Asia Expedition 2013

arvids

New member
The fantastic Altai

It's report day today :)



After about 5000km of shaking to bits on Russian roads we have reached the Republic of Altai. As expected the landscape pleases with greenery and mountains, a welcome change after a week of monotonous driving. At first the sights remind of Tatras in Slovakia, but soon we realise that this has it's own charm - it's the vastness and the feeling of freedom that rules here.



First couple of days we stay at a camping in Souzga, which is 20 minute drive from Gorny Altay. Camping "Ļesoteļ" (http://lesotel.ru) has several two-story buildings that are built using massive logs from local forests. There are rooms, kitchen and everything else required for a comfortable stay. This place is very popular among tourists as there are numerous health-boosting procedures - saunas, massages etc. and we don't hesitate to use them. It must be noted that Altai since old times has attracted masses and tourist camps are next to each other near the grand river of Katun. In season it's nearly impossible to find accommodation without prior reservation.

Altai greets us with a wonderful weather, it's sunny and +20C. One of Dodge's spare wheels has an air leak so we seek a local truck service to fix it. On our way back we decide to send some postcards home, but that proves to be not such an easy task. First of all there are no postcards in the local post office, neither in nearby shops. We do finally find some in a small kiosk and hurry to the post office to buy some stamps, which also takes a lot of time, because retired persons in the queue have nowhere to hurry. 1,5 hours later we have sent our postcards. We come to a conclusion that in Russia no-one hurries anywhere except on highways.



On the next day it's raining and we decide to explore local area with one of Toyotas and possibly reach the highest peak - The Devil Finger, 1300m. Forest tracks have become slippery and road surface reminds of top soil. Mud sticks to wheels in a second and the progress upwards stalls. We fight until the car slips off the road and we need to winch. While winching a trip to a tree and back results with at least three ticks on your legs. The feeling that something creeps on you doesn't stop even in the night.



The conquest of The Devil Finger continues via another path, but yet again the wet soil makes handling of the car out of hand and we're forced to capitulate 3/4 before the peak. The way back isn't easy either - we slide more that drive.

Back at the base we find six Land Rover Defenders that have just returned from a month long expedition to Mongolia and Tibet. Fellow travellers share their valuable experiences about the road we're about to face and show us the most interesting places on the map.



On May 22nd we leave the base and head to Mongolia. There's little traffic, but going isn't that fast as the views and terrain are just too spectacular. Originally we planed to visit Ust-Koks plateau, but we decide to drive as close to Mongolian border as possible and enter Mongolia a day earlier.



First serious mountain passes at 1700m greet us with a snow storm, but afterwards it's again sunny and +10C. We hold lunch by a river where on the opposite side graze horses, as well as cows and she eps just roam about even on roads. After lunch we have to drive 230km to the city of Kosh-Agach where supposedly the last civilised fuel station is to be found. It takes us 5 hours to reach the city. We fill up and head out in search of a place to spend the night. There're 80kms until the border and right after the city there's a passport control as we enter the border zone. We make camp in steppe. This day has been full of surprises, it's miraculous that on a 450km stretch the nature can be so diverse - from green forests, swift rivers to large rock formations, serpentines and a flat steppe of pure nothingness.



The night seems to take ages and breathing at 2000m is somewhat hard. In the morning it's +3C and we leave camp early to arrive at the border station at 9:00. The station works from 9:00 to 18:00 with a lunch break from 12:00 - 14:00. Surprisingly on Russian side formalities take only an hour and there are only five cars that are willing to use this crossing. After 20km of neutral zone we arrive at Mongolian border post, where the border guards require us to fill out a ton of papers and show a big interest to sniff each and every box of ours. Nevertheless the crossing takes about two hours and we're in Mongolia.



20m on Mongolian soil and we're stopped by some men who require us to buy insurance. While we obediently follow the procedure first begging kids arrive and leave with new souvenirs. And off we rattle into Mongolia - that's right, rattle, because the corrugations are severe here. More about the roads in the next report.

In retrospection the team very much liked Altai with it's beautiful and tidy nature and numerous places to stay, with a note that timely reservation is required. It's just a pity that this place is 5000km of boring drive from Home.

More photos are posted here: https://plus.google.com/photos/108838916502238926329/albums/5883223581489311873

The team is stuck in the Mongolian city of Olgii for a couple of days. And there's internet! So we expect further news (and pictures!) very soon.
 

