Our night’s stay at the Dream Hotel was basic. But as we hadn’t paid Shang-ri La prices, I was in no position to be complaining. Eleanor and I had even had separate beds which we didn’t have on our first night. At breakfast I was surprised that Eleanor wasn’t the youngest and that neither Astrid nor I were the oldest.
The van was all loaded up by 10.05am.
We drove through quite industrial areas, blocks of apartments and then yurt encampments. It weren’t masses of high rises, but neither where there the houses you might see in the USA or Europe.
We stopped at a hypermarket for water to take with us, we were allowed to stock up on food items too, so marshmallows and sweets were stocked up on. I was very excited (probably too excited) by this supermarket experience. I realised that Mongolia is perfectly situated for all foods from the West and East to be imported as I understood the food labels. There was food from the UK, US, France, and China here and all at reasonable prices.
Our overnight stay was to be at Hustai National Park, approximately 110kms southwest from Ulan Baatar. On our way we saw cattle being herded by herdsmen all dressed in red deels on horses, flocks of sheep, even a half naked mongolian galloping along the side of the road. This road was tarmaced and straight…until we turned left.
We were on a dirt track, our speed about 15kph if that. How long we were on this “road” for, who knew.
It was signposted about 11kms away. Hopes were raised when we saw a yurt camp in the distance, but Yondo, our driver kept on going. Suddenly another yurt camp glistened on the horizon and we were told that we were nearly there. We stopped about 1pm.
Lunch was eaten in a red brick building, we had a buffet lunch before being told that we had until 6.30pm to ourselves. Eleanor and I looked at the souvenir shop, she played frisbee with the Dutch family, then had a cold shower (!), we played UNO and DOBBLE and I read a Bill Bryson book that had been left on my desk by my colleague to educate me about American geography. I suddenly realised that if I was going to have this much free time, the book may not last the holiday… but today was going to be a mixture of reading and sleeping.
Yurt 10 was to be our “room” for the night. We had 4 beds for the 2 of us. The stove in the middle was to remain unused.
At 6.30pm we all had dinner, we (the meat eaters) had mutton, lentils and potato. The vegetarians had lentils, salad and potaotes. At 8.30pm we got back in the van to go into the National Park to see horses. Not just any horse though, an endangered breed.
There are 50,000 hectares of steppe and forest and whilst home to many species of lichen, moss, mushrooms, birds (we saw golden eagles) and mammals (of which we saw Mongolian marmot and red deer), it is hosts the conservation project to protect the endangered Takhi. Also known as Przewalski’s horse, they had completely disappeared from the wild. However in 1992 a breeding and reintroduction programme was introduced and of approximately the 260ish horses in the park we were so lucky to see about 20 of them. We went out at dusk when of course it is cool to spot them, and we saw them. Initially there were about 10 of them including foals, we got quite close but my Tamron zoom lens got even closer!
As the herd had moved off, Eleanor and I followed them, we were enthralled by them. These are completely wild endangered horses, it was phonomenal to see them so close, caring for their young and grazing side by side oblivious to the 30 or so adults and 4 children taking photos of them. The two of us had just got back in the van, when Yondo stopped again, the herd of horses had joined another herd. We all got back out and started taking more photos. When the guide and driver also get out to take photos that is when you know you are seeing something special. I had felt a little bit guilty that Eleanor and I hadn’t gone back to the van when everyone else had, but had we not done that and in so doing we delayed our departure we would not have experienced what happened next.
When Khulan (our guide) tapped me on the shoulder to turn around, my eyes had to adjust to what I was being told I was seeing. On the horizon two deer stood squarely. Though at first, it looked like one deer had two heads, until one moved and what we saw was a herd of 20 horses in front of us and three deer to the back of us.
This time, we had the place to ourselves looking at these deer. Some of the tourists had stopped and were too engrossed in the horses to see the deer.
As night fell, our eyes adjusted, but the cameras did not, we drank in the tranquility and the beauty of this place, amazed and confused as to what way we should be looking – horses, deer or the scenery, before going back on the bumpy track and heading for bed.