Chinggis’s men had horses. Today’s warriors have microvans.

July 27, 2008

To get from Ulaanbaatar to the shores of Khovsgol, you can go with a tour group. You can board a plane for most of the 700 kilometers. Or you can wheedle, argue, flirt, sing, drink, giggle, and spine-crunch your way through public transportation. Tuya and I opted for the latter option.

mekerbeer

Our fellow travelers fashioned their seats out of leaky barrels, dingy towels, and a random box of pap-smear equipment. (Alas, each piece of said equipment was in shatters by the end of the trip).

The route crossed through six main points:
UB -> Darkhan -> Erdenet -> Murun -> Khatgal -> Jankhai, where you finally hit the lake shore

On the longest leg, returning from Murun to Darkhan, our van made a total of 28 stops. The 400 mile trip took 23 hours. Sometimes our two drivers wanted to grab more passengers. But sometimes they just wanted to buy blowtorched marmots.

marmotfire

15000 tugriks a pop:

marmottime

Altanhuyag and Monkhjargal halted to chat with fellow travellers, help me frame photos, and explain the finer points of Mongolian legends about the camel. One of those photos:

bandannagirlroad

Meanwhile, Yoomie and Dylan found ways to entertain themselves during the constant stops.

yoomiedylanhorn4

About one third of the stops happened when our drivers wanted to assist other vehicles in distress. Despite his bum leg, Altanhuyag didn’t hesitate to grab his tools — his nuts, bolts, and axe — and squiggle under a creaking bus to get it moving again.

fixingthevan

It’s a Mongolian tradition to help out others on the road. And no one should argue.

When you’re on the path from Moron to Erdenet, six hours from either town, surrounded by puddles and broken bridges, and your van’s battery decides to explode at 3 am in the morning, what can you do?

Our drivers boasted mad skillz with tires and axles. But they couldn’t do much with the battery — aside from dousing the smoke with a bottle of Russian mineral water. Eventually a random driver wove into our field of vision. He bore a lighter in his teeth and wielded the all-important Scotch tape. Thirty minutes later, the headlights turned on; the tape deck fired up again with Abba’s “Happy New Year.” And our van rolled on.

The van’s final stop on the way home, next to the Darkhan river.

darkhanriver

In the world’s least densely populated country, a trusty driver is a baatar: a hero.

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One Response to “Chinggis’s men had horses. Today’s warriors have microvans.”

  1. yan Says:

    Eight people seems not very much for such a vehicle. When I went to Hovsgol by furgon, there were usually 15+ people inside (but incl. children).

    But congrats for taking public transport. It is one of my favourite things when in Mongolia. Taking the russian minibus to Moron.

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