or should it be called “Breakfasts at Tiffany’s”?
I had to wait till the following day to try and contact the people who might be able to answer my queries regarding the shipping the bike back to the UK from UB so I took the bike out to a German guy running a bike tour business in UB. The fox of the steppe, “Steppenfuchs” has enough bikes to justify having a couple of local Mongol bike mechanics – guys who see a lot of BMWs and seem pretty familiar with them. I had a couple of minor niggles fixed and the bike felt a lot better. It was still very cold and I was frozen riding the 4-5 km back to the guesthouse.
The guesthouse crew included Tiffany the cornish biker girl, waiting for a new alternator rotor, Ben a young London lad backpacking his way around the world, and other itinerants. Tiff had been in UB a few days awaiting her DHL part and had 5-6 days more to wait before she should get it. Ben was awaiting a Chinese visa. We became the core three responsible for leading evening drinking sessions.
For those who dont know Tiff (A mutual friend via biking contacts back in the UK) she has been riding around the world for much of the last 10 years on a BMW R80 … her website is at www.TiffanysTravels.co.uk.
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Tiff kicked off the day with a big english fry up. Despite being a vegetarian she even got bacon for Ben and me – what a trooper! I was unable to get in touch with my UB contact. If I needed to ship the bike back and I still couldnt get in touch with my Mongolian contact, there was always Mr Steppenfuchs … he can ship a bike back to Berlin.
The afternoon was spent down at UB’s huge market … known as the Black Market, where Ben almost got pickpocketed, before Tiff’s timely intervention. By this stage 7 of the 9 people staying in our guesthouse had been the target of pickpockets in UB … just Tiff and me were unscathed. Must be the hardened biker faces. Later on we all went out to catch some live music at one of UBs more popular evening venues – Strings club at the White House Hotel. If anyone is heading this way, there is a surprisingly good cover band (from the Philippines) that plays there 6 nights a week starting at midnight.
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Despite waking up a little late after the night out, I wanted to take the bike for a ride east. The weather forecast for the days ahead was looking solid – sunny and warm. First up was a huge new statue of Genghis Khan sitting astride his horse, about 50km east of UB. I also wanted to make a little personal pilgrimmage to the site of Avarga, Genghis Khan’s capital. There has been some Japanese sponsored archaeological works going on there and there is supposed to be another Genghis statue there overlooking his former home base.
Another thing that has changed dramatically in the past 15 years was the state of the roads. Roads were now asphalt whereas earlier they were not even graded, just wheel tracks across the plains. The last 60 km to Avarga (via Delgerhaan) was finally the type of Mongolian roads I had come to Mongolia for – slightly sandy wheel ruts across the steppe.
The Avarga site was pretty much deserted but for a family living in a couple of gers looking after the tiny museum there. The Genghis Khan statue was actually a monument rather than a statue. It was a marble obelisk with a lifesized Genghis carved into it. It was simple, yet I found something eerie about the lifesized Genghis. I paid my tributes to the great man and crossed the river to head back. There was a small spring on the otherside of the seemingly abandoned archeaological site. I believe this is a spring that Genghis’s son and successor Ogedei turned to whenever he was ill.
I got back on the bike and took a different track back to the main east road. It was another fun 70km over the Mongolian plains. This ride out over the plains convinced me that with the weather remaining sunny, temperatures warming up and myself and the bike in good form that I should try and get across the mountains in the west of the country. If the weather holds out – no more snow – it will be possible!
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Tiff introduced me to another British biker in town – Nathan from Nottingham. Nathan was waiting for his passport / Russian visa in a hotel just round the corner from us. He was riding a DR350 and had ridden 2-up across Mongolia (almost a month earlier) from the west to UB. I was inspired. If Nathan can take two people plus luggage across Mongolia on a 350cc air cooled bike, then I had no excuses for not going, regardless of how cold it was going to be.
