Back in the Saddle in the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky through the Orkhon Valley (Part 5)

Tuesday 2nd August :

We had 10 minutes on the main road that morning, then onto a dirt track beside the river. We would next see a “road” on Saturday 6th August.

We drove past vultures, horses, cows, sheep and goats and as we journeyed, we noticed that the number of cows decreased and the number of yaks increased. Blue sky and green grass as far as the eye could see. We were the only vehicle around. img_5649img_5643img_5636

As we travelled deeper into the valley, you cannot help but be awestruck by the beauty of this place, and the remoteness.  Seeing gers dotted on their own on in small groups really does strike home that the people who live out here are self sufficient and hardy. An amazing existence with seemingly nothing around.  By now in my diary I have commented that I am running out of adjectives to describe the scenery..amazing, stunning, beautiful, epic…

The four horsemen we came across last night in the yurt camp, they had finished their tour with some French tourists and were heading home. As they galloped in front of us, a herd of horses unconnected with the horsemen galloped infront of them. Just brilliant.

We took a wrong turn somewhere, only noticeable by the fact the van turned around. Yondo was taking us to another monastry on route to our homestay. We had no maps, no satnav, this was a display of memory and expertise.  The van began climbing at 1.30pm and shortly afterward the ascent we were half way up the mountain and having noodles for lunch on our picnic table.

When anyone falls of a horse or bicycle the saying is of course “get right back on”. Eleanor having fallen off in June and being told not to get back on for at least a month, couldn’t get back in the saddle immediately. So with a lot of persuasion Eleanor did get back in the saddle.  To be fair she didn’t want to walk almost 2 hours to another monastry… so Eleanor and I paid 20,000MNT for two horses.  Khulan also went with us.  The Dutch family walked (and got lost for a time). Astrid commented that when surrounded by forest she completely lost her bearings, and whilst trying to keep a brave face for the three children, she was actually quite scared.  Thankfully one of the children shouted for Khulan and they were found.  Eleanor and I meanwhile were experiencing saddles that were making me think that you have to be careful of getting back in the right saddle – not just any saddle.

A wooden saddle.

The most uncomfortable thing I have ever sat on.

An hour and a half on it.

The saddle cut into the mid-thigh area, the stirrups were tied together under the horse’s belly so your legs could not move independently of each other. For the ordeal that both of us went through, I was very proud of Eleanor.  img_7668

She decided to walk back down. A decision that was good and bad.

The Tovkhon Monastery is at an altitude of 2400m. The oldest temple on this rocky outcrop on the mountain was built in 1654. Only 15 monks live here. In the prayer room 2 young boys were being taught the chants. We learnt that they have a year with the books and then after that they must rely on their memory.  We then scrambled across another rocky outcrop to a cave where the first monk meditated and the view above is of what he would have seen. What a place to meditate.

Before walking back to the horses, we stopped at the well and drew some water. Clear, fresh, cool water.

Eleanor had already decided to walk down, I gave her a water bottle and sent her on her way.

  • Mistake 1.
    • I put my Canon DSLR around my neck. We were going no quicker than a walk, and I thought that I could get some good pictures.
  • Mistake 2.
    • I forgot how painful the saddle was.
  • Mistake 3.
    • I forgot I was in a forest – no amazing vistas.
  • Mistake 4.
    • The saddle being uncomfortable (this is an understatement), and the camera bumping the front of the saddle I decided that the camera needed to go back in my bag.
  • Mistake 5.
    • Astrid and the kids caught up with us. I asked Eleanor for help in holding the bag temporarily.
  • Mistake 6.
    • Listening to Eleanor and letting her have the camera round her neck. After all – she was just walking through a forest.

Khulan and I with the horse guide left them to walk. Some way later we stopped to wait for them. We saw them, but no Eleanor.

  • Mistake 7/8.
    • I shouted for Eleanor to hurry up (might have shouted twice)
  • Mistake 9.
    • I didn’t hear the reponse to my first call.

Unbeknownst to us all, Eleanor had stopped to tie her shoe lace – very sensible.

  • Mistake 10
    • However, on my second call she didn’t finish to tie the shoelace.

She tripped. And Fell. In Mud. She was not hurt. As she came into view, arms outstretched I saw she held out black hands, her knees where black, and the black camera around her neck was shining blacker than before.


The camera returned to my neck, Eleanor survived and we all were reunited at the van. My legs so sore that every jolt of the 8kms down the hill hurt.

Not knowing if the camera would survive, we left it to dry. We were told that we would get to our homestay destination for dinner. We had an approximately a 2 hour journey to do, having already been in the van for 5 hours, another 2 made no difference.  Save that 10 minutes into that journey we stopped and everyone climbed out. img_7686

It appeared that a bolt had been jolted loose, so it was tightened and we went on our way.

The journey so far had been pretty smooth on the dirt track, however as we went on we hit a volcanic rock field, that appeared to go on forever.  Yondo expertly picked his way through it, and amazingly Eleanor slept through it.  The rest of us were holding on to the side.

Finally at around 7pm we arrived at a collection of 5 gers facing towards the river (south), beyond the river hills covered in forests.

We had dumplings for dinner, but not until we had been greeted with drink of salted Yaks milk tea. A bowl of it.  Eleanor took a little, and I with a smile on my face drank hers and mine. This was going to be the only time during this trip when I would finish a liquid I did not like.

After dinner I took out a spare toothbrush I had acquired in a hotel and began to gently brush the dried mud (which had turned to dust) off my beloved camera. With intrepedation, I uncovered the on switch, turned it on, and it worked….phew….the only thing that had not survived was the built-in flash.

Eleanor took herself off to the river and cleaned herself off. Her skin becoming quite smooth after being dipped in mud.

Part 6 – Living in homestay with the family.