Wainiha

Explorer
Awesome keep it coming. I sailed thru Unimak pass and off the coast of Kamchatka with my dad when I was 18. Wow! Russia is cold. You guys are probably are much more used to it than an island boy.
 

arvids

New member
MONGOLIA (23.05 – 28.05)

I am a bit slow with translating and passing on what the travelers send me in, but here it goes - Mongolia!



May 23th

At last we have arrived in Mongolia and run out of asphalt. Ahead lie gravel roads with heavy corrugations, but soon enough we notice everyone else driving parallel to the main road and choose do so also. And guess what - the driving is much more smooth, though at an average speed of 40 km/h. Also it looks like a new asphalt road is being built from the border to the nearest town. At some point we need to use low range to climb hills on one of which we find a rock pile or Avo where one is supposed to leave a donation in gratitude for good road conditions.

Last 30km to the city of Ulgii are already paved and the city looks alive - streets full of crowds, kids coming from school, motorcyclists with construction helmets racing through traffic. While a part of the team exchanges local currency at a bank, other part stays to guard the cars. A passing by man offers a place to stay and to arrange permits to visit Altay Tavan Bogd national park, but we kindly refuse as it would be awkward to give our passports to a stranger.

Interestingly in a matter of 30 minutes we count 18 Toyota Land Cruisers 80 series - most with the steering wheel on the right side - with various accessories - bull bars, roof racks, snorkels etc. At first we think those are expedition vehicles, but it turns out that those are just locals cruising around. Jokingly we name the city the "Hometown of 80ies".

Next we seek a 4x4 driver friendly camping we found on the internet. It's named "Blue Wolf Travel" and at it lies in a 10 minute walk from the city centre. For 10$ per person we arrange sleeping in traditional yurts or the Mongolian Ger and for 15$ per person permissions to visit national park and border zones. There are 6 yurts in the camping - 4 Kazakh and 2 Mongolian. The Kazakh ones are larger and with slightly different drawings on them. In this region of Mongolia 90% of population are Kazakhs since many centuries.

Hostess suggests a Kazakh restaurant which turns out very chic for this kind of town - large tables with white tablecloths and a luxurious interior. Although the menu is only in Mongolian and the waitress doesn't speak any foreign language, we manage to order using pictures in the menu. Some are lucky and get delicious spicy chicken soups and huge lamb ravioli aka Bozus, but others are not so lucky and get raviolis in tea. Supper for 6 including tea and beer costs 78 000 tögrögs which is about 55$.

Back at camping we check the vehicles, lubricate stuff and find that that the oil filter leaks on the Dodge - probably a rock damage. Unwilling to take any risks we change the filter and call it a day. In the evening electricity goes out in the whole city leaving us without hot showers, but with that we should already accustom ourselves.



May 24th

After visiting a local museum, bargaining ourselves a couple of Kazakh winter hats made from fox skin and delicious lunch prepared by camping's hostess we head to Altay Tavan Bogd national park. Small roads divide themselves into 4-15 different parallel roads, so we're free to take any. The roads take us high and low and the surface changes rapidly between sand and rocks. Low range comes handy at some more steep sections.

After 70km terrain becomes even more hilly and the parallel roads disappear leaving us with only one tire tracks which also disappear at times and then again appear. While bypassing a mountain we come across a swampy area filled with meltwater from nearby snow fields. Luckily nobody gets stuck, but it's a close call.

In the evening its getting clear that we won't reach our day's target - ancient cave drawings - as we got lost a couple of times and driving wasn't as fast as planned. So we make camp at 2410 m.a.s.l. by a dry river on the lee-side of a bank as it's quite windy and only +2C.

During this day we have crossed 3 villages, met 3 cars, but most of all our companions are horses, cows, sheep and goats which graze just about anywhere and at any terrain angle. Today we started at 1400 m.a.s.l. and maxed out at 2985m.



May 25th

Morning starts with staring in GPS and comparing the observations with the surroundings and finding out that most of the roads in maps don't exist and probably never existed. We need to start living with the fact that in Mongolian maps there are thousands of roads, but in reality not so.

Before heading of we climb a nearby mountain and receive a lecture on rocks from our very own geologist. We leave camp at 12:00 which is late and after a little getting lost in a canyon while searching for a beginning of the road we stumble upon a shepherd on a motorcycle who shows us the direction of the village we're interested in.

Today roads are very rocky and the road we're on disappears shortly before our target. Looks like there has been a landslide this spring and the road has literally been buried. That costs us a 30km detour, which is a lot from 80km total distance covered today.

Unfortunately we're unable to find the cave drawings using coordinates found on internet forums, so we call it a day by the mountain of Sheveed Uuls (3350 m.a.s.l.).



