Tsetserleg + hot springs
Thursday 30th June
I got up early and packed, then wandered up the little hill again, where it was cool in the wind and the insects weren't so bad. Breakfast was apple salad, coleslaw, salami, and sardines.
We had lunch by the Tamir river, near the Taikhar rock. This has some ancient inscriptions on it, but they're hard to find under the mass of more modern graffiti. Taikhar rock is about 25m high and Justin and Mike debated how they would go about climbing it, though to Patti's relief neither of them tried to.
Peter spent some time filling in a survey on tourism for a group of Mongolian-Russian academics.
We headed on into Tsetserleg, the aimag capital and the biggest town we'd been in since we left Ulaanbaatar ten days earlier. First we went to the market to buy water, then to an English bakery for coffee and cakes, and then to an art shop. Justin bought a painting so big he had to spend the rest of the trip babysitting it. Mike bought an agate snuff box -- he collected them. And I got a little thangka painting, which wasn't good quality, but was small enough to fit inside one of the booklets I had, so carrying it would be easy.
It was a long, bumpy, hot road to our ger camp, which was next to some hot springs. We got in around 7pm and some of us pretty much immediately showered and hopped into the springs, which were warm then hot once redirected.
Dinner was served by a very formal waitress in a traditional Chinese dress and high heels, and we had dessert wine followed by vodka at dusk. Most of the staff were outside playing volleyball — they were students from town working in the camp over the summer.
Friday 1st July
It was raining in the morning, so our various plans for horseriding, hiking, or assembling a ger were cancelled. We sat around talking and then had a farewell for Chinzo, who was leaving us to join another tour group: Peter gave a speech and Justin and Jaime sang spoofs of Beatles songs.
Herders used to have mail delivered to them, now they have to collect it from the aimag capitals.
For more background on changes brought by the transition from communism to a market economy, I recommend Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists.
The rain of course stopped. So I spent the rest of the day wandering around near the camp, in the morning in the woods and in the afternoon on a hillside, photographing insects and black kites and whatever else I found. I also looked at the source of the hot springs, the pipes carrying the water to the ger camp, and the greenhouses over them.
In the evening I sat around with Patti, getting advice from her on what to see in Ulaanbaatar, and discussing her plans to set up a "ger cafe" in Beijing.