the main route west. At least that is what my GPS showed. Close to Tayshir we came onto some kind of a built road and a bridge over a large river. Instead of taking the main road to Altay we decided to follow my GPS which showed a different main track. A very rough track started quite innocently through numerous dry creeks. It was beyond doubt a route less traveled as the tire impressions were limited and old. We camped by the Zavhan River having serious doubts whether we should continue on this track.     

Day 56 (31) – Aug 1, Tayshir to Darvi - 244 km

Today’s feature: sand, a bit of mud, loose stones, deep washed off sections of track.

Pretty much every 100 meters we had to cross a deep dry creek virtually disappearing in it. Then there came the canyon. I thought we would never come out of it. The deserted track went mostly through a dry riverbed. We both dug our front wheels into the deep gravel and fell several times. Natasha had to walk the worst few kilometers as it was impossible to ride two up. As soon as the canyon ended one meter deep washed off ruts appeared making us zigzag around them when a suitable detour was not possible.

Around Bayan-Uul and after several hours of hard work the misery ended. We entered an 80 kms long semi flat plane where we could only see the tips of the mountains in the distance. We cruised at 90km/h making up for the earlier lost time.

 

The approach to Darvi was supposed to be a complete success but ended up to be another sweating. We took a shortcut which brought us to a narrow yet very swampy creek impossible to cross. We rode back and when looking for a possible crossing we got ourselves into tall grass and some foot high grass bunches. The bikes bounced like toys until it was impossible to carry on. I found a small gravel patch down in the ravine and managed to move slowly to it. The bank was a little steep but I gave it a go and made it across. Jacek approached slowly but with his heavy panniers he got stuck between bunches. Sweating like pigs and attracting swarms of mosquitoes we pushed his bike slowly foot by foot until it was positioned for crossing. He gave it a go and also made it.  

Completely exhausted and hungry we parked our bikes in front of a flat building. A few curious people approached including some very drunk individuals. All around it looked gloomy if not scary. It seemed the life couldn’t get any worse there. We asked for some food and were shown the entry to an eatery.

The place was filthy with dirty everything including walls. “Badatay and mah” that was all we were able to convey. The cook prepared for us a sort of lamb fried rise dish. I didn’t even want to think about the sanitary condition of her kitchen. We ate vigorously while some kids enjoyed Jacek’s Lonely Planet Mongolian phrases. Except for a few intrusions of a drunken man the whole situation became quite amusing. Greeted by the children and the woman cook we rode away. Men across the street played open air snooker on their only table.

We camped a few kilometers from the town on yet another kind of surface and surrounded by small grass bushes.

Day 57 (32) – Aug 2, Darvi to Bayan-Enger - 321 km

We gassed up in Darvi, bought some products and headed further west. Today’s breakfast was composed of bread and canned sprout (actually many breakfasts were like this one). We found ourselves on a decent track which gradually deteriorated until it completely ended at a long deep trench with running water. Where to now? Without much hesitation we just picked a direction. We followed the trench north for a few miles through a very rough stone field and hidden mud holes until miraculously we made it to the “main road”.

The scenery completely changed; it was dry, dusty and very hot all the way to Hovd. We passed some seemingly deserted establishments made up of mainly small one story mud houses. We stopped on a bridge to rest a bit and in a matter of minutes were surrounded by a group of curious kids. I looked at their sunburned faces and felt sorry for them. Their skin was so dry I could see pieces of it peeling off.

The desert road was horrible, badly corrugated and often bumpy. We had no choice but to speed up and fly through the washboard at 90km/h testing our suspension to the limit.

At the top of the hill an asphalt road started and we made a smooth approach to the city.

Hovd was filled with concrete apartment buildings, mud houses, gers surrounded by mud walls, a few cars and dusty streets with cows lazily strolling right in the middle of them. It all looked like a forgotten ghetto.

We ate a warm meal at an eatery recommended by Lonely Planet. People here seemed to be someone else, not Mongolian. We asked a cook woman who spoke some Russian about the population of this part of Mongolia and she proudly stated that most of the people here were Kazakh and they even speak the language. On the way out of town we passed by a “city of gers”. To me it looked very exotic but I realised it was just the way of life and in a way not a very happy one.

We climbed another pass and rode through more mountains on a very rough yet considered main road. Some expensive SUVs sped by and heavy transport trucks seemed to be able to slowly make it too. We rode a single track along a fast flowing river. The view was just gorgeous and we tried to absorb every bit of it.

