Saturday, 24 July 2010

Outing to Outer Mongolia

Severe Person Warning
Look Out They're On The Way
Nigel, Lee & Julie prior to take off for Australia!

It has been a return to fatherly duties for me today as Nigel, my Son Outlaw, Julie, my eldest little girl and grandson Lee embark on an adventure to the other side of the world. I, unfortunately, have only been invited to travel with them as far as London's Heathrow Airport and only then if I drive. They are off to see Lisa, the younger, Bernard, Son IN-law and second grandson Frederick II in Australia and will fly Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, then onward to Sydney. I wish them Bon Voyage.

From there I ventured further north, but only as far as Melbourne in Derbyshire to continue the interrupted French leg of a break with long time friend Andy Lindsay. There are a few irons in the fire, but we'll have to see how the week pans out and of course I hope to report as we progress.

A couple of days ago I bumped into fellow birders Vaughn Ashby and his delightful partner Dr Svetlana Annenkova who is originally from Russia but has lived in Kazakhstan for over 25 years where she led scientific research in wildlife biology and was lecturer in environmental studies at the university in Almaty. She is founder of and principal tour leader for Kazakhstan Bird Tours having extensive knowledge of all aspects of Kazakhstan natural history and culture.

While Vaughn conducted some Portland Bird Observatory business, Svet and I were able to have a chat about the prospects of me finding Relict Gull in the country she now calls home. With some good possibilities we then went on to share anecdotes of Outer Mongolia from where she has just returned. Reviving memories for me of our visit there in 2001 we went on to talk about Pallas's Sea Eagle & Reed Warbler, Mongolian Lark, Cinerious Vulture, Hill Pigeon and many, many more.

This in turn prompted me to turn out some photographs of those magical days I shared with rig mate Billy (Rhubarb & Custard Crumble) Burke and Jim the Medic, to share with you. It was on a return flight from Beijing to London some years before, when the pilot came on the air advising passengers that below could be seen the capital city of Ulaan Baatar, and the vast wasteland that surrounded this 'dot in the ocean' inspired me to make a visit.

The planning for this trip caused much mirth and mickey taking from our collective workmates, none more so than from Captain Derek Palmer, fondly known as Del Boy. Formally a commercial artist before choosing a career at sea, one evening he deftly drew the caricature above on the emergency state board, which was his perception of our tour. Among the crashing Air Mongolia aircraft, tumbled down hotel with cesspool bathing and attendant Vulture, there is me leading a Yak, binoculars at the ready, Billy in the saddle and Jim bringing up the rear complete with medical kit.

On arrival we found a seedy hotel then hired a jeep and drove to the Terelj National Park, (reputedly the oldest NP in the world) some 80Km from the city, whereupon we encountered an old lady with a Yak for hire. Unable to resist the temptation we re-enacted the scene from Del Boy's cartoon and on our return home I got 3 tee-shirts made with the drawing on the front and the photograph on the back.

Our next venture was a lot more ambitious, as we hired jeep and driver to convey us to Lake Kovsgol and beyond about 1,000Km from the city. This was across a road-less and best part uninhabited Mountain Steppe but turned out to be an adventure indeed.

Yurts or what I prefer to call Gers, home to the

Nomadic Herdsmen of the Steppe.

Jim the Medic, Gambold the Driver and Billy
Without exception the whole distance was across an unchanging terrain of snooker table flat grassland, with no such thing as a 'private' toilet here.

One of a number of religious sites along the way. The blue scarfs, or Atikes (if indeed that's how you spell it) are an offering to the Gods.

If this Jeep breaks down one more time!

The only section of 'flat road' between Ulaan Baatar and Lake Kovsgol.

At last we arrived at the Bed & Breakfast.

Jim outside his new house.

Mine host Mrs Chinbat!

Lemmock (the local Trout) for tea again, not difficult to catch.

Among the locals at Kovsgol.

The interiors of the Gers were immaculate,

Billy looking after the Whiskey.

Nomads on the move,

then settling for the night,

and the TAXI arrived to take us back from the Vodka Lounge!

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