Mongolia canoeing

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

I’ve just finished a canoeing trip in Mongolia with Jake and Umi who overcame my initial reluctance about such a trip. We flew to the capital Ulaanbaatar which is very much a city in the USSR style, which is to say no style at all. But it is transitioning, albeit from Soviet dilapidation to Western chintz. Tellingly, my yardstick for measuring the worth of a place, the manhole covers, were entirely un-noteworthy.

Ulaanbaatar manhole cover

We did the rounds of the museums etc with this ancient reconstructed harp catching the eye:

Altai Harp

Taking the overnight train north west from Ulaanbaatar we joined the Orkhon River in 2 canoes with our guides Tuushuu and Zoloo. After a perfunctory induction into the art of canoeing - "if capsize hang on" - we set off into a nearly pristine wilderness that continuously unfolded before us for the next 5 days. All the usual superlatives are quite inadequate - these are big beautiful breathtaking landscapes.

Mongolian scenery

Mongolian scenery

Mongolian scenery

The river was up to 100m wide and flowing at the rate of a fast jog. This meant there was no need for strenuous paddling - even the occasional rapids were easily managed.

The daily temperature was high 20s and so most days we swam in the river to cool down. The evenings were warm too. But, being very far from the sea, in deep winter the average daily maximum is around -30C. There were a few water birds - geese etc but not in great numbers. Some very large brown eagles strategically occupying high points at river's bend. Both March and dragon flies shared emerald green as their colour. The river is often densely lined with willow giving way to Chinese elms a little up the bank and occasional stands of birch.

We stopped off at a rock outcrop where, long ago, some Tibetan monks had taken refuge and left this beautiful inscription amongst others more extensive.

Tibetan monk inscriptions

Each night we camped by the river and I went flower hunting whilst the hired help and young ones set up camp and prepared dinner. Wild onions were a tasty addition to the cooking though the plentiful wild cannabis and rhubarb (what a combo!) went untried.

Mongolian flowers

I remain unashamed that I invoked my status as a senior to avoid all campsite duties though I did condescend to pack and unpack my own tent.

There are large herds of sheep and goats, horses and cattle tended by shepherds who live in gers with all mod cons: but it still must be tough in winter. The kids stay in the towns for school. Living mostly off the land, a wide variety of milk based products plus meat form the staple diet. Even a mild alcoholic drink that vaguely resembled sake is made from milk. The dumost common cheese is hard and flavorless. Apparently there are wolves and bears so the shepherds keep dogs to protect the flocks.

Ger with all mod cons

There were surprisingly few biting insects but burning dried dung in the vicinity of camp was very effective in dealing with them. The moon was up every night so we didn't get to see a starry starry night.

All in all a great trip.


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