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the Selenge River valley

The people in the other van saw a marmot as we were approaching our ger camp. And after arrival we were entertained by a pair of cranes circling overhead, making their characteristic calls, and some soaring buzzards.

We discovered that this camp was very much "under construction" — they were still digging the bore for the water supply and the new toilet/shower block was not yet ready, which meant we had no showers and the only water was from a sink in the middle of the camp, supplied from a little tank.

the camp washbasin
drilling for water

After dinner most of us went to climb a little volcano some three or four kilometres or so from the camp. On the way there we passed some cranes, one of which moved away while feigning injury.

At the volcano we met a group of medical students from the university at Darhan, on a field trip to look at herbs. We climbed to the rim and walked around: the crater is recent, with a near perfect circular shape that's barely eroded at all. The volcano illustrated a general phenomenon, that the trees in this area grow only on north-facing slopes. (I still don't understand this, since the south-facing slopes get more sun; could it be the result of seed dispersal by northerly winds?)

Most of us walked back to the ger camp. Patti and I got caught up discussing photography and did the last bit in the dark, using torches to watch out for rodent holes. (The ger camp was hard to see once we were on the flat, because of the undulating ground.) When we arrived we joined a group of half dozen sitting at the edge of the camp, drinking vodka.

Thursday 23rd June

I went for an early morning wander, but didn't spot any marmots, only horses.
herding horses in the morning

Soon after setting off, we saw a marmot standing up in the distance -- it was too far away to get a good view, but also far enough away that it couldn't possibly have been a hamster or a long-tailed souslik (the latter were everywhere).

Marmot hunting seems to have been banned in Mongolia, at least for 2005 and 2006. For more information on marmots, check out the Marmot Burrow.

At one point we stopped to look at some black vultures on a hillside, but they waddled away up the hill as we approached and then slowly flapped off when they got to the crest. The climb did, however, give us a good view back down over the valley.

a passing horse rider
open valley with braided road
green grass around water (spot the rodent)

We passed through a Buriat area, distinguished by having more wooden buildings than gers. It was fairly arid, but green where there was water; there were scattered poplars, willows along the rivers, and larch on the hills.

water cart at the Selenge River
We had a lengthy stop at the Selenge River, where Eve and a couple of the others swam — I only went in up to my thighs and washed myself with a cloth. We spotted a hoopoe, a tern, and a bittern of some kind, as well as less exciting birds. There were lots of long-tailed souslik around, but I failed to get close to any of them.

Continuing upstream along the Selenge River, we turned north along a tributary. Here we saw the only pigs I was to see in Mongolia, and soon afterwards we stopped at the edge of the valley, for lunch under the trees. Our packed lunch consisted of meat dumplings, rissoles, and a sandwich, a huge spread that was too much for nearly everyone. There were lots of insects — flies, butterflies and moths, grasshoppers — and I used my insect repellent for the first time.

a moulting camel
We stopped again near a bridge, where the road was on a causeway above a greener flood-plain: there were a dozen cranes and a pair of ruddy shelducks on one side, and horses and camels on the other. The molting camels were rather dingy, but a couple of people mounted them with the aid of a herder (who had a tiny little ger for himself). There was a very lovely foal, who Eve reckoned was only two or three days old.

We passed two men on a motorbike with a goat, which they tried to sell to us.

A toilet stop was a chance for more photos of local kids. And miracle of miracles, we passed another dozen vultures by the side of the road and one lingered just long enough to be photographed! Unfortunately the narrow angle of vision out the window of the van cost me what would have been a great photo of it taking off.

Patti shows a kid his photo
a Black Vulture (62.5% crop)

We started looking for a nomad family to stay with.

Next: a family stay
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Up: 2005 Mongolia trip

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