Murun to Ulaangom, Mongolia Week 20 3rd - 6th September 2011
To quote a well known guide book "very few vehicles go from Ulaangom to Murun".

This is our track (painstakingly recorded manually from gps readings). Only a few detours. Our navigation skills are slowly improving.

The journey took us four days instead of the planned three for reasons that will become obvious.

We awoke a few km West of Murun to watch the sunrise reflecting off the mountains.
Then off we set westwards.

This track is the main road.

We passed the now de rigeur deer stone.

This one was somewhat distinctive.

There was no evidence that we could see of any other deer stones or khirigsuurs anywhere around.

"Just" a single deer stone.

Several hours later these standing stones were some of many marking the corners of square khirigsuurs.

No engravings, they weren't deer stones.

"Just" standing stones.

Our camp for the night.

The top of a relatively low saddle.

And the now regulation sunrise with endless track.
A few tyremarks.

We passed at least one vehicle, sometimes two, going the other way each day.

A couple of times 4wds overtook us.

There were also quite a few motorbikes near the towns.

We didn't get tired of the scenery.

Ever changing.

Its just hard to say the same thing over and over for what is really stunning scenery.

This was a herd of camels we passed.

Very majestic in their stride.

For us Mongolia is not only the the people and the landscape that is here it also seems what is not here is an attraction.

There is an almost total absence of fences. Apart from this one and a couple of others we saw.

I never thought I would take so much delight in photographing a fence!

There is also an almost total absence of advertising hoardings (we saw one in Ulaan Bataar) - hooray!

Probably lots of other noise of modern developed living that we don't need or want is missing.

Not sure about the satellite dishes beside the gers though!


We shouldn't have been here. Its not even on the paper map. Just one of our little detours.

We headed a bit West when we should have headed a bit North West. By the time we realised it was easier to head for Asgat and turn right.

The mobile phone tower was powered by a healthy array of solar panels.

We had mobile phone connection in all small towns and villages.

Unfortunately only some of them had internet available through it (the techies will recognise the "no packet service available" error message).

Those that did have internet were incredibly slow due to congestion.

We took to uploading the blog at 3am or thereabouts. Even then it takes a few attempts to get all the files to transfer completely. 

There are signposts in Mongolia.

This one to Tes.

There are a few places called Tes in Mongolia. The sign points to the one that lies in the direction of the sign.

In the background are power poles. Its the camera that is on a lean (sorry!).

Concrete posts set in the ground. Then wooded poles tied to them with two wire straps.

We aren't at all sure why they all follow this arrangement.

We have noticed some more modern all concrete or steel (didn't get close enough) poles.

And an even bigger signpost with lots of choice.

We'd asked for directions in Asgat and they pointed us at the direct route to Ulaangom.

Unfortunately this signpost pointed back the way we had come (Asgat) and various alternatives generally in that direction so wasn't much use.

This is Tes, the one we wanted that the sign pointed to, which we by-passed.

About this time the routine inspection revealed that the sub-frame had split. Just in front of the rear pivot support.

It looks like the spare tyres were being held on by Sikaflex and fiberglass with a bit of help from the main pivot..

During the inspection the last thing I wanted occurred.

We had a visitor.

Very few words, a little inquisitive. We couldn't even figure out his name. He liked biscuits and coffee with milk and sugar. Seemed to recognise the Nescafe jar..

He probably thought us untidy as he kept rearranging things in neat piles.

He showed me his monocular and we looked at his herd through it.

A big surprise as he was about to leave.

What does one do when a total stranger, with no shared language, offers one a ride on his horse.

I felt humble and privileged for starters. I imagine a horse is fairly important to a herdsman.

We are never too sure how our efforts to communicate are being received. I guess we may have got something right.

Then how to refuse without offending - I haven't ridden many horses in life, apart from falling off one when young. I couldn't really afford an accident out here.

So, with lots of smiles I think I managed to convey "thank you, but no" and we parted friends.

That morning sun again.

We'll never tire of it, wherever we are. Particularly after not having seen it for a long time through our trip so far.

But onwards. The broken sub-frame means we are driving mostly at about 20 km/hr in 3rd gear.

A lot more than usual  concentration to avoid the big bumps. Corrugations, of which there are occasional stretches, are really slow.

Strangely, we are not that much slower than when we are in a hurry!

Perhaps I should mention that I was woken just before 7am by Ali with "there are some men outside".

Get dressed in a hurry, take a deep breath, and poke my nose outside.

Six fairly young Mongolians with smiles and "can you help us" expressions on their faces.

A sigh of relief within me. They'd stalled and their battery was flat.

I produced the jumper leads. checked which was positive on their very small battery (it read about 7v and was very dead). Connected us. They wound the engine over with a crank handle and it started.

They all leapt aboard (yes, 6 in that cab) and set off with lots of thanks before their engine stopped again.

We assume they'd been collecting hay for the winter.

We've been lucky with the weather.

We'd timed our trip through the North of Mongolia to avoid the early August rains.

We had the occasional shower, and saw showers in the distance, but nothing serious.

Dust everywhere (though Tardis is fairly dust proof and a quick wipe with a damp cloth sorts it out).

The Altan Els.

