We almost didn't get out of driving today though. Mendee's extended visit at the altar in Erdene Zuu yesterday put us way behind on the time we had available to drive under daylight. We didn't get into Tsetserleg - the centrally-located capital of Arkhangai aimag - until nearly 5pm, which also happened to be the time we finally got around to lunch! From that point, we still had at least another four good hours of travel left until we'd get to the lake. Then, about the time the sun was going down, the sky was looking downright ugly from an approaching storm. With about an hour and a half left of driving to go, Mendee decided we were going to camp (in the rain?!?). The whole van (now including Frank and Barbara since their driver had to return to UB) basically mutinied after that announcement, and Mendee reluctantly conceded. Our poor driver Ganbaa though . . . he's the one that had to deal with the results of her poor planning more than anyone else. But, we were able to finally get here - about 11pm! - and we quite happily went straight to bed in our ger, exhausted from way too many hours spent on the road.
The weather was threatening to ruin the day by the looks of things this morning. It rained most of the night and was pretty cold and wet when we crawled out of our cozy beds around 9:30. The rain gradually tapered off by the end of breakfast, however, allowing us to head out and take in some of the scenery. Without even the smallest patch of blue sky visible amongst the dark clouds though, it looked as if we were in for a grey day. Marian, Frank and Barbara walked down to the lakeside to have a stroll along its banks, and Mayu and I hiked up into one of the neighboring hills for an overview of the surrounding area. About the time we got up to a good vantage point, it started to sprinkle again. When it started to pick up a little more, the two of us thought we'd withdraw back to the relative comfort of the ger and hope it didn't last too long.
As a matter of fact, by about an hour later the wet weather decided to let up for good. Almost exactly at one o' clock the clouds began to part and fragment into retreating streaks. In just a short matter of time, the sun was shining brilliantly over the lake and surrounding mountains, allowing us to get back to our little hike. Climbing to the top of a large hill adjacent to our ger camp, we got a fabulous view across the area, even stretching to the far western side of the lake. With no pressing need to hop in the van and head to another destination, we were able to sit back and soak up the scenery, which was just the luxury we needed.
At about three in the afternoon, the horses arrived. A couple guides took Mayu, Marian and I out on a three-hour trek around the environs, while Mendee and Ganbaa stayed back at the camp and relaxed - her chatting with the family and him fishing. It took a little time to get used to being back on a horse - the last occasion for me was probably 15 years ago at least! After getting the handle on how to control mine though, I fell into much more comfortably and started to break from the group some. Mayu's horse stalled out a couple times though and Marian was too doubtful of
her own equestrian skills to allow herself full control of the reins. Along the trek we stopped at a couple old caverns, the first of which required us to slide down an uncomfortably-small hole into a narrow den. Marian quite happily declined in following Mayu and me. Just as we were about to climb back out, a group of Mongolian tourists arrived to investigate as well. They were quite understandably surprised to see us come crawling out just as they were about to head in!
In our absence, Ganbaa managed to pluck out a big old fish, which was immediately scheduled to appear on our dinner plate later. Frank, Barbara and Mendee got to working on a spur-of-the-moment marinade, and Mayu and I went for another walk down along the lakeside. Since Marian and the other two had already done a bit of swimming earlier in the day, the two of us thought we'd check out the
water conditions while we were down there. Mayu stuck a foot in and then quickly reconsidered. I at least stepped in up about as far as my knees, but a full dip was out of the question; I don't know how the others were able to put up with it. Even after a long sunny afternoon, the water temperature was at best chilly. That didn't stop the two boys from the family we were staying with though, who enthusiastically waded into it to fill up a couple jugs for cooking and drinking. Since I was there as well, they prodded and prodded until I agreed to help carry them back. How do I always get roped into these kinds of things?
The fish turned out to be excellent and a delightful change from the constant staple of mutton. Upon finishing our dinner we were treated to a glorious pink sunset on the other side of the lake. The only thing lacking was a nice cold beer to end the day, so we hoofed it up the way to a tourist camp further down to take advantage of their on-site bar. An ideal end to a beautiful and relaxing day at the Great White Lake.
From tomorrow, we start the long stretch back towards Ulaanbaatar. The first stop-off will be at Ögii Nuur on the eastern edge of Arkhangai aimag, and then onwards to Lun in central Töv on the following day for a night with a nomadic family. After that, on the 16th, we'll return to busy UB and come to the end of our fascinating tour around the Mongolian countryside. The time just goes so fast! I'm sure Mayu will be thrilled to be back to regular showers and meals that don't include mutton though.
At last! A day without a single moment spent driving! We've spent so much of this trip bouncing about on rough dirt tracks throughout the wilderness that I'd forgotten how nice it is to have a day just to walk around and take in the scenery. And, the scenery at our current location is indeed a joy to take in. Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur is easily the most picturesque spot we've yet visited, so it's a pleasure having some time to really sit back and enjoy it.