Kosh Agach and Aktash, Altai Republic, Russia Week 22 16th - 17th September 2011
Border crossings seem to be getting easier for us.

We've really always known it was simply Customs and Immigration. Sometimes in the same building, sometimes not.

Immigration for passports and visas. Customs for temporary import of vehicle.

There are minor variations between countries, mostly how diligently customs want to search or check vehicle numbers, but basically the same pattern.

Sometimes there are a few extra gates. Mongolia seems to have entry and exit gates to check that all the formalities have been completed.

This is the exit from Mongolia.

A quaint ending to our visit to Mongolia was that departure cards weren't available so we filled out entry cards instead. It seemed to work.

We also met John at the border. He'd been for a quick trip to Uureg Nuur on his motorbike and decided to have a few days in the Altai Mountains of Russia. Easy with a US passport and no visa requirements.

The border from Tsagaannuur in Mongolia to Tashanta in Russia (Altai Republic) was only opened to the likes of us a couple of years ago.

There is a "no man's land" of several km. This gate is the entry to Russia. At a height of about 2450m.

Our welcome to Russia was a David McCallum look alike, complete with blonde hair and very fine Cossack fur hat to complete his uniform.

And a big smile through the gate when asking for our documents.

While we try to remind ourselves that people manning the border crossings are just doing a job, that its just a process to be gone through, these first moments of border crossing seem to help if they are pleasant. 

After the gate is good sealed road. 50 km/hr seems terribly fast but we soon cautiously edge up to the really exciting 70 km/hr.

We can't help getting excited about white lines on the road that aren't worn away.

And road furniture such as milestones, speed warnings and limits, no overtaking, and so on.

We are meeting the noise of modern living again.

A first glimpse of the Russian Customs and Immigration building. I think border control buildings are designed to intimidate.

Really it all went smoothly. We were guided to the next step and helped through it.

The carnet wasn't required for the vehicle. Just a temporary import permit. Same as Mongolia if I'd understood properly.

I also confirmed that "machine passport" isn't the carnet, the registration was acceptable. They just need it to write down the registration and vehicle identification numbers. I'd circled them to help.

Good advice on both general and specific border crossing seems difficult to find. Maybe because it hasn't been written by systems analysts and documentation writers. It seemingly often confuses and creates anxiety where none is required.

We had become a bit nervous about the requirements for itinerary and letter of invitation. Our invite was a $30 special over the internet. Easy from our house in Brisbane, not quite so easy when confronting the reality of the border crossing. 

Although there was a space on the arrival card for the name of the organisation providing our invitation one of the examples provided (to make it easy for people to fill the forms in) had it left blank. So that's what we did.

No questions. At this stage we suspect it may be a bit like China where there are some aspects of the bureaucratic system which are pragmatically ignored and will eventually lapse. Just too hard maybe.

As we were driving through the gate into Russia we were wished good luck with a smile. This is not the Russia of spy thrillers that we were brought up on.

Tashanta is the Russian border town.

Wooden houses, pitched roofs, neatly laid out.

And noticeably a shop with doors that fitted. They opened and closed without having to adjust the hinges every time.

A hint of institutional housing, but very different to just a few km away in Mongolia.
We drove through Kosh Agach and found a track off the bitumen that led to the mountains, alongside a dry creek bed.

These trees surprised us a bit. Our first deciduous trees for 5 months. And our first trees about to lose their leaves in even longer - it happens but our home in Brisbane doesn't have such well defined seasons.

We wonder what aspects of geography have led to what is a very big difference between Mongolia and Russia in such a short distance. "Just" the other side of a 2450m pass.

These trees are also a clue to the climate. Perhaps indicating that we are at the beginning of Autumn rather than well into it. Perhaps we have some more days of warm afternoons with cool nights. Since we are still at about 1800m, and destined to get lower, we may just be lucky with the weather through Russia.

Kosh Agach from our campsite. Just before sunset.

Similar wide valley to those we experienced in Mongolia but snow on the mountains.

On the M52 road into Kosh Agach we passed a police speed trap. We'd been wondering why drivers had been flashing their lights. Perhaps some things are universal.

We also passed a border control check point. It must have been closing time as we were waved through.

The entry to Kosh Agach also had a few items of military communications.

The camera almost got hot as we watched the sun leave the mountains.

This is roughly where we have come from, looking back towards Mongolia.

Temperature just below zero the next morning.

Finally poked nose outside. A slight breeze.

Welcome to Russia.

Crystal clear mountain air. Just as we've had in Mongolia. But something subtly different. Perhaps just the wider valley, steeper mountains, and more visible, sharper, mountain tops.
When we left the main road we thought we were headed for a grove of trees.

Just a line of them along the dry river bed.

Our "remote" campsite has been passed by a couple of jeeps and a truck.

All three went somewhere and came back. From different directions so no clues as to what is either way. (I think that's what I meant to say!).

We didn't know whether to laugh or cry when we realised they had absolutely no interest in us at all. Not a second glance.

Having become used to lots of attention it seems now we'll have to get used to being ignored. 

We slept in until about 8am so missed the first rays of sun.

Still impressive though.

Not as cold as its been, and the heater worked!

Getting used to Russia on day two.

This is a rest area, with a basic loo (we didn't investigate) and rubbish bin.

The bit that was missing was the overflow from the bin. We don't know if its always tidy or just today.

We have generally noticed less litter than we've become used to though.

We are following the Chuya River.

There's a gorge in there somewhere that it flows through.

The road goes up and around.

Not having seen a variety of trees for so long every corner is impressive.

For us, this is the way trees should be, with a tree line giving way to tussock and snow. Not the upside down world of Mongolian larches.

