• Aaron

A week off-road in Mongolia's north east

In this post I will:

  1. describe our travels off-road through the Mongolian north east

  2. release the first video of our 2019 expedition!

For those who prefer to go directly to the video you can do so here, otherwise read on and the video will be introduced below.

The Mongolian North East

You may recall that prior to entering Mongolia at a remote border crossing I was unable to find much information online concerning this region at all. A view that we're learning appears somewhat entrenched within the international overland community is that there's little in the north east worth visiting. Our experience was otherwise. Although evidently true that this region is little visited (we saw no other overland travellers, and outside of villages almost no one at all), we presume that those who believe the north east has little to offer travelled between Choibalsan and Ulaanbaatar via the road, or are merely repeating the prevailing view without having actually been to the region. Indeed, as far as I can tell barely anyone goes where we ventured to in the north east.

We headed off-road deep into the northernmost part of this region and discovered a vast and little touched wilderness. How far north? Far enough that at one point what we thought was a village (Sylwia hoped to get bread there), turned out to be a military post just beneath the Russian border in a sensitive area. The following terrain map shows our GPS track through the north east (and also captures our route from the border to Choibalsan, as described in the previous post). Notice that by going far to the north we encountered increasingly mountainous terrain, including an area designated a National Park. This area is a vast and little populated wilderness, which likely explains why our experience of this region was positive.

Our route offered ever changing vistas from mountains to vast valleys. We passed through some sections that were reasonably densely forested and others that were dry, dusty and barren. We needed to cross a number of clear rivers; owing to the sunny 30 degree days we frequently stopped to swim. But one of the most memorable highlights from this region was of some valleys we encountered filled with meadows of brightly coloured wildflowers as far as the eye could see. These were just beautiful and quite reminiscent of alpine meadows in Europe; I was reminded of parts of Romania and the Mediterranean Alps, only the landscapes are so much bigger in Mongolia. Except for when passing through a village, some of which you will see in the video, we encountered few people.

As mentioned, we ventured very near the border with Russia in a sensitive area where it is not permitted to cross, hence why we encountered a military post and were redirected by a startled looking soldier. We were unsure if we were supposed to hold special permission to be that far north and suspect we were. We tried - we visited a big police station enroute intending to make our intentions known, with Google Translate in hand, but felt very awkward there. Not because they didn't understand us, but because they appeared to be half way through strip searching a local. Whilst the Police were happy to leave the half naked man on the floor and assist us (and even the half naked man registered no complaint!) we opted to leave at the first opportunity.

The first video of our 2019 expedition has now been produced!

The first edited video from this trip is now available to view. It's less than four minutes long, yet manages to show footage captured over nearly a week. My aim with these videos is to condense hours of raw video footage into just a few short minutes so that viewers can very quickly get an impression of what an area is like. I welcome feedback and suggestions.

Towards the end of the video you will see some images taken at the isolated Baldan Bereeven Monastery. This monastery, currently under restoration, has a brutal history. Very briefly: first established in 1654, it grew to be one of the largest Buddhist monastery's in Mongolia and was home to as many as 8,000 monks by the mid 19th century. As part of Stalinist purges of the 1930's, communist thugs were dispatched to such monasteries to destroy them. Sadly, this also entailed murdering the monks. Baldan Bereeven was one of many monasteries dealt this harsh treatment in the 1930's. Fortunately, today the site is a peaceful place to explore and the restoration works are going well.

5GoOverland - rescuing stranded locals since... 2019

The first stranded vehicle we encountered was a truck belonging to a local father and son, which was stranded in the middle of a wide river not too far from Dadal village.

By the time we arrived the father had already set off on foot in search of help, leaving his 16 year old son sitting on the river bank. I figured at least the father would return – with or without having found assistance, to find his truck had been pulled out of the river. The boy, who spoke a tiny bit of English, was full of enthusiasm and seemed well versed with how to salvage his family's truck.

Recovery number two was a flashy Lexus version of a 200 series Landcruiser that we found bogged in mud much closer to Ulaanbaatar. Winching it out was just a simple five minute job with the right equipment, though the sticks and a gumboot stuffed beneath the wheels indicated that in the absence of recovery gear this vehicle had been bogged for a while. When we came by, a small car was making a fruitless attempt at towing the big Lexus (Landcruiser) out.

We hope the next vehicle needing to be recovered won’t be us. Getting stuck somewhere is an ever-present risk when you spend as much time off-road as we are on this trip. We're carrying plenty of self-recovery equipment and should be capable of getting ourselves out of trouble in most scenarios.

Where are we now and what's next?

We're in Ulaanbaatar, the capital and only really big city in Mongolia. Over the next few days we'll be planning our next adventure in more detail - and this is a big one - a journey south into the Gobi Desert! Of course there's also much to see and do in Ulaanbaatar, including a world class dinosaur museum that Marcel has been looking forward to visiting for a long time. But the Gobi Desert and surrounding areas was always going to be one of the highlights of this expedition, so stay tuned for the next blog post.

A collection of photos since our previous post:

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