Was I hallucinating or was it real? In the distance I could see a tent pitched by the river and two motorcycles parked beside it. Without much hesitation we approached. Two friendly Germans greeted us in English. Karen and Goetz just started their tour of Mongolia on their two BMWs Dakar. It was a different feeling to meet other bikers here. It was a sensation of spontaneous reunion with the same species. We shared some stories and took a dive into our sacs.

Day 58 (33) – Aug 3, Bayan-Enger to the border by Tsagaannuur - 244 km

The Germans had some small problem with one of their bikes so they were staying one more night there. We, on the other hand, were all ready to go before they even woke up. To say good bye they actually crawled out of their tents and we took a group photo. Two locals visited our camp: an elderly man and a young boy, both came on their horse and were accompanied by huge dogs.

Barren mountains were everywhere. It seemed like we were gradually getting higher and higher. Lake Tolbo on the left and huge mountain top glaciers on the right painted another picture in our memory. It was hard to realize our Mongolian journey would end soon.

In Olgiy, another Kazakh town, we had our last Mongolian Restaurant meal. We were the only guests in possibly the most expensive restaurant in town. Their lamb was very delicious and we would definitely miss that.

A jump over one more pass and we were on our descent to Tsagaannuur. The mud house village seemed virtually deserted so we didn’t even bother. A nicely laid road took us straight to the border crossing. Though it was already closed cars would already line up to get a head start the next day.

We backtracked a few miles and headed for a huge empty valley. Our last camping in Mongolia was as magical as our first. I thought there is no place on earth where pretty much anybody could roam around on their bike through hills and mountains without restrictions. We both went to ride the treeless hills and felt free for the last time.

Day 59 (34) – Aug 4, border to a field by Gorno-Altaysk - 539 km

At the border the line up was just a bit longer from what we saw the day before. We moved to the front of the line anyway. We observed the border guards line up in the field in front of their officer. They probably listened for their daily assignments.

The border opened right at 9am. A uniformed lady was in charge of opening the gate. We counted on an easy entry but it wasn’t like that. She first allowed to enter other people who seemed to be either her acquaintances or simply very well known in the area. The tractor was first but in no way it was let go first. Finally, after roughly two hours of squeezing closer and closer to the gate she let us in. The processing was straightforward and soon we were let go. At the Russian side a young guard allowed us to by pass all the waiting vehicles. The gate opened and here officially, as the asphalt started, Mongolia ended.

At the Russian customs we were processed strictly by the book receiving the “pink” paper and road insurance. Before their 1 p.m. lunch break we were happily riding the smooth “Chuyskiy Trakt” towards Barnaul. Since we started at over 2500 meters the ride to Gorno-Altaysk was a 700kms constant descent.

Gradually more trees lined the hills of the Altays and of course the hills became lush green. Wooden cottages completely replaced the gers and in general the life was more civilized. I couldn’t believe when I was stopped by militia. The road patrol officer clocked me going 85 in 60 zone. We stopped and pleaded for mercy while the young officer examined our bikes. At the end, after he heard our story, he took a pity on me and let us go. As a thank you we gave him our last pack of Marlboro.

We wished to enjoy the beautiful Altays more but I think we were very tired of the road and wanted to relax a bit. We spent the night camping in the field after Gorno-Altaysk.       

Day 60 (35) – Aug 5, Gorno-Altaysk to Tomsk - 708 km

We rode at a reasonable pace on a busy Russian artery constantly heading north. Lots of slow diesel trucks, occasional farm equipment and even slow moving private vehicles had to be passed with caution. We had another feature which was frequent militia check points. Show all the papers, explain where you go and why you go there. All this was done with courtesy and without any unprofessional behavior (extortion of money). After one of the checkpoints we rode for a few meters when I felt sudden change in my rear suspension behavior. This was a real disaster; my rear Progressive shock was shot dead, it wouldn’t dump at all. There was little choice. For the next few hundred kilometers we constantly bounced making the ride very slow and dangerous. In Novosibirsk we easily located the NBC Motor motorcycle service place http://nbsmotor.ru/index.htm 

The guys were very busy there but they managed to squeeze a few minutes to help me. They let my bike in their work and I started working on the shock. The lower part of the mechanism got completely detached from the shaft and the inside thread was half worn off. Zhenia, one of the sales guys said he knew what to do and took the shock to the shop to work on it. After two hours he produced a working shock. He said he recharged with oil and air. We thanked all the friendly guys, handed in a small contribution and hit the streets of Novosibirsk. The shock felt very stiff and worked well for maybe 15 minutes then it lost all it stiffness and the bike started bouncing again. At a very slow pace often dropping to 30 km/h we made it to Tomsk by 3 a.m. That 9 hour and 280kms journey was interrupted by a 2 hour stop after 2 trucks collided head on and the only road north was blocked with wreckage, ripe tomatoes and paprika. I will not go into the details of the accident but in one word I think it was horrifying.

