The day after our horse trek finished we were, most conveniently, scheduled to visit the Tsenker Hot Springs. We’d all been looking forward to soaking our stretched and tired muscles in the steaming hot water ever since we got on the horses. And so it was most unfortunate for John that he chose this day to get rather sick.
The other exciting thing about the hot springs was that they had showers. None of us had showered in five days, and I’m sure you can imagine how pleasant that was. When we arrived, John curled up in bed straight away and I went to have a shower. The shower was deliciously hot but the water comes straight from the springs – sulphur springs – so while I felt clean, it was sulphur-scrubbed clean. The ger camp we stayed at [and all the ones there] had its own hot springs with three separate pools at varying temperature. Once I finally got John out of bed to have a shower, I had a bit of a soak in the water. It felt divine. It was like I could feel my muscles untangling themselves as the heat suffused my body. John, however, didn’t make it into the springs. He did, however, make it to about three steps away before throwing up again. It was clearly time for me to get out of the water.
John couldn’t even appreciate the beautiful view. It was a little sad.
That night the rest of us went for another soak and John stayed in the ger, still not feeling any better. I had tried feeding him electrolyte solutions to at least get something into him, and had trekked through swamps and climbed over fences to find a shop selling lemonade. Later that night our guide, Aijuna, was quite worried as he hadn’t improved at all and found another guide with a thermometer, who pronounced that he had quite a fever and should stay wrapped up in extra blankets and drink warm water with more electrolyte powder. John was having none of the extra blanket thing as he was too hot as it was, however did manage to take a couple of paracetamol tablets. I ended up sitting up half the night trying to get him to drink something however he was not being a very cooperative patient. It’s with good reason that I’m not a nurse. Fortunately he was a bit better in the morning and we were able to continue on without regular stops!
The next day, after a stop in a town for supplies and an internet fix, we were driving to the Terkhiin Tsaagan Lake in the Khorgo Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. The ‘roads’ were tough and bumpy and we stopped along the way to check out a river churning its way through a canyon…which was on occasion far too close to the ‘road’ for my liking! It was a lovely spot to stop though, all rocky ground with the rare hardy little conifer.
At the top of the rim before descending to the lake was a giant pile of sticks and logs wrapped and tied with blue fabric – another Buddhist shrine. A few people had added rocks in the usual cairn style. Beside it was a sign with the park regulations, most of which seemed very sensible.
We didn’t stay in the ger we were planning to, as a boy stopped the car on the way down and talked frantically with Aijuna. We’re pretty sure he offered her a cheaper price, and as the evening set in it was pretty clear why it was cheaper. As soon as it started to rain…our ger began to flood. And the roof began to leak. There wasn’t anything to be done and so we piled everything we had onto our beds and the table, moving the table so it wasn’t under a leak. The bottom foot of the walls were again open, so the wind rushed in to freeze us and someone had dug a moat around the ger – but instead of catching the water and keeping it out, the base of the ger was at the lowest part of the ditch which seemed like some incredibly poor planning. We were wondering if they’d been using gers long…
Needless to say it was a long, cold night with miserable attempts at sleeping all round. At least the view was nice. We’d have explored around the lake more the previous evening if it hadn’t been raining and miserable.
The next morning we were up and off to visit Khorgo Volcano nearby. On the way we stopped on the side of the road where there was a small hole we were able to climb through into a cave below. It was not particularly exciting, although we believed it may have provided better protection from the weather than the ger we’d stayed in.
It wasn’t too far from there to the volcano, which turned out to be a lot smaller than I’d expected. Even so I did not enjoy the many stairs required to ascend! The crater at the top was rather uneventful, simply a crater lined with red basalt gravel. I’m not sure why it’s such an attraction, but I suppose it may be rather unique in Mongolia. The views surrounding the crater were rather nice.
At the bottom a couple of little food stands vied unsuccessfully for our patronage and a little old man played a keyboard and sang traditional songs.
We continued driving to see a giant rock that apparently has carvings dating to the Neolithic period, and this sounded quite exciting. However, upon close inspection at ground level we were unable to identify anything that might be ancient. We did, however, notice that it is a popular place for teenagers to declare their undying love for each other and even learned a bit about local romantic traditions. I’d wondered why there were a lot of initials followed by 247 – apparently the Mongolian phrase for ‘I love you’ is also three words, with two, four and seven letters respectively.
Due to threatening skies Aijuna decided we’d look for some ger accommodation instead of camping tonight. John and I were happy with this as we didn’t want another night in an undersized tent that fails to keep the water out!
We stopped at a nearby shop and bought a few bottles of vodka, which subsequently resulted in everyone being rather pleasantly drunk, some awkward attempts to jump as a group for photos and some unsuccessful river crossings. Fortunately the wood-stove in the ger managed to mostly dry out our shoes by the morning!