"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mongolia, A Report from the Field: 50km on a Rough Road for a Toilet

This is what is on the itinerary for the day:

Today we will drive to Waterfall of “Mongosh” and located from Khatgal 145km. [90 miles]  We will make a little trip around the Waterfall.  The reflections of the surrounding larch forest on majestic Khoridol Saridag mountain range on the blue lake water are extremely amazing.

Cap and Patti opt to stay in camp.  I want to go.  I figure if Genco Travel thinks it’s worth putting on the itinerary, it must be worth seeing.   I sense reluctance on Yuself’s part.

"The road is very rough."

“Yusef, in Alaska we have many, many waterfalls.   Is this one worth the drive?   What makes it so special?”

He hesitates, then, “It is unique.”   Let’s go, I say.  I check to make certain I have my passport with me as we will be passing into a special administrative area where they are checked.

We backtrack to the village of Khatgal and drive a few miles out of town.   Chimdee turns off the highway and follows a track up and into the mountains.  For the first few kilometers the track is almost smooth, and Chimdee "Andretti” is in his element, slowing only for the occasional livestock laggard.  

Part of Khatgal.

"Turn right at the horses."

Herder with sheep and goats


See the pointed things sticking out around the center yak's face?   That is to wean the calf by preventing it from nursing.   It can still forage.

We reach a particularly picturesque valley with mountains on one side and Siberian larch forest on the other.  Sheep and goat herds, Mongolian horses, and yaks populate the area.  We pass a couple nomad herders stopped for a rest, one with a horse and the other with a motor bike.   They stare at us in a friendly, curious way.   

The road, not much more than a cattle track, gets really rough.   Churned up muddy spots have frozen into barely passable ruts, interspersed with immovable rocks, stumps, and boulders.   Up and up the valley we bounce and lumber, at a crawl.

Cattle on the lowland, sheep and goats above.

The nomad's camp is in the patch of snow in the center.

The nomads' camp is in the patch of snow in the center

This yak was so obliging that I took many photos.

Nomad's camp.

A rutted, frozen mess.   I could not take photos of the worst parts of the "road" because they were too rough.

This waterfall must really be something, I think.  Eventually we top out in another mountain valley and I see the track ahead  undulating across the mountain slopes.

 Yusef says we have traveled 50 kilometers in two hours.  I know what he is asking.  

I call for a potty stop and water the imaginary girl bush behind the  Mitsubishi.  When I get back in, I ask Yusef about the waterfall.   He explains how many kilometers are left, and it’s a hefty amount, more than the 145 km on the itinerary.

In response to my questions, he says this is the ONLY way to the waterfall.

The track goes up and over the mountain.

I do some math and tell Yusef I think we should go back.   Two hours to travel 50km means it will be late at night when we come back over this rough, rutted mess.   Not something wise, I think.   What if one of those boulders punctures the oil pan?  What was Genco thinking, I wonder, that it would make this a one-day trip.

Yusef offers an alternative:   Visit a nomad’s ger or a drive along the other side of Lake Khuvsul.   He had me at the nomad’s ger.

Chimdee starts chattering to Yusef as he turns the vehicle around.  He continues to chatter and Yusef does not offer a translation.   

We decide to eat our lunch before heading back.  Chimdee takes off cross-country to a rise with a spectacular view. 

He hands each of us our lunch, which is packed in an opened Styrofoam container, topped by another Styrofoam container.   Awkward at best, as Chimdee proves by dumping his lunch in the snow.

My lunch:   rice with beef and mushrooms, and pickled veggies.   It's enough for a week.

Yusef's vegetarian lunch:   a massive helping of pickled stuff, maybe some potato salad, and maybe some scrambled eggs.

Chimdee's lunch is in the snow.   I give him most of mine.

He tries to rescue some of his lunch from the snow, and I scrape much of mine into his container.

Close by is an ovoo, in this case a pyramid of small poles with many khadag, the blue flags that represent the sky and are part of ceremonial Buddhism.

This ovoo is spirtitual

The tiny dot in the center is an ovoo is to mark territory.

 Yusef then tells me what Chimdee had said when he chattered endlessly. “Fifty kilometers on a rough road for a toilet!”   

I burst out laughing, repeat it, and can tell Chimdee knows what I said.   He does speak a bit of English.   I think he’s pleased that I enjoy the joke.

Good thing he likes pickles, because his vegetarian lunch looks entirely pickled.

Chimdee "Andretti" hamming it up.

What are you hiding there, Yusef?   Not a cigarette, surely?

 Then, it’s downhill to the nomads’ camp.

We pull up at one with smoke coming from the stove pipe.  Parked outside are two motor bikes.   Alongside the ger, pointed towards the sun, are two solar panels and a satellite TV dish.

Yusef and I wait in the vehicle while Chimdee goes inside the ger for permission to visit.   I have my fingers crossed.


  1. Why did you chose to go this time of year instead of when it's warmer? .....and greener? Just curious! <3

    1. Because Cap was there and Patti was going over to join him. I was invited to accompany them.

  2. It really worked out well for Gullible to be there when she was. Few to fewer foreign visitors and a car and driver and guide all to herself. A win win. Smiles .. Cap ..

  3. When I read this post and the two above that follow this post I realize what a TEN-STRIKE it was for you to set out from the lake in the North looking for the waterfall just you and the driver and guide while Patti and I stayed home in camp. With the two of us along the total chemistry of your day would have been drastically changed. Talk about a win-win for all of us. Now I need to go to the bottom and find your new-to-me posts and work my way up in time. How to do that I am pondering. Great post. Cap and Patti ..

  4. This day was THE highlight of my trip to Mongolia, among many, many highlights.

  5. So happy it worked out so sweetly. Smiles. Cap