That there aren't any larches is also, we think, an indication of significant change across that border.

Our altitude is now much lower than North West Mongolia. We are around 1100m. A great difference in temperature for us and presumably a big difference for the vegetation. 

Just off the road these standing stones were in a nice straight line, just like the power pylons. They led to a pile of stones which may be a burial mound.

There were a few other mounds nearby.

The south side of the valley is walled with snow capped mountains.
Very imposing this towered over us for at least 25 km.
Lunch stop.

Just a convenient place to pull off the road.

There was also some #8 fencing wire lying around but we didn't need any! - And how welcome it is to be able to say that ....

We didn't understand the words but the cartoon was very clear about how to kill a fire after use.

It was at another rest area.


The smoke was associated with a rotary drum. Not sure what was being made, possibly cement.

Either way the pollution was a bit obvious.

One of the streets in Aktash.

A relatively attractive village. The street furniture included street names and house numbers. Something else we haven't seen for a while.

We found an ATM (in the green bank building on the left) which only had Russian instructions but convenient icons which with a bit of guesswork we managed to extract some cash.

We failed to find where we could register our visas even though the ladies in an important looking office with flags in the town square tried hard to help us.

Technically we are supposed to register the visas every time we move but general internet chatter suggests once is enough for the whole trip.

There is a war memorial, for the 1941-45 war, in the center of town.

The local policeman waved us over. He pretended the truck was an ovoo and walked around it three times before pointing at the headlights. I assumed a reminder to turn them on while on the move.

We tried to drive there but ran out of road so started walking.

On the way to a pass where returning WWII soldiers had painted their graffiti. The Red Gate.

We didn't get there but the short walk was pleasant.

Nestled in the woods beside the creek was this house.

There's a veggie garden alongside - we haven't seen that for a while.

We drove on West.

As we rounded a corner and were presented with this view we had a thought that it would be nice to camp somewhere down there on the flat. Near the river.

Its probably our imagination, and it would take a lot more evidence, but if pressed we could find a hint of glacial action, vague signs of the classic U-shape, on the true right of the river in the distance.

Too early to tell, and we'll just have to do some research when we have the opportunity. We are apparently in the Chulya Trakt! Hopefully, with a name like that, we should find some information somewhere.

Certainly the river is of a colour suggesting "rock flour" in glacier melt water, and the stones at the edge are coated. But that's now, not when the valley was formed!

And so we did.

Camp on the river flat that is. Next to the Chulya River.

After following some tyre tracks along and down a couple of terraces of river bank.

It looks further in the photo but we are about 50m from the river.

There's an overturned rubbish bin not far away. This is possibly a local fishing spot or similar. Its Saturday tomorrow and we aren't sure whether weekends are recognised (they haven't been anywhere in Asia so far).

Wonderful what use a lot of water can be put to in good weather. We now have clean windows and driving mirrors - a challenge as the very fine dust of Mongolia didn't want to come off them on our previous attempts. The cab is also a lot cleaner.

Hopefully the dust induced cough will subside a bit quicker than otherwise.

I also took the opportunity to clear the drains - both sink and shower were showing signs of being blocked.

We did some shopping in Aktash.

Fresh bread, which we haven't really had for quite a while and are looking forward to more, and this pizza we are re-heating.

We should have bought more! Our stomachs haven't quite lost the need for some of the food we were brought up on.

The cast iron frying pan must by now rate as a family heirloom! Purchased a few days after arrival in Sydney in 1978 to support "round Aus in a $400 ex Sydney taxi".

After cooking steak on a fire over many years its slightly warped and wobbly on the diesel ceramic cook top. But it still makes great toast.

We think these are birch trees in among the confiers. Those rounded leaves, distinctive bark, and familiar shape. We think!

We watched the colours change as the sun set.

We'll see what the morning brings but we think we might have a "do nothing" day beside the river.

With roads like we've experienced (and been told about) so far in Russia we think we can very easily maintain an average of 150 km/day with stop days and 300 km days.

Since the weather is only going to get colder from now on we figure we should take the opportunity to have stops sooner rather than later.

We are feeling a bit odd. Probably because what we envisaged would be a country to be raced through with few attractions may turn out to be an oasis.

This really is Siberia, and its not flat or featureless!

Once the frenzy of cleaning was over it was time to relax with a cup of coffee and a bit of writing.

No mobile phone, no internet, and limited short wave radio reception to hear the largely irrelevant (to us, and hopefully some others) world news. Just the peace and quiet of passing horses and cattle, river, trees and mountains, broken by an occasional passing vehicle. With a cloudless sky to let the sun keep us warm plus feed the solar panels. And, totally out of place, gazillions of CDs ripped to USB sticks!

Time to contemplate how truly fortunate we are.

Perhaps we should mention that we seem to find our way to places like this wherever we are, be it Aus, Russia, or wherever. The surroundings may change but the relaxing feeling of contentment and inner peace is the same. 

I haven't a clue what makes me keep restlessly, perversely, searching ..... seems silly some days! Not even sure I'd recognise it if I found it.

But back to the pleasantly mundane from the not very profound.

We've put out the anchor and stopped for another day.

This morning the washing's been done and the solar panels are clean again.

Surprising how much dust accumulated on the panels since it rained last (and we can't even remember when that was).

It hasn't mattered so far as we've had heaps of solar, even on overcast days. However, now that we are further north (sun lower in the sky), and daylight hours will reduce (approaching Winter), dust on the panels would begin to make a big difference.

Chuysky Trakt, Altai Republic, Russia Week 23 18th - 19th September 2011

Sorry, comments closed.