Horse ride in Mongolia
by Kyle and Dan
Horse ride in Mongolia
Horse ride in Mongolia
Gun Galuut Nature Reserve: Endangered Animals and Nomads
Excitement was in the air when we left Terelj National Park for our third destination in Mongolia, Gun Galuut Nature Reserve. A Selena Travel itinerary dictated our trip in Mongolia and the plans were for us to accomplish a lot in the beautiful reserve. First, we were to visit our second ger camp of the trip, and then we were supposed to go horseback riding across the steppe to try and spot some endangered argali sheep and white-naped cranes, among many other animals. On our second day at Gun Galuut, we were due to visit a nomadic family, where we would spend the night after going camel riding on the steppe. Besides the planned activities, a lot of walking was in store for us as well as free time to relax and enjoy the Mongolian countryside.
The drive from Terelj National Park to Gun Galuut Nature Reserve lasted around two hours; our driver, Rentsen, drove just as crazily as he had driven the previous day. We asked our guide, Chaagii, about the road that Rentsen was driving along, as it was in fairly good condition, and Chaagii told us that some Japanese investors had built many roads through the Mongolian countryside; we think that it was probably in exchange for land as Chaagii pointed out several buildings and a golf course that had all been built by Japanese or Korean investors.
During the journey, we passed a construction site where an enormous, shiny silver statue of Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan, sitting nobly atop one of his horses, was in the process of being built.
The statue was nearly complete and Chaagii told us that a museum was also being built on the site; everything was due to open in 2008. Mongolians are extremely proud of Chinggis Khan and the area will definitely allow them to pay tribute to the famous and successful conqueror. We only made one stop on the way to Gun Galuut, to purchase some bottled water; therefore, we shortly arrived at the entrance to the reserve and Rentsen was soon speeding along the dirt track leading into the vast steppe.
...Back at camp, our rider was ready to take us on our horseback ride to watch for endangered Argali sheep. There are only around 100 of these sheep left in the wild in Mongolia, living high in the mountains, and less than 200 in the world. It took us almost two hours to reach the mountains where the sheep normally roam and, after thinking that we would not see any of the rare animals, we spotted at least ten of the sheep walking along the crest of one of the mountain hills.
The Argali sheep are known for their curly horns and they are quite large animals; it was good that they were large because we couldn't get too close to the shy creatures. Just before we spotted the sheep, we saw a Mongolian marmot running across the steppe; this was a fortunate sighting as they don't come out of their holes until evening to find food. The marmot reminded us of a prairie dog and was a cute little creature.
The horseback ride went well; Dan had not ridden a horse since the first time he rode one
as a child in Norfolk and Kyle had not ridden a horse since his trip to Cairo several years ago, when he rode a horse and camel out to the great pyramids at Giza. The horse rider who was leading us had the horses walk, so the journey was slowgoing. The scenery was very beautiful and we passed many, many herds of animals along the way. At one point, we passed a herd of horses that were related to the ones we were riding and our horses started neighing and whinnying, conversing with their relatives.
A couple of times, we had to stop so the horses could drink some water. When Dan got off his horse, the creature started acting up and stamped on his foot. It hurt when the full weight of the horse came down on Dan's foot, but fortunately there were no broken bones. Once we mounted the horses again and were on our way, we fell into a good gait, but Kyle's horse started walking really close to, and slightly behind, Dan's horse. As a result, Kyle's foot kept kicking the back of Dan's horse at the same time that Dan's horse had a bit of tummy trouble. Soon after, Kyle felt a warm gush on his foot and looked down to see some explosive diarrhea landing on his shoe. Gross!
The ride back was tough, the sun was setting and we were very late for dinner which was supposed to be at 9:00pm. It was already 8:30pm when we left the mountain area where we spotted the Argali sheep, and we had a 2-hour journey to get back. We rode faster for part of the way; this was very uncomfortable but our guide and his cousin, who was a young 8 year old boy, sang some Mongolian songs to pass the time. It was really serene to listen to them singing as we looked around at the empty landscape.
We felt like true nomads for the couple of hours back to camp, since we had bonded with our horses, the horse rider and his cousin. By the time we got back to camp, it was very dark and Rentsen had set out in his car to find us, thinking that something bad might have happened. The last 45 minutes of the journey was actually in the dark and was quite eerie, since there were no sounds except the clopping of the horses' hooves. The only light we had to go by was the thin moonlight and stars above, but we could see the dim lights of the ger camp ahead in the distance, marking our way.
All of us were in pain from riding for four hours - two hours longer than we were scheduled to ride - and we were quite happy to get down off the horses and have something to eat. It was almost 11:00pm by the time we made it back and the ger camp was ready to shut down for the night. As we were finishing our dinner, the camp's solar power ran out, so we had to finish dinner and then shower afterwards by candlelight. Even by dim candlelight, each of us saw a lot of grime wash off our bodies from horseback riding on the dusty steppe in Gun Galuut Nature Reserve.