By Amy Hessl
Neil looked good when we left UB on Aug 21, but he was a dead man walking.
We waited almost an hour to cross this bridge, as the family who keeps it in working order was busy building a new ger. As we watched and waited, several more travelers – on horseback, motorbike, car and truck – accumulated on either side of the bridge. Finally the pressure must have been too great – the family collected several thousand tugrik from each of us and opened the gate. I’m guessing they made about $20 that morning. But hey, it was a big bridge.
The next day, we had the honor of stopping in Byaraa’s home village where we had a wonderful lunch of hot Mongolian soup, tse and airag. Byaraa had not been to visit his village in three years and it was like watching the all-star quarterback come home. He was greeted with loving looks by every passerby – especially the young girls!!! Byaraa is shy though, so no more about that. But seriously, what girl could resist?
Thank you to Byaraa’s grandmother for a delicious lunch! I stayed away from the airag, but Neil indulged and about three hours later we were all stopped by the side of the road watching him heave in agony. But this was only the beginning for Neil. It took us another 36 hours to get to Khorgo Lava – Amy’s obsession and the place where horses go to die.
There we stood on the shoulders of Henri Grissino-Mayer hoping for an ancient record of fire from among the scattered kipukas.
After two days in Khorgo, we turned east to continue our transect of fire history sites along the north slope of the Khangai Mountains. By the time we reached the tourist gers at Cholut that evening, Neil was complaining of a sore throat. Early the next morning, I looked on in agony as I saw him painfully swallow, then say quietly…I think my airway is closing. Those are scary words, let me tell you. We had our driver, Bogcha, drop Byaraa, Galaa and myself off at the next field site, then take Neil back to UB and the international hospital. Neil’s adventure was just beginning (stay tuned for that post).
Though my thoughts were with Neil, it was still a little disconcerting to be dropped off in the middle of Mongolia with no phone, no car and two teenage field assistants awaiting pickup by Bataar that night. Irrational? Maybe. But I have tremendous faith in both Bataar and Mongolian directions: before you cross the bridge at Cholut, hang a left cross the stream then follow the main road till it ends – you can’t miss em. Well, he did miss us and drove 2-3 hours back to Tsetserleg, then back again to Cholut asking at every ger. Finally a young boy overheard Bataar asking about us and volunteered that he had seen two tents near the forest. Bataar stumbled into our camp by 8am next morning after about 13 hours of driving! Boy were we happy to see him!
We were also thrilled by this site, with it’s 100cm dbh larch and trees with 9-11 scars! Really cool spot!
With Bataar, we continued past Tsetserleg and on to Khahorin – the ancient capital of Mongolia off and on from about 700 to 1300. After Khublai Khan’s flirtation with China, the center of Buddhism in Mongolia was established in this same location in the 1600s. The original monastery is still there – see photos from previous post. We traveled about 40 km @ 10km per hour up the Orkhan river to the famous waterfall and sampled in forests nearby.
With our last day of sampling behind us, we began the long journey back to UB – just like the modern nomads.