“Oh my”, I thought to myself as the plane banked sharply. “That’s an incredible view looking down into an extinct volcano”. We were flying very low and circling at an angle of around 45 degrees. It felt a lot more and I wished fervently that I had chosen a seat that didn’t rattle around in its runners. It wasn’t the only thing that I spotted as we settled down. I thought seriously about changing places, but at least mine had a seat belt that wasn’t too frayed. Of course, I hadn’t reckoned on the pilot making a small detour to show us one of the highlights as we flew over the endless steppes.
For one who was fortunate enough to do a fair bit of travelling in the past, I actually hate flying. I even took a few lessons in the belief that understanding the mechanics would help. It didn’t. Neither did a trip in a glider a few years later and I came to the realisation that flying was something I had to endure if I wanted to see some of the world. So here I was with a dozen or so fellow travellers looking down the wing of our little plane into the very mouth of a volcano. It was incredible, but I wanted to be doing anything but this. Anything at all and preferably on the ground.
Once the pilot had shown enough of his aerobatic skills, he pulled the plane up and we flew on to our destination. Normally landing is my favourite part, but this time I couldn’t help but worry about the state of the tyres. That was something else I had spotted as I tightened the seat belt and in an effort to pretend I didn’t care, I took some photographs. Thankfully the bald patches withstood the bumpy landing and as the little plane turned away from the runway, we gathered our things and prepared to board our next mode of transport.
We were heading for Hubsugul, or Khövsgöl Nuur to give its proper name. A beautiful lake in the north-west of the country and one of the deepest bodies of water in Asia. It is also one of seventeen ancient lakes in the world being more than two million years old and the most pristine. We still had a long way to go and our guide had arranged for a convoy of old Land Rovers to take us the rest of the way. As we wandered across the tarmac to where they were parked in the strong sunshine, I couldn’t help but get a feeling of deja vue. Every single one had a range of defects, from ripped tyres to smashed windscreens. Clearly no MOT tests out here then!
They were driven by some of the most capable men I have ever encountered. As we made our way along dusty tracks and across the barren grasslands, we suffered a series of punctures, engine troubles and other seemingly insurmountable problems. It quickly turned into a routine. If the vehicles spread out for a while, the leaders would always wait at some point for the stragglers to catch up. If they didn’t, then the entire convoy would turn around and head back to find them. Then all the passengers would get out and stretch their legs while our wonderful drivers performed miracles. At one point I distinctly remember them removing something from a vehicle that had taken a severe knock and they set about hammering it back into shape on a nearby rock.
Passing motor bike rider.
There were stories told about the Mongol hordes and how many hours spent in the saddle over rough ground could turn a warrior’s insides to jelly. This pleasant thought ran through my head as we continued our journey. Well off the dusty track now, we were about to drive down a steep slope and along a dried up river bed. Camera bag clutched firmly to my chest, I grabbed hold of whatever I could as my teeth rattled together and my eyes felt as though they were about to be shaken from their sockets. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it any more, we spotted a small group of gers by the side of a lake and we knew we had finally arrived.
Waiting while one of the Land Rovers was repaired.