May 26th

We wake to a 3-5cm of fresh snowfall out of the blue which makes corrections to our day’s plan as we have planned to head higher up the mountains and then over a pass into the nature park. Instead it’s decided to head down an alternative route. This detour cost us 11 hours and 163km.

On our way we are caught up by two UAZs with Swiss nationals on board lead by Mongolian drivers (hence the catching up of our slow caravan). They confirm that the road in the Mountains wouldn’t be passable due to the snow. As we go lower snow disappears and we continue in the direction of Tsengel. At times the road leads us on river beds, over fords, sand that reminds driving on dunes and rock sections that are drivable only on 1st low range.

One of Dodge’s rear tires catch a nail and needs a repair, which in turn requires the wheel to be removed due to the double-wheel setup. 25 minutes and we’re on the road again. The views are spectacular and very inconsistent – from sand to rocks, green mountains to swampy meadows and the traffic us busy as well. Near Tsengel dunes are replaced by oasis-like pine tree formations.

After a road-side lunch we cross the village of Tsengel which has an unusual amount of houses with sloped roofs and by the river Hovd Gol head into the direction of the park. Looks like Mongolians enjoy their Sundays as there are many crowds by the river grilling and chilling.
After 50km we come to the border of the national park and a suspicious wooden bridge. A woman tries to sell us tickets, but as we have bought them earlier, she looks a bit disappointed. The last 45km until the Hoton nuur lake are not easy, a lot of rocks and the evening sun troubles the visibility. At 9PM we finally arrive at the lakes and as we start building our tents border patrol arrives, checks our passports, writes down our names, wishes good night and head of on their motorcycles. Soon afterwards local folk arrives and wants to sell us goat milk, but we refuse. Too tired to build the big tent for the supper we all squeeze into the camper, eat up our macaroni and push ourselves to crawl into our sleeping bags while an ice-cold wind chills our bones.



May 27th

After such a tiring day group decides to take a day off, therefore no-one hurries in the morning and wake up late to a fantastic view upon snow-caped sun lit mountains. During breakfast another border patrol arrives and does already familiar checks.

At midday sun has warmed the air to +18C which is a lot considering it was -8C in the night. As some team members bath in the sun as proper tourists, two guys decide to explore next day’s route. After a couple of kilometres we arrive at a swampy area where a 4wd is stuck. The driver hopelessly spins the wheels as two women and a child sit inside. They’re too far to be reached by winch so we search for a closer spot which is not easy as its wet and slushy everywhere. The only thing keeping us calm is the fact that we have a ground anchor with us as there are no trees to winch against to. After finally jumping our Toyota to a dryer place we winch out the stuck vehicle making the family very thankful. No idea how they had planned to recover themselves.

The route continues over several small rivers and swampy meadows that can be crossed only on full power. When we climb upon a mountain we find out that as far as one can see there are only swampy areas ahead and tenths of paths from previous travellers. We return with the bad news that we will need to take another route as this will be impassable for the heavy Dodge.

Back at the camp someone is off on a mountain hike, others feed and photograph hawks which are very popular in Mongolia and others check the vehicles. It turns out that TLC105 has play in steering links and hub bearings. Bearings we tighten ourselves, but we’ll change the steering links in the next nearest town.

The night is as cold as previous and is brightly lit by the huge moon.



May 28th

Today is a celebration day as one of the team members’ has a birthday. We head away from Hoton Nuur lake via the same route we arrived, but soon enough we find a small road that leads on the other side of the lake. Sharp rocks on the newly found path make driving quite slow and we even get lost at one point while trying to navigate using old Genstab maps and arriving at a dead end where the road disappears into a mountain river which is too high for us to cross.

The day is warm but due to the wind it’s impossible to be outside without a windstopper and a hat. We’re heading out of the national park back to the city of Ulgii where we plan to stay in the same camping. A narrow road with river on one side and a cliff on other leads us out on a plain with a steep incline and in no time we climb from 2000m to 2520m. From top another spectacular view appears while we glaze at a still frozen lake down below. The path connects to a “highway” A15 which in reality is just a bit wider road where two cars can exchange.

After lunch we have only 100km left ‘till our destination as we stumble upon a road section that leads by a lake and is 1m under snow. We try to drive on the high side of the mountain where judging by tracks others have taken. It’s a challenge to get Dodge even on this track and after eventually succeeding only 50m before exit Dodge slides into a hole and is stuck. While we try to excavate our monument two local UAZs and a TLV105 with Mongolians who travel this route often arrive. With their help and a considerable amount of digging and physical exercises with sand tracks Dodge is back on road.

