Bayan-Olgii in the North-West of Mongolia is popular with tourists in September/October, largely because of the eagle festival. Matt and I choose to beat the rush and head out just a little early, while the streets of Olgii were still sleepy and the Altai Mountains relatively untouristed. The local community is predominantly Kazakh, so we swap sain baina uu for salem alykum.
Feeling quite pampered, we set off with our driver Mohammed and our cook Zoya, who keeps our stomachs well lined for the next week. With us, another intrepid adventurer, Andy, who is very good company but now has us yenning for hiking frozen rivers in Ladakh. Our destination: Tavan Bogd National Park (trans. Five Saints).
It’s a beautiful place for hiking. Mountaineering is also possible. Some of the higher mountains require ropes and crampons to ascend. Such items things didn’t fit within our limited luggage allowance, so instead we trek to alpine lakes, examine petroglyphs and make friends with ger dogs and baby yaks. We climb the largest mountain in the region that isn’t a technical climb: Malchin Peak (4,050 m). It’s a long, long scramble up scree to the summit. At the top, we transform rocks from Mongolian to Russian by throwing them across the border thirty metres to the north. (Actually – Matt transformed his rocks. Somehow I kept choosing staunch nationalists that were determined to remain on Mongolian soil.)
There are marmots and ground squirrels – both rather camera shy – who survey their kingdoms from on top of rocky mounds.Get within photo range and all you get is a flash of fat furry bottom disappearing into the earth. Similarly devious are the ibex, who defy gravity as they skip across rocks. I see herds of them stream across the mountain side, too far away to photograph but close enough to appreciate. Matt, however, is not so lucky. I’m sure they spend their time hiding behind rocks giggling into their hoofs. ‘Quick boys. That Aussie bloke isn’t looking. Time to put on a parade! And a one – two – three – four. Twirl those tails boys. Twirl those tails.’
Here are some photos (sans marmot/ibex), from what is probably the last hurrah of Mongolian summer.