The Mongolian adventure started with a reunification: in Kosch-Agatsch we met up with the four BMW riders we had first met in Sary-Tash/Kyrgyzstan. We had a common goal: make it to Ulaanbataar somehow. So we decided to tackle the Mongolian sand together. The four gentlemen (as they like to call themselves) proved to be great company throughout the trip.
The boy group from left to right: Momme, Peter, Ulli, Flo, Thies. Holding the camera: Gerald.
The first task the KTM BMW joint venture had to master was the Russian-Mongolian border. We were woken up by fellow guests leaving the hotel very early. We soon found out why. The queue at the border was massive. We were lucky though. While a Dutch couple later told us they spent 31 hours at the border, we slipped through with the first group of motorcycles.
The whole process took five hours, but then we were in Mongolia. The first thing we did was getting some cash. The money changers tried to rip us off by “forgetting” a zero of the Mongolian tögrög. But that was the lesser trouble. Because about a kilometer into Mongolia, there was a barrier again. It was operated by a police officer and an “insurance manager”. They would not lift it unless we’d buy “insurances” we knew we didn’t need. We decided to end the lengthy discussions by simply go around the barrier. A few hundred meters after this manoeuvre we were stopped by a SUV full of cheering Mongolians. Turns out it was the money changers again. They were congratulating us on not getting the insurances. There’s no solidarity among hustlers anymore.
When the process of entering Mongolia was finished once and for all we could concentrate on what we were there for: riding. And it started with a nice gravel road.
The Mongolian part of the Altai mountains was at least as beautiful as the Russian side.
At some point the gravel turned to perfect asphalt.
We headed towards the first bigger town called Ölgi. But there was time for some stops on the way.
When you cross Mongolia from east to west, you have three options: the northern route, the middle route or the southern route.
The northern route is supposed to be the prettiest but by far the hardest to ride. With many rivers to cross and lots of deep sand, apparently it is only suited for very light motorcycles. The middle route has been described as beautiful and demanding while the southern route has a reputation to be easy to ride, yet a bit boring.
When travellers meet they always discuss which route they’ve taken and what they have heard from others. But the information you get is rarely of use, because you never know how well the others ride.
The six of us decided to take on the middle route. And what a trip it was.
From Ölgi we went southeast towards Chovd. After 60 kilometers of asphalt, there were only tracks. Road maintenance here works in a very easy way. If there’s a problem – like a mudhole – on one track, somebody creates a new one right next to it. If the new track gets a problem, same story. So sometimes you ride a track that suddenly gives you ten different options. You see other riders picking different tracks and wonder if you chose wisely, especially if someone overtakes you. But all in all these tracks give you the feeling you can go anywhere. And when you’re not picking a track, there’s a lot to see along the way. Camels, for instance.
The national Nadaam festival was only a few days away. It is held nationwide and consists of wrestling, archery and horse racing. And the kids were practising as if it was the big day already. But even when galloping there’s still time to greet strangers.
There’s a lot of sand on Mongolia’s tracks. And a lot of sand also means a lot of dust. When an SUV passes you, you cannot see a thing for seconds. When a truck comes by, it gets worse.
Luckily, there’s not much traffic. Mongolia is four times bigger than Germany but has only about three million inhabitants. And half of them live in the capital Ulaanbataar. So most of the times we had the tracks to ourselves.
The loneliness of the landscape also gave us the opportunity to put some work into the photos. Here’s Peter lying in the dirt in search of the perfect angle. If you see a good photo here, it was probably taken by him or Flo. Thanks for that, guys!
The following photo was not taken by Peter or Flo:
The landscape changes quickly in western Mongolia. Sometimes it’s only a short ride from snow topped mountains to plains that look like a desert.
After Chovd we started to look for a camping space. The first one by a river was beautiful but soon turned out to be completely unusable. There were thousands of mosquitos and it was not even dusk yet. So rode further and set camp next to a little hill. No river, almost no mosquitos.
The next morning we realized that the few mosquitos present had been extremely busy. There were up to 40 bites on our ankles. The mosquitos had simply stung through our socks. We headed north towards the smaller Ölgii, where we wanted to take a shortcut to the Naranbulag and see the Khyargas Lake.
On our way we were lucky to find one of the very few street signs. They appear almost comical in the landscape. Navigating without GPS is almost impossible here.
They say if you never drop your bike, you’re not taking it to the limit. Something we took seriously this day. The tracks had lots of sandy patches. Momme was the first to make unintentional contact with the ground after a few meters of rodeo.
At the end of the day Ulli had followed his example four times. Peter’s count was three, Flo had one pushover. Only Thies and Gerald stayed upright the whole day.
But falling off the bikes did not affect our mood at all. The landscape was magnificent and we enjoyed the ride very much.
Deflating our tires helped to gain more grip in the sand and there were passages with great gravel, too.
The Mongolians we met along the way were friendly and really interested in our motorcycles. Especially the suspension of our bikes gained their attention.
At Lake Khyargas we found a yurt to stay in and went for an evening swim (not pictured). The water was cold. Very cold.
When recalling who fell when and why (of course everyone had good explanations why it was inevitable!), we realized – we were falling for Mongolia. What a country to ride a bike in!