The rest of the way everyone’s silent on the radio as tiredness has sneaked up unnoticed. We don’t even care for the views outside of the window, there’s only one thing on the mind – arrive in Ulgii. One last amusement we experience shortly before the finish as we head down from 2650m to 1720m on a rollercoaster-like ride. Back in Ulgii we fill up all we can, but are unable to fill all of the jerry cans as the gas station runs out of diesel and all other gas stations are dry as well.

We head back to our camping where we celebrate John’s birthday and plan repair works for tomorrow. As we have all the parts with us we hope to wrap up at midday and head into the central Mongolia.

Photos

As always, check out all full size photos from first days in Mongolia here: https://plus.google.com/photos/108838916502238926329/albums/5883224587350481617
 
I know I already said this one, but I'm REALLY enjoying this trip report. Full size photos are great too. I'll be on the road shortly so won't be on this site so often so just saying that I appreciate your posts and pictures............
 

arvids

New member
Mongolia May 29th - June 21st

Haven’t been reporting for a while (busy busy outdoors), but the expedition is still running and are almost done with China.
Here’s however a concise summary of team’s adventures in the rest of Mongolia.



Due to a sandstorm locals advise not to travel as the risk of getting stuck and lost is great and so the team decides to stay in Ulgii for an extra day which is used to do minor fixes to the cars and resupplying for the rest of the journey.
Together with the sandstrom arrives also a Mongolian president candidate accompanied with the newest and most expensive SUVs - quite a contrast to the poverty that rules in the rest of the country.

Next up is a trip to Hyarga Nuur lake the road to which is surprisingly different - a lot of greenery, trees and even a pink sand.
A rock disintegrates an inter-tank pump on one of the Toyotas, but is fixed using a Rescue Tape leaving the need to replace the whole piece to later.



A whole day is spent by the lake fishing and chilling. Fish is in abundance, mostly Osmans - big white meat fish that is ever so popular in Central Asia and Mongolia.
In fact, there’s so much of it that some of it needs to be frozen for later. The air is hot, but the water temperature in the lake is only +10C making it a refreshing experience for those who decide to take a swim.



June comes with a great deal of technical problems and surprisingly it’s not the Dodge who doesn’t want to play nicely. One of the Toyotas, the older one, starts to fail.
First the front diff housing starts to leak which is “fixed” using liquid metal as a proper fix would require to disintegrate the whole axle, which eventually is done, but reveals another break-up - a front axle attachment point has broken off and needs to be welded.
Welding doesn't stop here as later a piece of the rear axle also let’s go and needs to be welded, several times in fact with each improving our welding skills.

On the way to the city of Altay travelers are stopped by shady looking locals dressed in sport clothing and showing police identification cards.
Luckily they talk only Mongolian and soon enough they get fed up and let us go.

The city of Altay is a busy one, most hotels turn out to be either booked out or a brothel forcing travelers to camp outside the city where we come upon a second act of gold rush - there are many excavations where 100 people dig, chop and sort out rocks, wash them and search for gold. Todays’ catch is 2 grams of gold.

After Altay travelers head into the Gobi desert. The sand is not yellow as expected but grey and very fine and soft.
Engines need to be pushed without lifting the gas pedal or one get’s stuck immediately.
One of Toyotas has no air conditioning and temperatures inside the cabin reach +45C together with a large amount of dust.
Due to the load the power steering on Dodge starts to boil. On one of the dune crossings rear axle arm on the LTC80 let’s go again.
At these temperatures and wind welding is an exhausting experience. After only 50km the same weld breaks and it’s decided to drive until the nearest town before attempting a fix.
70km with a broken axle later the cars arrive in Gurvantes, a small but a lively village, with 3 coal mines, two hotels, many shops and a couple of gas tanks.
Here we once again weld out TLC80, resupply with food and spare parts.

On our way to the city of Dalanzadgad where we hope to find a Toyota scrap yard we meet a team of Mongolian and Australian scientists who travel the country in search of mineral resources, mainly coal.
They work for an Australian company that owns one of the biggest coal mines in Mongolia.

The roads in this part of Mongolia are quite boring apart from pink colored rock formations similar to those in Moab only smaller.
At times for long distances we don’t meet any other traffic, only lonely packs of camel and horses.

In Dalanzadgad we find all the missing parts for out Toyota and meet Enzo - an Italian who has lived all his life in France.
He’s a banker who has decided to leave his job and travel Asia on foot and by hitchhiking.

A side note about the food - on the menu there’s mostly meat (lamb, chicken, beef and a delicious horse), salads are sparse, although you can get them in various sort at good cafes.
Soups are based on milk or tea, with noodles, ravioli and meat. A speciality is Sui tei tea - a salty milk tea that is a good match to the local foods.