Natasha’s parents already waited for us. They were so happy to see us safe and sound. At last we rested in a warm and comfortable apartment.                     

Day 61 (36) – Aug 6, Tomsk

Of course the priority was to fix the shock and work on our bikes. With Natasha’s father, Yuriy, and her brother, Aliosha, we went to their garage where everybody helped with the repairs. Aliosha took the shock to a professional suspension specialist while we continued changing sprockets, chains, oil, filters and performed a general check of all the parts.

In the evening we went with Aliosha and his friends to his cottage where we got thoroughly steamed in his custom built Banya. It was surely a fun way of ending the day.     

Day 62 (37) – Aug 7, Tomsk

In the morning Natasha and I took Jacek on a guided tour of Tomsk. He surely admired the beautiful architecture and without a doubt liked the 400 years old city. At the end of Lenina St. he shook the hand of the communist leader. It is a usual site in many Russian cities where Lenin would still stand proud at the central place of a city and in a background there could be a newly erected or renovated church.

Aliosha showed up with a newly fixed shock. It seemed to work so we headed for the garage. The tests also showed a very good dumping action though the adjustment didn’t seem to function. With all the positive thoughts of further travel we relaxed more with Natasha’s family.    

Day 63 (38) – Aug 8, Tomsk to Stantsionno – 170 km

We really wanted to leave today and everything seemed to go as planned. Back at the garage when we were getting ready I gave it the last check to our wheel bearings. I think we must have missed it earlier. Our rear wheel bearings were very close to the end of their service life. We had one set with us but now we needed two sets. With the help of a fiend of Yuriy we found a store with the necessary bearings where Jacek got himself a set made in Russia.

It took us sometime to change the parts but by the late afternoon we were ready to leave. We thanked Natasha’s parents for wonderful hospitality and kissed them good bye.

On the way to Novosibirsk we spotted the cab of one of the trucks burning on the site of the road. It was the site of the accident that we witnessed a couple of days before. I guess that was the way Russian services were getting rid of wreckage.

We camped by the side of the road in deep grass.      

Day 64 (39) – Aug 9, Stantsionno to Chictyunka – 408 km

 

In Novosibirsk we headed straight for the NBS Motor service place. From there I contacted Sergey, a friend of our friend Darek who traveled in the area in his Landrover. He left some spare parts for us with Sergey. At the same time I contacted friends of Pietia and Zhenia who already received our tires and had them ready for pick up.

Sergey showed up shortly. He brought the parts and offered to pick up the tires. This was just awesome as it would probably take us hours to find the right apartment building on our own. He took me to his work place where I was given free lunch at the workers’ eatery. On the way back he bought us a huge watermelon. What a great guy.

At the NBS Motor we changed all the tires. This was the only place with a motorcycle wheel balancing machine in a radius of few thousand kilometers. The nearest one was either in Moscow or in Vladivostok. Our rear Pirellis were in a very bad state with many side knobs completely disintegrated and head knobs nearly flattened.

With our gear almost ready to go we witnessed an arrival of an Australian couple. They were traveling from London to China and maybe further on their old Yamahas Tenere. Having few problems they also stopped at the overlanders’ “hot spot” NBS Motor. They also needed tires so we offered our old ones. They took the front ones which were still pretty good. The prospects of getting rear tires were grim. You could order one but you would have to wait a month or two for arrival. If you plan to change tires at NBS Motor the best is to contact them earlier and have the tires wait for you.

We said again good bye to the guys from NBS and to the Australians. Our next destination was Kazakhstan.

Pretty smooth ride continued past Barnaul with all the roads signposted and convenient city bypasses. Unfortunately by now I could feel a gradual decrease in the shock's dumping action. I was very angry at Progressive and at the choice I made. We camped in a field a few hundred meters from the road.              