Nathan and I went out for a 4 hour off-road motorcycle goon around in the hills south of UB in the afternoon. Charging up valleys and over hills, thru forests. Its amazing how much fantastic off road riding terrain there is just 15 – 20 km from the centre of downtown UB. Nathan was smart enough to bring a camera and got some great snaps. So credit to Nathan for these puppies. His blog is at http://nath-in-russia.blogspot.com/
It was Ben’s 23rd birthday so the evening was a series of linked pissups, organised by the everthoughtful Tiff (cake and candles, cards etc). UB had degenerated into a big pissup session.
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It was time to leave UB. I had 4 days there. It was now at least 10 degrees warmer than when I first rode into town. After another smashing “Breakfast at Tiffanys” …more bacon and eggs … I packed my bags and left UB about 11am. I said farewell to Tiff and Ben – we had been good mates for the last 4 days – and hit the crowded chaotic road out of UB. Nathan was also hoping to leave today and I thought there was a chance I would see him on the road out of town before he turned North towards the Altanbulag border, but I didnt see him.
I continued west on an immaculate wide asphalt road that started to lose its immaculateness after 30km or so. Lunch was at Lun. Afternoon tea would be at Kharkhorin (Karakorum), the capital of Ogedei and Monkhe Khan – Genghis’ successors. Just outside Lun I bumped into an Italian on Africa Twin headed for UB. We swapped notes and I pushed on.
I had seen several hundred eagles by the roadside, standing sentinal in the last hour or two before Kharkhorin, and had narrowly missed a few as they took off, startled by my obscenely load exhaust. One eagle had obviously not been so lucky. I guess he had taken off into a truck or van and was lying by the roadside. I got off the bike to look. It was very recent. Blood still was flowing from the beak but the majestic bird was dead. It was a young eagle I guess, much smaller than most of the eagles I had seen today, and in the distance, 50 metres down the road two larger eagles were watching me as I picked up the dead bird and looked it over. They really are a beautifully crafted animal.
At Kharkhorin I was pushing myself for more miles to be done. This recent warm weather may not last. I had another hour and a half of the daylight left (daylight that shrinks more and more every day). I wanted to get to Tsetserleg. My mother had been there just a year ago and left me some contacts.
I made Tsetserleg just before dark and checked into the Fairfield guesthouse. It was very civilised. Warm showers and proper coffee. I didnt expect that in rural Mongolia. Just down the road was speedy internet.
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I had gotten so accustomed to bacon and eggs for breakfast in UB, and was so sure I wouldnt get it in the next few weeks that I ordered bacon and eggs from the western menu at the Fairfield and set off soon after 10. Tsetserleg had been the effective end of the paved road – or road being paved.
I wanted to get to Tosontsengel today. It would be a challenge … 360 km on Mongolian tracks and daylight that ends soon after 6pm. By 2pm I was at White Lake and soon after I overtook what appeared to be a local on an overloaded bike … but something caught my eye as being not right … I think it was his riding trousers. So I stopped and met a crazy Germany guy riding a Chinese 150cc chopper he had bought in the Black Market in UB for USD 650. Lukas was a paraglider, and having been in Mongolia for a month hiring vans and drivers to take him to remote corners of the country to paraglide down from, he decided the better solution is to just take a bike. His paragliding rig looked big but weighed only 7kgs.
We went for lunch in the nearest town, Tsagaannuur, and talked for a couple of hours about paragliding, motorcycles, banking, and possible roads to Uliastay. I could have ridden with him for a couple of days as we were going in the same direction, but I was riding over twice as fast as his little bike would go. It had taken him 4 riding days to get from UB to where I had gotten to in one and a half days.
When I realised it was 4pm we packed up at the cafeteria and hit the road. I had to scoot … Tosontsengel was about 180km away and I had just over 2 hours of daylight left and a brief 30 mins off twilight.
Soon after leaving Lukas I crossed into Zavhaan, arguably the most scenic province in Mongolia. The late afternoon sunlight added to the natural beauty of the place and I found myself stopping for photographs constantly.
I didnt know how the pics would turn out with the dodgy lens, but the vistas and the light was a combination that compelled me to try everything I possible could to squeeze acceptable shots out of the camera gear.
Stopping for fotos had put extra pressure on my drive to reach Tosontsengel. I took the last foto just as the last light was fading just 6km from town. By the time I did that 6km, it had just become night.
My timing was perfect.