Further on expedition visits the city of Kharkhorin - Mongolia’s capital in the era of Chingiz Khan.
A modern museum built with the help of German government tells the story of Chingiz Khan, worth the visit.
Also there are several monasteries built in Chinese as well as Tibetan style.



Gobi is behind us and the scenery is mountainous again.
Travelers take a 3km (from 630m to 2319m) hike to the Tuvkhun Khiid monastery that has been hidden in the mountains and for the first time make camp on a green grass.
All around are pinewood forests, many birds and grasshoppers. Feels like somewhere in Russia, Romania, Slovakia or even home.



In the city of Tsetserleg we stay at a guest house named “Fair Fields” that is recommended by Lonely Planet and it is indeed a very nice one.
Owned by a couple from Australia everything is kept clean and tidy, food is delicious and we get a chance to meet travelers from all around the World.



In Tsetserleg travelers get a chance to exchange their cars with horses and take them for a stroll.
Mongolian horses are small and at first it’s a challenge for the big boned Europeans to handle them, but eventually the right rhythm is found and smiles break out for everyone.
Horse owners are very hospitable and after the ride invite us to join them for a meal and try out national clothes.
Rural Mongolian style of life hasn’t changed much for centuries, only some modern household appliances have entered the otherwise classic yurts that most likely will stay as their main living space for long as they are easy to move and live in as well as in winter, as in summer.



On June 16th travelers finally reach Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar that greets with a stuck traffic.
Driving culture is very chaotic, everyone uses horns, ignores pedestrians and it looks like every citizen on this this city has a car and want’s to get somewhere.
Quite a contrast to the steppe and deserts where the travelers have spent the last month.



A couple of days are spent in Ulaanbaatar while checking and cleaning cars, visiting museums, shops and living a common tourist’s life.
Moving about on foot proves to be a challenge due to the fact that crossing a street on a green light doesn’t guarantee staying alive, yet it’s the fastest way of getting around.
City is full of Land Cruisers, so if you’re traveling in a Toyota spare parts will be no problem and they are dirt cheap.
You can even buy a good TLC105 with a steering wheel on the left side for 25 000$ which is cheaper than in Europe.
There are also SUVs from other makes, but they are significantly less popular.



Leaving Ulaanbaatar behind us we head to the border of China only taking a stop in the city of Sainshand.
For the last time in Mongolia we get a chance to do a welding workout fixing a broken control arm of our TLC105 and one of the Dodge’s wheels.
Locals take us for welding masters and even bring their own stuff for us to weld, but don’t feel that way and make our way out of the town.

Border to China is right next to the city of Zamin Uud, where the traffic is even worse than in capital courtesy of a lot of careless truck drivers.
Despite a long queue of local UAZs people in uniforms guide us past them.
It’s followed by filling out a bunch of documents while watching a live circus outside - it’s illegal to cross the border on foot so locals operate a small business - driving people over in their used-up UAZ cars that barely move.
UAZ drivers fight for their place in the queue, someone’s cooling liquid boils, another one’s battery is dead and must be pushed while keeping an eye on the free gaps in the queue.

The necessary stamps can be acquired by pushing yourself through masses and shoving your passport through a tiny window into the face of the guard.
It looks like nobody minds and in two hours we’re through the Mongolian part of the border.

After 4 km we arrive at the Chinese border where we have to wait for our guide, as without him it’s impossible to drive any further.
Our guide is a young guy who calls himself Rembo and tells us that indeed his name is inspired by the movie.
Miraculously our cars are not being checked very thoroughly thanks to the guide who helps and handles most questions in Chinese.
In 3 hours we’re done with this too.

Unfortunately the joy is short-lived as it’s Friday evening, but our Chinese licence plates and driving licences will arrive only on Monday and without them we’re not allowed to go anywhere by car.
The error is probably due to our travel agency that told us to arrive on Friday.
So we’re forced to spend the weekend on foot in the border town of Erenhot.

Check out the full photo albums from the described days:

29.05 - 05.06: https://plus.google.com/u/2/photos/108838916502238926329/albums/5887104858007742209
06.06 - 13.06: https://plus.google.com/u/2/photos/108838916502238926329/albums/5888979362896938097
14.06 - 21.06: https://plus.google.com/u/2/photos/108838916502238926329/albums/5892624967005494865
 
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4x4tripping

Adventurer
Thank you for sharing your travel diary and the very beautiful pictures!

Cant wait for the next updates from china!
 
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