Day 65 (40) – Aug 10, Chictyunka to Krasnyy Aul, Kazakhstan - 274 km

We rode very slowly bouncing again for 200 kms to the next decent town. The whole thing didn’t make sense. The numerous fixing of the shock obviously didn’t work since the oil kept on leaking. Our trip was in serious peril. We needed good suspension to ride the Kazakhstan roads. At the same time we didn’t want to keep Jacek since he was already running behind schedule. Decisions had to be made. With all those thoughts in my mind I took the first turn off to Rubtsovsk and headed straight for the nearest garage. We could read the provided full service including suspension repair. Would they fix my shock?

The decision making was super fast. Andrey, the suspension specialist, listened to my suggestion (find a suitable car shock and incorporate it into my Progressive spring) and confidently agreed to meet the terms. His work was purely awesome. For the next six hours he welded, ground, cut, fitted, adjusted and checked again. At the end he even spray painted the whole construction for esthetics. He was a real hero of the day proving that in real mechanic’s hands anything is possible. He was an artist. I returned from a test ride with two thumbs up. The Nissan Terrano’s shock was a little stiff but in a way I liked it. Naturally we thanked all the guys in the garage for their patience and great job. Since it was their occupation I paid what they asked for. I think they were satisfied.

At dawn we stopped at a roadside restaurant with life music. With few people inside we received our delicious meals shortly. At the bar I was approached by two Russian “babes” who bombarded me with questions. Slowly I moved to the table and introduced them to Jacek. Somehow I managed to get away while Jacek continued to be “attacked”. I still question their purpose in the restaurant. I think one of them was a daughter of the owner.

That night we also managed to cross the Kazakh border which was a pretty smooth and friendly experience. We camped in the steppe a few hundred meters from the road.                

Day 66 (41) – Aug 11, Krasnyy Aul to Ucharal – 690 km

In Semipalatinsk the Irtish River clearly marked two different landscapes. To the north lush green and to the south dry yellow. During our quick visit we changed money and got some extra oil.

We traveled the same route in 2002 but in opposite direction. I was curious about the road condition ahead and the many potholes we might be facing. To Gregorievka the asphalt was very wavy so more than 100 km/h became an unsafe speed. We gassed up at the corner station paying money to a faceless woman behind steel bars. In Kazakhstan not much really changed, if to compare with Russia, other than money.

I waited for the 100 km stretch of a super bad road but it never came, instead we road on a relatively new asphalt.

The ride would have been quite uneventful if it wasn’t for some drunken man in their black BMW. For the next couple of hundred kilometers they played a passing game with us. They would pass us and keep very close. We sped up so did they. When we slowed down to a crawl they would drive away and stop further up to wait for us and let us pass them. Their intentions were unknown but their behavior certainly made us think they were up to something. This all happened with very few vehicles around and far away from any establishment. In the evening we stopped to gas up. The men clearly waited for us right there. They came out of the car and told us we had nothing to worry about, they were just having fun. Quite some fun I thought.

By this time it already rained and we weren’t sure where to stay for the night. The steppe was all muddy like a swamp. Instead of staying in a crossroads motel we decided to just go on. Luckily the steppe turned soon into hills and the rain eased up. We turned onto an earth road going steep uphill and found a drier flat spot on a higher ground.      

Day 67 (42) – Aug 12, Ucharal to Kokpek – 688 km (Jacek – to Kyrgyz border – 808 km)

The rain clouds moved away and we enjoyed a nice ride on a decent pothole free road. Flat areas also ended and now we could see mountain ranges in the distance. 50 kilometers to the east it was already China. We passed through several small towns that often began with a traditional Kazakh cemetery.

To avoid the traffic in Almaty we took a short cut through some forgotten farmland. Soon we joined the main route heading east. New tall mountain ranges appeared and the views became more interesting. We stopped at the beautifully situated busy road side restaurant complex. I was so hungry and the food smelled so good. Out of nowhere, without any earlier announcements, Jacek stated that he wanted to go on. I knew we were going to separate at one point but this decision was a bit of a shock. Quickly we divided our gear, said good bye and Jacek rode off into the night. When enjoying our meal I came to understand his position. He was really running out of time and he had to hurry.

We rode in complete darkness for another hour till the next junction. Huge mountain range grew much closer. We rode into the plain away from the road and set up our tent. It felt very much like in Mongolia.     

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Greg and Natasha in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Europe
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Jacek in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Europe.