We thought these were the most northerly dunes in the world. But we found some more further on.

Lots of flat, wide plains between the mountains.

This has wheat but towards the big lake, Uvs Nuur, it was really like the Gobi. No grass, just scrubby brush.

A bit of obvious volcanic activity.

And some wheat growing int he foreground - still unfenced.

Should we go directly to Ulaangom or Zuungov?

Zuungov won. We veered right.

I say veered because there are no T-junctions in Mongolia. Just very extended Y-junctions.

Part of why it takes several km to be sure we were on the track we wanted.

We also suspect that just heading in the general direction would also get us there, but we aren't quite that confident yet. 


Those dunes we mentioned that are the most northerly in the world.

We have been steadily descending from our height of about 1500 m at Murun.. When we get to about 800m we will be at Uvs Nuur (lake) level.

A salt lake with no river exit.

Totally failed to photograph it.

Around the lake was more sand than we have become used to. A bit softer but still easily manageable.
A village with no name. And not on our maps.

But everyone prepared for Winter with hay and fuel.

We finally made it to Ulaangom. Very tired. Pleasantly, the last 20 km was smooth bitumen.

Ali met Badama (on the left) when asking "where can we get some welding done?". Daughter in school uniform.

Badama came with us to the welder and translated. We considered ourselves fortunate to have such help.

A huge relief.

Badama also invited us back to their house for a meal but we were so tired all we wanted to do was hide ourselves away and sleep.

Having designed and built the body I had some idea as to where the stresses in the sub-frame lay, what had gone wrong, and what was required.

I blamed the designer who apologised profusely and politely suggested now was not the time to embark on a redesign!

Chief mechanic is welding under there.

He managed to weld both sides of both main sub-frame rails. Welded two rods together so he could reach the inside bit.

Not the best welding I've seen but trying for an elegant engineering solution in a country that doesn't have "garages" as we know them didn't seem to be a winnable approach.

There was also a dearth of new steel available for "straps" but I eventually found some lying around.

Hopefully the welding will stabilise things, we'll drive carefully though.

There are rough roads and rough roads. We think the ones that do the damage are the corrugations (things like spare tyres on long cantilevers resonate when they shouldn't) and big single bumps.

Including the Aus test drive it has survived for about 30,000 km. To be honest, given the roads we've been on in Asia we have been a little surprised something hasn't happened earlier - we are "cheer in surprise when it works" sort of people rather than "groan in despair when it doesn't" - have to think about that one! :-)

We were very tired after driving 147 km at 20 km/hr then taking 3 hours for welding.

After welding we drove a short way out of town (back down the road we came in on), had a packet of instant noodles each, and slept well.

Greeted the next morning by a tantalising glimpse of a snow capped mountain in the distance.

The campsite was our usual desolate place.

Fortunately the heater behaved itself and started ok in the morning (about 3 degrees C with a fresh breeze).

Once the sun was warm enough I set to and put the rear mudguards back (removed to gain access for welding).

I'd envisaged a lush grassy paddock rather than a dusty prickly desert. I should have known better. The small stones were cleverly designed to look like 10mm nuts when one is dropped. The prickly vegetation seemed to be most abundant where I needed to sit. 

All we can ask of the welding is that things are stable but we'll drive carefully. That is a tremendous improvement on "its broken and will get worse" and has lifted our spirits.

But to add to the woes. The vacuum switch on the loo is playing up. It switches the pump off when vacuum is good, but doesn't spring back when vacuum released (flushing). Ali's "I need to go to the loo" has taken on a whole new meaning - but its usable with some fiddling.

Have to take the whole cassette holder out of its box to see behind it. I have a spare electrical switch, but I suspect its more the actuator. If necessary I'll simply by-pass it and work the loo "by ear". That extra main switch I fitted next to the pedestal is looking even more useful than previously.

Apart from being tired from the trip over the mountains, then more tired from the slow careful driving, and perhaps even more tired and depressed from the energy sapping effects of forgetting the thyroid tablets for a couple of days as we skipped breakfast to get early starts for slow driving, we are in reasonable shape.

The chest infection has gone, to be replaced by a dust induced cough requiring frequent drinks. We are still talking to each other and consider ourselves fortunate to be here. The coffee tastes good (kettle just boiled to coincide with finishing the mudguards). The sun is shining. And now the blog is up to date! Verily, the cup is half full again. :-)

All part of the great roller coaster of life.

Today we'll do some banking, food shopping, fill the diesel tank again, fill the water tank, then head further West to a small hospitable lake and nearer the border.

We have eight days before we cross the border to Russia so we definitely have time to stop and relax. To recharge our batteries.

Uureg Nuur, (Ulaangom to Tsagaannuur), Mongolia Week 20 7th - 13th September 2011

Bob Archie Thu, 08 Sep 11 15:21:56 +1000
Julian your journey is great reading. It makes one feel like doing same thing, but that is out of the question so doing next best thing, thank you

Brother Al Thu, 08 Sep 11 20:59:43 +1000
Love the look of the wide open spaces and distant mountains - Mongolia's for me!

Brother Al Sun, 11 Sep 11 19:26:23 +1000
Happy Birthday

Sorry, comments closed.